Concerns that Stephen Sondheim’s subversive fairy-tale redo “Into the Woods” might get a Disney makeover when the House of Mouse mounted the big-screen adaptation seem to be coming true, according to the lyricist and composer himself.
Speaking to a Sardi’s full of theater educators about censorship in artistic education, Sondheim revealed that Disney shared some of the teachers’ concerns with the overt and not-so-overt adult themes in the show — for example, the sexualized nature of the relationship between the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood. Sondheim says this sexualization has been removed from the film, along with some other more mature moments.
“You will find in the movie that Rapunzel does not get killed, and the prince does not sleep with the [Baker’s Wife],” he told his audience, adding, “You know, if I were a Disney executive I probably would say the same thing.” Consequently, a key song from the original show, “Any Moment,” in which the Baker’s Wife reflects on what just happened between her and the Prince, has been cut.
Sondheim says James Lapine, who wrote both the Tony-winning book of the musical and the film’s screenplay, tried to fight to keep some of these elements in the film, but the studio was firm. “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.”
Sondheim shared some of the teachers’ concerns on behalf of their students, who felt angry and mistrusted for having to put on edited versions of shows like “Into the Woods” and “Spring Awakening,” but realizes it’s part of reality. “[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.”
Rob Marshall directed the big-screen “Into the Woods,” which features an all-star cast including Meryl Streep as the Witch, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife. It comes out on Christmas Day.