Sondheim Reveals Plot Changes for Disney Into the Woods Film

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and Michael Gioia
18 Jun 2014

Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim
Jerry Jackson/courtesy of HBO

In a recent story in The New Yorker, Stephen Sondheim revealed several plot changes for the upcoming Disney film adaptation of his Tony Award-winning musical Into the Woods, which will arrive in theatres Dec. 25.

Sondheim spoke about the changes in the film during an event hosted by the Academy for Teachers in which the composer-lyricist met with a group of high school theatre teachers to discuss the challenges they faced when it came to artistic censorship in an educational setting.

Kevin Gallagher, a teacher who is considering a production of Into the Woods at his school, brought up concerns over the nature of the relationship between Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. "So, what is the objection?" Sondheim asked.

"Infidelity, a wolf being lascivious, that the whole connection with Red Riding Hood is sexual," Gallagher replied. "Well, you'll be happy to know that Disney had the same objections," Sondheim said.

Spoilers below!



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

Another teacher asked if the song "Any Moment," which bookends the encounter between Cinderella's Prince and the Baker's Wife, had been cut. "The song is cut," Sondheim stated. Following outcry from the teachers, Sondheim added, "I'm sorry, I should say, it's probably cut."

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. "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.

Beacon high school teacher Jo Ann Cimato, who has staged school productions of Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and The Light in the Piazza with teen actors, said that her students felt angry and mistrusted when they read the un-edited scripts of certain productions after they were forced to make alterations for their own school production.

Sondheim replied that the students were right to feel that way, adding, "But 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."

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As previously reported, the film of Into the Woods will also feature the new song "Rainbows" and a new song written for Meryl Streep, who portrays The Witch.

Rob Marshall ("Chicago," Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides") directs the film, based on the Tony-winning original musical by Lapine, who also penned the screenplay, and Sondheim, who provides music and lyrics. 

The cast includes Emily Blunt ("Looper," "The Young Victoria," "The Devil Wears Prada") as the Baker's Wife, James Corden (One Man, Two Guvnors) as the Baker, Anna Kendrick ("Pitch Perfect," "Up in the Air") as Cinderella, Chris Pine ("Star Trek Into Darkness," "Jack Ryan") as Cinderella's Prince, Johnny Depp ("Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Lone Ranger," "Sweeney Todd") as the Wolf, Daniel Huttlestone ("Les Misérables") as Jack, Lilla Crawford (Annie) as Little Red, Tracey Ullman as Jack’s Mother, Christine Baranski ("Mamma Mia!," "The Good Wife") as the Stepmother, MacKenzie Mauzy (Next to Normal) as Rapunzel and Billy Magnussen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) as Rapunzel's Prince.

Rounding out the cast are Tammy Blanchard (How to Succeed…) and Lucy Punch ("Bad Teacher," "Dinner for Schmucks") as Cinderella's stepsisters, Florinda and Lucinda, respectively; Richard Glover ("Sightseers," "St. Trinian's") as the Steward; Frances de la Tour ("Hugo," "Alice In Wonderland") as the Giant; Simon Russell Beale ("The Deep Blue Sea") as the Baker's father; Joanna Riding ("My Fair Lady") as Cinderella's mother; and Annette Crosbie ("Calendar Girls," "The Slipper and the Rose") as Little Red Riding Hood's granny.

"Into the Woods," according to press notes, "is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel—all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them."

The big-screen adaptation welcomes songs from the stage musical, including "Children Will Listen," "Giants in the Sky," "On the Steps of the Palace," "No One Is Alone" and "Agony," among others.

The production team includes Dion Beebe as director of photography, Dennis Gassner as production designer and Colleen Atwood as costume designer.

Into the Woods premiered on Broadway Nov. 5, 1987, at the Martin Beck Theatre. The production, which ran for 764 performances, won Tony Awards for Best Score, Best Book and Best Actress in a Musical.