OUT OF TUNE

06.18.14

‘Into the Woods’ Gets Disney-ed: Sondheim Confirms Movie Changes to His Musical

Expect a less horny Wolf, the cutting of a centerpiece song, and no dead Rapunzel: Stephen Sondheim reveals changes to Disney’s big-screen version of his musical.

If the union of Stephen Sondheim and Disney seemed potentially problematic, confirmation of the fact just appeared on Playbill.com.

The movie of Sondheim’s 1987 musical Into The Woods, starring James Corden, Anna Kendrick, and Meryl Streep as the Witch, will apparently feature no dead Rapunzel, and the cutting of the song “Any Moment” (“I should say it’s probably cut,” Sondheim qualified later). Viewers may also expect a less horny wolf.

Sondheim elaborated on the edits at a Sardi’s event, with a group of high school theater teachers, where the topic under discussion was, ironically, “the challenges they faced when it came to artistic censorship in an educational setting,” said Playbill.

The musical follows the story of a baker and his wife, attempting to have a child, with a circulating cast of characters culled from Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel.

When one of the teachers raised concerns about the relationship between Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, citing “infidelity, a wolf being lascivious, that the whole connection with Red Riding Hood is sexual,” Sondheim replied: “Well, you’ll be happy to know that Disney had the same objections.”

Sondheim added: “You will find in the movie that Rapunzel does not get killed, and the prince does not sleep with the [Baker’s Wife]…You know, if I were a Disney executive I probably would say the same thing.”

When pressed that he should have stuck up for the inclusion of the song, Sondheim said that he and Into the Woods’ Tony Award-winning book writer James Lapine did so.

“There has to be a point at which you don't compromise anymore, but that may mean that you won't get anyone to sell your painting or perform your musical. You have to deal with reality.”

"But Disney said, ‘We don’t want Rapunzel to die,’ so we replotted it. I won’t tell you what happens, but we wrote a new song to cover it,” he said.

Addressing the teachers’ query about how to deal with students who were objecting to having their own school adaptations changed, Sondheim said, “you have to explain to them that censorship is part of our puritanical ethics, and it’s something that they’re going to have to deal with. There has to be a point at which you don’t compromise anymore, but that may mean that you won’t get anyone to sell your painting or perform your musical. You have to deal with reality.”

The film will feature two new songs: one called “Rainbows,” and another for the Witch. The movie, directed by Rob Marshall, is set for a December 25 release.

While the revelation of the changes produced a flurry of outraged tweets, Marc Snetiker of Entertainment Weekly pointed out that Lapine and Sondheim’s involvement in the film “should still be a great comfort. Perhaps it’s because of their veteran pedigree, but it’s a sign of good faith when a musical’s authors are as directly involved with a movie as they are.”