Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s longstanding 1986 musical fairy tale rumpus, kicks off with an innocent series of wishes; Cinderella wants to attend the King’s Festival, Jack wants his cow to produce milk, and the Baker and his wife want to have a child. But all of their better intentions and innermost hopes wind up being utterly dashed over the course of the show’s two act structure, thanks to liberal helpings of murder, infidelity, petty squabbling, more murder, and general displays of adult irresponsibility.
So when Disney took it upon themselves to transplant Sondheim’s work from stage to screen, speculation as to whether the Mouse House would stick closely to the source material began in earnest. How dark are they willing to go? Don’t let the massive cast of fairy tale alumni (or the nondescript teaser from a couple weeks back) fool you; Into the Woods knocks off its characters frequently and often in unpleasant ways, and casual innuendo bleeds into many of the songs. It’s not exactly kids’ stuff, so any concerns about the film adaptation sanitizing its details don’t feel totally unfounded.
But Rob Marshall, erstwhile director of films like Chicago and Nine, is on the offensive, defending the integrity of his treatment for Into the Woods. Speaking recently with EW, Marshall made a point of discussing his efforts to remain true to Sondheim’s own while also reminding readers that Sondheim himself (along with librettist James Lapine, who wrote the book for the musical) participated in the screenwriting process.
For those still skeptical over Disney’s involvement here, well, you’re not alone – Marshall appears to share if not your apprehension, then at least your surprise. Read the full quote from Marshall below:
It’s ironic that happened at all, because Steve’s been part of every single step of this movie. And the truth is, we’ve been incredibly faithful to the original. I’m actually really impressed Disney’s doing this film, because it’s very brave. I don’t feel we’ve watered it down in any way, shape, or form. We’ve just made it a film. But I never thought in terms of ‘the Disney’ of it all, ever. None of us did.
He’s not wrong – despite the presence of Cinderella, Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, et al, Into the Woods doesn’t look like an easy fit into Disney’s brand at first blush, so there’s something inherently gutsy about them tackling it as a movie. Just do a Google search for ditties like “Hello, Little Girl” or “I Know Things Now”; the lyrics’ subtext might fly right over the heads of your average child, but it’s hard not to imagine studio executives feeling a bit squeamish at the notion of keeping content that loaded intact in the film. The musical is categorically for grown-ups. It makes sense that the film should be, too.
Of course, the stories that Into the Woods riffs on are actually chalk full of grisly goings on, and parents have been spoon feeding them to children for centuries and change. Admittedly, Disney has taken these yarns and defanged them for the cinema, too, but if Marshall, Sondheim, and Lapine have really put their best foot forward to make Into the Woods as much like its Broadway forebear as possible, then maybe their collaborative take on the fairy tale mash up stands a real chance of maintaining its edge.
Into the Woods arrives in theaters on December 25th, 2014.