Getting Reel: Into the Woods

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For Christmas, I gave my 6-year-old niece and nephew gift certificates to go to the movies. As I’ve told you before, gift certificates are one of my favorite customizable presents — give the gift of experience, as they say. So, one day over their holiday break, we went out to lunch, to the movies, and of course stopped for hot cocoa on the way home.

Before we went, I did a bit of G/PG movie research. Big Hero 6 and Night at the Museum 3 were out because the kiddos had already seen them. Annie sounded…not good so I did some reading about Into the Woods, a movie for which I had seen previews but knew little else. In fact, it was originally a musical before Disney turned it into a film. Into the Woods is about the intersection of multiple fairy tales (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk) literally in the woods, when all the characters of the various stories go into the fairy tale forest. This is told in the context of a larger story about a baker and his wife who strike a bargain with the Evil Witch in order to bear a child.

Common Sense Media is a group that reviews all sorts of media with regard to appropriateness for child audiences and potential for teachable moments (they are wonderful and helpful and I highly recommend this resource!). If you look at their rating for Into the Woods, you’ll notice they don’t rate it for 6-year-olds. But, using their detailed review of the movie’s positive and negative points, as well as parent-submitted reviews, I decided it would be fine for the Fair Play Twins. They are smart, mature, and not easily spooked.

The verdict? They loved it! Sure, some of the innuendo in the songs was over their heads (fine by me) and they missed some of the intricacies of the story, but they enjoyed the characters and the musical nature of the film. I loved that the moral of the story is: wish aren’t always as good as they seem. For example, Prince Charming and the royal life are actually boring and shallow — Cinderella wants more.

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The scary parts weren’t any scarier than many children’s movies. The Evil Witch pops in and out suddenly but she’s as funny as she is scary. The Big Bad Wolf makes a relatively short appearance and is quickly vanquished by the baker. There is a short scene of implied adultery but it isn’t graphic and is potentially a teachable moment. Some parents in the CSM reviews took issue with the way the fairy tales turn out to be less happy as their individual Disney versions. I think this is exactly what makes Into the Woods a better story — it shows the shortcomings of our wishes.

This experience led me to some general tips for making movies maximally entertaining and educational:

  1. Do you homework. Know what the story is all about, and where you might encounter issues (scariness, etc). Common Sense Media is a great start here.
  2. Prepare your child. We had a great conversation over pre-movie lunch about how the Evil Witch and the Big Bad Wolf are supposed to be scary but they’re also pretty silly. When we got to the movie, they pointed at the poster of the witch and said “She doesn’t look scary! She’s just dressed up.”
  3. Enjoy the film and give your child some implicit feedback — laugh when it is funny, for example, and emphasize where their attention should be by giving it your attention.
  4. Debrief! Over a post-movie cup of cocoa, we talked about what the kids liked, favorite parts or characters, what they didn’t like, and the moral of the story. Talking through the scary or confusing bits can help them to process the film. This type of exercise is a great teaching tool to talk about all sorts of topics.

All in all, Fair Play gives Into the Woods 4 pinwheels for overall high quality and a gender-fair message. There are some dark moments and the plot is complex, so it may not be suited to every young child.
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Getting Reel is a series in which we review movies and television. Sometimes we focus on box office hits like Into the Woods, and in other posts we highlight lesser-known, gender-fair gems. Want something in particular reviewed as part of this series or in general? Request a Review or leave a comment on our Facebook.

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