Into the Woods

Inciting Event: The Witch tells the Baker and his Wife that she will break the spell on the Baker and give them a child if they can gather four items (a cow, a shoe, yellow hair, and a red hood) within three nights.

First Plot Point: The Baker (and all the other fairy-tale characters) goes into the woods to look for the items necessary to break the curse. The timing here isn’t good. This is the obvious moment when the protagonist leaves the Normal World and enters the adventure world of the story. But the timing places the entrance into the woods closer to the 12% mark, which is where the Inciting Event should be. But examination of the 25% mark where we should find the Plot Point doesn’t give us an obvious turning point in the plot (just the passing of the first night—which is closer to being a pinch point than a plot point). So we must come to the conclusion that the entrance into the woods is the First Plot Point, even though it’s too early.

First Pinch Point: The second night ends, the cow dies, and the beanstalk grows. This is a good pinch point. All sorts of stakes are emphasized that put the characters in a bad spot and reinforce the power of the antagonistic force. It gets props for featuring the beanstalk in this scene, since this turns out to be the source of the ultimate antagonistic force (the Giantess), but it fails to do a good enough job emphasizing that. The emphasis is decidedly on time running out for the characters to break the curse. The inevitable result of this misplaced emphasis is that the latter part of the story, and especially the Climax, are improperly foreshadowed.

Midpoint: The spell is broken, and all the characters get what they want: the Baker and his wife have a baby, the Witch returns to her beautiful youth, Cinderella marries Prince Charming. This is a clear shift in the conflict, just as it should be. From this point on, the story is no longer about the characters trying to obtain their “wishes,” but rather having to deal with the repercussions now that those wishes have been granted. The problem is that this new direction in the story has not been foreshadowed at all in the first half of the movie. The result is disorienting to viewers and ultimately extremely unsatisfying. Good foreshadowing is key to guiding readers’ expectations and helping them understand the first half of the story in a way that will reflect uniformly on the second half.

Second Pinch Point: At Cinderella and Prince Charming’s wedding, everything starts to go wrong when the Giantess attacks and destroys the kingdom. This forces the characters to reevaluate the conflict and what they each have at stake.

Third Plot Point: After having a “moment” with the Prince, the Baker’s Wife falls off a cliff and dies. When viewed in isolation, this is a fine Third Plot Point: it offers up the death of a character and brings the surviving characters to a moment of defeat. But when viewed within the context of the rest of the movie, this event is extremely arbitrary. The Wife’s fling with the Prince has not been set up thematically, and her death does not resonate as necessary to move the plot forward by motivating the surviving characters in their final conflict.

Climax: The Baker sets a trap for the Giantess.

Climactic Moment: The Giantess dies when a tree falls on her. This is the moment when the conflict ends, but it’s ultimately an unsatisfying end to the story, because the Giantess has been the main antagonistic force only since the Second Pinch Point. The Witch, who was the antagonist throughout the first half of the story, removed herself from the conflict earlier, but in a way that had no resonance in the plot.

Resolution: The Baker takes in Jack, Red, and Cinderella.

Notes: I’m not familiar with the play, but I would imagine that most of the (frankly, horrendous) structural problems with this movie are the result of its talked-about subversive themes being Disneyfied for a younger audience. The result is egregious. It’s a movie that’s not even a poor sum of its parts because its parts don’t add up at all. If nothing else, it’s a great reminder of how vital foreshadowing is in the first half of the story. Whatever happens in the second half (plot events, themes, tone) must be set up in the first half. If you were to watch only the first and last scene of a movie, they should jive together as two halves of the same whole, even when you have no idea what happened in between.

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