'Into the Woods': Will It Scare Your Kids?

disney into the woods

My 4-year-old daughter has heard plenty of fairy tales, and they always end the same way: happily ever after. Which always bugged me, since that's so not how real life works. That's why I was intrigued to take her to see Disney's newest movie, Into the Woods (out December 25). This musical mash-up of fairy tales -- Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and Beanstalk -- shows what happens to these characters and others after they get their wish... and the results aren't so hunky dory. This was a lesson I was eager to teach my kid.

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Yet the movie isn't rated PG rather than G for nothing: in fact, when we entered the theater to take our seat, the usher told me that my daughter might not be so amused by the movie's grim message.

"Your daughter might be scared," she said. "Just warning you!"

I told her my daughter doesn't scare easily, but that we'd leave if she started bawling because, well, no one wants a crying kid in a movie theater.

Thankfully, the first half of the movie was good old family fun. Yes, the witch (played masterfully by Meryl Streep), certainly rattled my daughter, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. She also barely blinked an eye when the wolf (Johnny Depp) ate Little Red Riding Hood, then was cut open to free the girl -- a scene that was campy rather than gory.

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But once all the characters got their "wish" -- Cinderella her prince, Jack his golden egg, the witch her youth and beauty -- the characters' lives took a dark turn as a giant climbed down one of Jack's beanstalks and started stomping through town. That giant was truly frightening to me, so I was not surprised when my daughter climbed into my lap, buried her head in my shirt, and said she wanted to leave (I clamped my hands over her ears until the scary parts were over, but we stayed).

Amid scary giants, other adult themes cropped up like death, parents abandoning kids, and princes proving that they aren't so faithful to princesses after they wed. Luckily I think most of that stuff was subtle enough to fly over my 4-year-old's head. When I asked her, "So why do you think Cinderella wasn't happy after she got her prince?", she made no mention of the prince's dalliance with another woman. Instead, my daughter pointed to the most glaring problem at hand: "Cinderella wasn't happy because of the giant," she said.

Perhaps my daughter will come to appreciate the movie's subtler points when she's older. Until then, the film's catchy tunes and quick plot turns certainly enthralled her, even if she could have done without the giant. But to borrow a sentiment from Red Riding Hood, being scared and excited kind of go hand in hand -- so as long as it's not too extreme, a few frights should be part of the fun.

Here's a video of Meryl Streep describing the dangers of "the woods" (a.k.a. the world) to her daughter:

How do you feel about happy endings in fairy tales?


Image via Walt Disney Films

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