Last week, a story surfaced about potential family-friendly edits to Disney’s upcoming screen adaptation of the classic Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods. It all started while Sondheim was giving a lecture to New York City drama teachers when the notion of censorship came up. Sondheim, in a piece covered by The New Yorker, revealed certain changes Disney was planning on making to the movie, many of which would remove the darker aspects of the show. These included a cleaned-up take on certain characters who suffered tragic plights in the original musical and the possible removal of the pivotal musical number “Any Moment.” Whether by means of misunderstanding or a case of quick damage control, the iconic Sondheim made news again by issuing a statement recanting some of his previous comments.
Sondheim’s statement, released to Playbill.com went as followed:
An article in The New Yorker misreporting my “Master Class” conversation about censorship in our schools with seventeen teachers from the Academy for Teachers a couple of weeks ago has created some false impressions about my collaboration with the Disney Studio on the film version of ‘Into the Woods.’ The fact is that James (Lapine, who wrote both the show and the movie) and I worked out every change from stage to screen with the producers and with Rob Marshall, the director. Despite what the New Yorker article may convey, the collaboration was genuinely collaborative and always productive.
When the conversation with the teachers occurred, I had not yet seen a full rough cut of the movie. Coincidentally, I saw it immediately after leaving the meeting and, having now seen it a couple of times, I can happily report that it is not only a faithful adaptation of the show, it is a first-rate movie.
And for those who care, as the teachers did, the Prince’s dalliance is still in the movie, and so is “Any Moment.”
The musical, first presented in 1987 from a book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by Sondheim, is a longtime favorite of theatergoers for its insightful and fractured take on many Brothers Grimm fairy tale characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Rapunzel (the latter two celebrated mainstays in the Disney princess collection.) The original iteration included dark (and highly sexualized) takes on the classic characters– a degree which seemed to be at odds with the Disney family friendly brand. Somewhat strangely, Sondheim now seems unbothered, even understanding that Disney might change his very grown-up musical.
Whatever the machinations behind the words, if there are any, Into the Woods is set to come out in theaters on Christmas Day. Rob Marshall, Oscar nominee for Chicago and director of Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End helms the movie version from a screenplay by Lapine. The all-star cast includes Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Chris Pine (Star Trek Into Darkness), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Johnny Depp (Transcendence). Sondheim has crafted at least one original song for the movie, which is reportedly to be sung by Streep.
Previous Sondheim’s musicals to be adapted to the screen include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Forum (1966), the Elizabeth Taylor starring A Little Night Music (1977), and Sweeney Todd (2007), Tim Burton’s film which starred Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Sondheim wrote the lyrics to the classics musicals Gypsy and West Side Story, both which were adapted to the screen (the latter of which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1960) and won an Oscar himself for penning the song “Sooner or Later” for the 1990 Warren Beatty film Dick Tracy.