Theatre Thursdays: Sondheim Discusses Into the Woods Changes

Disney Into the Woods Movie LogoWhen news broke that Into the Woods, one of the most popular works by the immensely celebrated Stephen Sondheim, would be made into a movie, there was plenty of excitement to go around. When that news included the fact that it would be produced by Walt Disney Studios, however, that excitement was more than a little dampened. Many fans, myself included, were worried that the squeaky clean company with a penchant for glossing over (or straight-up re-writing) anything objectionable in a fairy tale would make drastic changes to the musical and its very adult overtones.

When Playbill released some comments Sondheim made regarding the film’s production, it seemed all our fears were realized.

According to the article, Sondheim revealed that Disney executives had objections to Rapunzel’s death, the Prince’s dalliance with the Baker’s Wife, and the Wolf being an allegory for a sexual predator. How now does the witch get to introduce “Children Will Listen” without first witnessing her foster daughter’s death? What of the songs “Any Moment” and “Moments in the Woods”, which weave in and out of the brief passion between Cinderella’s Prince and the Baker’s Wife? Losing “Moments in the Woods” means losing the Baker’s Wife’s only solo as well as the resolution of her character arc.

Sondheim was addressing a group of high school theatre teachers at the time, and discussing the practice of censoring theatrical content for school-age children. This context is important to remember because while it was reported as though Sondheim were giving official word on the movie’s content, he was merely relating it to the discussion at hand. He admitted to not having seen a finished product at the time and stated that he would have the same concerns were he in the producers’ position.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with fans facing revisions to a well-loved story, a lot of us had knee-jerk reactions to the news and let our frustrations be heard, without really considering the full context of the statements. Most of us only heard (and indeed, many sites only reported) key words such as “cut” “censored” and “altered” and thought all hope was lost.

Thankfully, being the awesome guy he is, Sondheim clarified his words in order to assuage his fans’ fears.

In a statement released to Playbill, the composer reiterated that he only stated that there were concerns on Disney’s part over the content of the musical and that certain things were “probably cut”. He stated that he had the opportunity to see a rough cut of the film soon after the meeting and “can happily report that it is not only a faithful adaptation of the show, it is a first-rate movie.”

While it’s certainly in his own interest to speak well of the movie prior to its opening, I have a lot of respect for Stephen Sondheim and his word. If he truly felt the project had failed to live up to its potential, I believe he would let it be known, or at least not blatantly lie about it. With that in mind, I believe Into the Woods fans can rest a little easier and look forward to the film’s Christmas release with more hope than trepidation.