Once upon a time, in a village far, far away, there lived a fiercely feminist musical that would change everything you thought you knew about the leading ladies of the fairy tale game. The damsels would become heroes, the princes would become tiresome, and the fairy tale sexism would make like a carriage after midnight and disappear into thin air. Luckily, that once upon a time is now, and the village is your closest movie theater playing Into the Woods.
Stephen Sondheim’s freshly feminist twists on old characters (Cinderella isn’t just a shoe-diva anymore!) completely reverse the tired stereotypes we’re all sick of seeing and highlight strong, female characters as heroines, rather than victims, of their stories. Each of his leading heroines represent different kinds of strong-willed feminist badassery—AND they do it all while singing! Here’s a breakdown:
Little Red Riding Hood: Sondheim’s youngest revamped heroine, a character most often recognized for her famous run-in with a big, bad wolf, is DONE getting cat-called by strangers in the woods! Into the Woods’ Little Red, though still, at first, seemingly young and naïve, wastes no time getting her revenge on her manipulative predator, and let’s just say the fur coat she ends up walking away with is this year’s DIY masterpiece.
As Little Red (played by Lilla Crawford) discovers more about herself as a woman, she also starts to understand where she fits into the wild world around her. Her awakening, and subsequent wisdom, make her much more than just a little girl with a penchant for capes. She becomes a fiercely spirited symbol of strength in self-knowledge, and embodies the power that comes with choosing to accept sudden womanhood as a badge of honor, not a source of shame.
Cinderella: Our old friend (played by Anna Kendrick), whose original life goal hardly extends past midnight, yearns for far more in Sondheim’s tale. Her self-driven pursuit of happiness no longer has to do with (completely impractical!) shoes. Cinderella finds the nerve to leave what’s comfortable and expected of a woman her age, in order to determine what’s right for HER. Spoiler alert: it’s not a carriage, or a godmother, or unusually articulate birds—and it’s definitely not a Prince.
The Baker’s Wife: Sondheim’s original character (played by Emily Blunt) represents the many generic fairy tale wives we’ve come to expect, but The Baker’s Wife is arguably the most surprisingly unconventional woman of them all. Superficially, the married woman appears to be loyal, loving, doting, simple. However, her uncompromising bravery and sexual desires emerge as the musical progresses.
Torn between the desire to have a fun romance with a Prince (which Blunt fought to keep in movie) and the responsibilities and comfort of the husband and child she has waiting for her at home, The Baker’s Wife represents some of the conflicts modern women face in society and as individuals. She also kicks butt when it comes to playing hero to her husband. She is fiercely independent and through her journey, she questions societal expectations all while chasing a giant and battling a witch. Yeah, she’s pretty cool.
Though there are still some facets of the story that lean on old sexist beliefs (namely, the witch’s desire to be young again), Into the Woods‘ succeeds in reframing women’s desires thanks to its female heroines.
Stephen Sondheim’s musical isn’t, by any means, a new addition to our culture, but its fresh film adaptation promises to kick-start its popularity amongst crowds other than us theater nerds who’ve been worshipping it for years. And that’s amazing news for anyone who appreciates not only a good movie-musical, but for all of us movie-goers and feminists who long to see strong, fearless, ladies continue to take over the big screen. All the better to empower you with, my dear.