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Stephen Sondheim Reveals Disney's Sanitized Plot Changes For 'Into the Woods'

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by Kevin Jagernauth
June 19, 2014 9:24 AM
60 Comments
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A twisted take on classic fairy tales, featuring no shortage of sexual innuendo and other not-family-friendly deeds, it was not a matter of what Disney would change in their big screen adaptation of "Into The Woods," but how much of it would get tweaked. Well, according to the musical's original writer Stephen Sondheim, a fair bit.

In a recent article in The New Yorker, Sondheim revealed the various changes that Disney has made to his Broadway hit, and fans will likely be disappointed (warning: some spoilers ahead). Where to start? How about the sexually charged encounter between Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and the Wolf (Johnny Depp). According to Sondheim, Disney had "objections" over how it originally played with the Wolf lusting after a little girl, and it doesn't end there with the stuff they didn't like about the original "Into The Woods." 

"You will find in the movie that Rapunzel [Mackenzie Mauzy] does not get killed, and the prince [Chris Pine] does not sleep with the [Baker's Wife, played by Emily Blunt]." And speaking of the latter scene, in which Cinderella's prince effectively cheats on her, the song connected to the sequence, "Any Moment," has also "probably" been cut, with Sondheim writing a new tune for the scene. But while Sondheim seems not particularly pleased with these edits, he's also pragmatic about it all too.

"You know, if I were a Disney executive I probably would say the same thing," he said, adding: "...censorship is part of our puritanical ethics...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."

So the question is whether the compromise is worth having a big budget adaptation of your work by a major studio. Well, for Sondheim, it's clearly an uncomfortable fit but one he's willing to go along with for now. "Into The Woods" opens on Christmas Day. Check out theatre videos below of the sequences likely cut or altered in Disney's movie. [Playbill/USA Today]

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60 Comments

  • JD | July 2, 2014 3:55 PMReply

    New sources state that the prince is going to cheat on his wife. No word on whether Rapunzel dies.

  • Anna | June 27, 2014 6:36 AMReply

    In other words they will tranform the stage production into a kid movie. I'll leave it to the Disney fansboys to spend their money on this watered down version-I won't see it.

    I'm surprised that Sondheim was allowed to talk about the changes at all-obviously the target group are not Sondheim fans but the typical Disney audience? It's funny enough that Sondheim has realeased a statement that he was "misquoted"-which translates "Disney embezzled Sondheim".

    Good that "The Lord of the rings" was adapted by Peter Jackson, Disney would have cut all the evil fight scenes and sold it as "The Lord of the rings...." (lol). What they do is fraudulent labelling-they steal the plot mess around with it and sell it as "Into the Woods".

    And I'd agree that Disney should come up with own movies instead of depriving artworks that were not meant for kids of their meaning by means of censorship. I'd also call it a bastardization of art.
    The only good thing about the movie is that I won't have to see it.

  • Leslie | June 20, 2014 5:18 PMReply

    It's too bad HBO or Showtime doesn't start producing and airing these. I'd rather see the original on cable than a watered down Disney version.

  • dean | June 20, 2014 1:23 AMReply

    WTF! First they cut the choruses from Sweeney Todd... Now this? Why bother at all then. Guess I'll take a pass and tell those in the dark about the naught bits they are missing.

  • Mike | June 20, 2014 1:03 AMReply

    Why. The orginal was perfect and a remake is not need. Don't charge things for Disney. Instead staw with the story you had. Better yet, write something new. And when you do take it to a company that will make it your way.

  • Van | June 19, 2014 6:38 PMReply

    I'm much less interested now in seeing the film.

  • Douglas | June 19, 2014 6:37 PMReply

    They better not take out what happens to Cinderella's evil step sisters (like in both the original story and this musical)

  • Nicole C | June 19, 2014 6:26 PMReply

    "Stay With Me" was the wrong video to post. I have no doubt that "Stay With Me" will still be an important part of the film. It's the reprise sung after Rapunzel's change which will be different.

    This has been done before. Fosse changed Cabaret so much the characters and plot was almost unrecognizable compared to the stage play. Most movie musicals are substantially different from the play; that's because they're not the same.

    I assumed the sexual innuendo and the affair between The Baker's Wife and Prince Charming would be toned down or cut altogether.

    I just can't imagine how ITW will play out without Rapunzel's death. That's the one which is most disheartening because it's a major moment for The Witch and the repercussions of that moment are felt throughout the rest of the play. But the world is getting two new Sondheim songs out of this and I sincerely hope the writers will find excellent alternatives which will surprise people (like myself) who know this show inside and out. Give the movie a chance.

    And by the way, Sondheim isn't doing this for the money. He's got plenty. I imagine he's doing this to turn a new generation on to his amazing music.

  • Karen | June 19, 2014 5:11 PMReply

    Had to sit through this almost-good play several times when my son was in it in high school. I thought it would have been a good show if it had ended at intermission. It has some good songs, and a lot of forgettable ones. The second act is depressing and dull. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like Disney is doing anything to make it better.

  • David | June 19, 2014 5:45 PM

    I must respectfully disagree. The whole point of the second act is to show how ridiculous it is to expect happy endings like these fairy tales without any consequences. Thinking that the show should have ended after the first act shows a complete lack of understanding of the show. Quite frankly, no high school should ever do Into the Woods. It's a very adult musical with adult themes that no kid in their teens can comprehend. The harmonic complexity and intentional rhythmic ambiguity are often over the heads of what any high school is capable of pulling off. I suspect part of the reason you thought it was dull was because the students themselves didn't get it. Into the Woods is one of the most underrated musicals because it's so difficult to do well. When it's executed properly, this show is magic.

  • James M. | June 19, 2014 4:02 PMReply

    "Hello, Little Girl" came across as sexually implicit because of characterization and stage direction, not lyrics. The number can easily be left in, with the intimation that the Wolf simply wants to devour Red as a meal, and not as a sexual conquest.

  • Nicole C | June 19, 2014 6:30 PM

    If the second act came across as dull, that's not the show's fault. The second act is packed solid with action and emotion. It's a masterpiece. And I have seen two good HS productions of the show, but that was with magnet-level theatre programs and students who also worked in professional theatre and film. It is a very difficult show to carry off.

  • N. Smith | June 19, 2014 6:14 PM

    Karen:
    I have to wonder if perhaps the second act was cut far enough to make it boring in an attempt to make it "family friendly"?

    David:
    The themes were actually quite understandable when we performed it in HS. We did a performance of just the first act for the Elementary schools. The real performances were of the show in its entirety, with all of the innuendo left in. Being part of that production on the eve of graduation made the whole concept of choices you make and having to live with the consequences seem particularly apt.

  • Stacy Brown | June 19, 2014 3:17 PMReply

    I'm fine with the proposed changes. I was really uncomfortable watching "Hello Little Girl" with my drama students when we watched the video version. In fact, I think I skipped over the thrusting/howling part altogether. When we saw it at a Christian university live, it was toned down and we were much more able to concentrate on the messages Sondheim wanted us to think about. However, I'm not sure the general public is ready for the darkness of act 2. It's unavoidable! Even if Rapunzel doesn't die, many others do. I'm hoping Disney will be able to keep the darkness, the themes, and the humor while tweaking the plot!

  • Roger Cotton | June 19, 2014 3:03 PMReply

    Stop blaming Puritans for what Progressives in Hollywood do.

    It is they who run Disney and Hollywood, and it is they who are censoring Into the Woods.

    Which is odd, given how uncensored Disney/ABC TV shows are.

  • Kim Detro | June 19, 2014 6:44 PM

    but the Progressives in Hollywood are concerned about the Bottom Line, which is determined at the Box Office, which is in turn patronized (ba-dum-ching) by Americans Who Think Anything Sexual Is Taboo And How Dare You Teach Our Children How Not To Knock Each Other Up.

    How is Puritanical ideology not a driving reason beyond changes made to make this product more marketable?

  • Kelly Hamilton | June 19, 2014 2:34 PMReply

    I didn't love "Into The Woods" as much as everyone else did. For me, it never lived up to its brilliant concept, which could have been so much more light-hearted and captivating. Every now and then, compromise leads to a better product. The combination of Sondheim and Disney could lead to something brilliant -- let's wait and see. Frankly, I'm surprised there is going to be a move at all.

  • Paul Moore | June 19, 2014 3:45 PM

    To Roberta,
    True, the themes of "Into the Woods" the darkness of the human soul, but to venture too far into that message to the point of prioritizing self-satisfaction over the conveyance of the message to the widest audience possible is to betray the original intent of the piece anyway. A film's core statement can still be understood even with its sharpest points dulled down. They just have to be dulled by the right amount and in the right places.

  • Roberta Corcoran-Andrasik | June 19, 2014 3:15 PM

    The point of the story is the darkness we carry within, darkness that can be exposed and ameliorated if we so chose only when we go "into the woods" at least metaphorically, out of society and tyhge garden/city/court/human tribal construct and drop our masks and confront our fears and prejudices. This is not a light story. Was not meant to be!

  • David | June 19, 2014 2:23 PMReply

    Sondheim's no stranger to the need to compromise. There's a great scene in Act 2 of Sunday in the Park with George where the artist is schmoozing with donors at the opening for his current exhibition. He sings:

    [[George]]
    Link by link,
    Making the connections...
    Drink by drink
    Fixing and perfecting the design.
    Adding just a dab of politician
    Lining up the funds but in addition
    Lining up a prominent commission,
    Otherwise your perfect composition
    Isn't going to get much exhibition.
    Art isn't easy.
    Every minor detail
    Is a major decision,
    Have to keep things in scale,
    Have to hold to your vision-
    Every time I start to feel defensive,
    I remember lasers are expensive.
    What's a little cocktail conversation
    If it gets the funds for your foundation,
    Leading to a prominent commission,
    And an exhibition in addition?

    [[All]]
    Art isn't easy-

  • Alyssa | June 19, 2014 1:54 PMReply

    See, my high school performed this in my junior year. And we cut out only one thing: the wolf's genitals. That was it (oh and we didn't have blood because we couldn't figure out how to make it work but nonetheless). Maybe Disney shouldn't have take this because it'll be so watered down it won't be at all like the original. I wish Sondheim would've just stuck up for the musical and just said "No"

  • Guest | June 19, 2014 1:46 PMReply

    "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."
    OR you can fight the powers that be and help take Disney down a notch. They have been whitewashing stories for decades and no one ever stands up to them. SMH

  • Paul Moore | June 19, 2014 3:48 PM

    Anon, the Cinematic Universe's Nick Fury was based on the Ultimate Universe Nick Fury, who was black (and, in fact, based on the likeness of Samuel L. Jackson, so excellent casting there). Your argument might have made more sense if you had used the outcry over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm as an example. I'd call you an idiot for not doing your research, but that would be stooping to your level.

  • Guest too | June 19, 2014 2:21 PM

    ANON, I think you have a twisted definition of "whitewash." It means to "gloss over" or "cover up". In this case, whitewashing the musical means they're glossing over/covering up the naughty bits. No one was being racist.

  • Monica | June 19, 2014 2:20 PM

    I don't think whitewash means what you think it does, Anon.

  • anon | June 19, 2014 2:05 PM

    You're nothing but a race-bating racist who hates white people and blames everything on us. Whitewashing does NOT exist. I'm guessing with your logic it's Black washing to have Nick Fury in the Avengers be played by a black man when Nick Fury is white in the comics. Idiot racist.

  • guest | June 19, 2014 1:34 PMReply

    does that wolf have his genitals hanging out...

  • Dan | June 19, 2014 5:55 PM

    Hi. Before getting so angry you should probably know what "whitewashing" means. It means to cover up and censor something, and has absolutely no racial connotations. Read a book before blowing up at someone for saying something that you don't even understand.

  • Monica | June 19, 2014 2:18 PM

    I don't think whitewash means what you think it does, Anon.

  • Casiquire | June 19, 2014 2:04 PM

    Yep!

  • Batman | June 19, 2014 12:28 PMReply

    So it's going to suck. Got it.

  • Anon | June 19, 2014 12:27 PMReply

    Perhaps he could have negotiated with another studio instead of Disney, who has far more kid-friendly reputation to protect. I'm surprised to an extent that they ever even release a PG-13 film. Pirates of the Caribbean was risque for their brand!

  • Eden | June 19, 2014 1:50 PM

    It was too late for that. He doesn't find out the changes they're going to make until after he's signed over the rights to his play. Once you've signed over the rights, unless you're made a producer, you can't do anything about the movie.

  • Travis | June 19, 2014 12:10 PMReply

    I'm still doubting the accuracy of the New Yorker article, based on three facts:
    1) Sondheim's new song comes after Rapunzel's not-death, not replacing Any Moment. Furthermore, it is replaced with the now slightly mad Rapunzel running into the night, unable to deal with the characters any more
    2) Hello Little Girl is toned down, but not cut and not completely stripped
    3) These changes, as well as the one I about to point out, come from the script I have read and reports from the film test screenings (which were well received), and both say the Prince and Baker's Wife cheat, but sleeping together is merely implied and Any moment remains intact
    The musical will certainly be toned down, and yes, this will hurt one of my all time favorite musicals, but I still doubt these damning changes they claim

  • Deb | June 19, 2014 12:54 PM

    Perhaps Travis...though it seems this information comes directly from Sondheim, as quoted in a "New Yorker" interview set to be released this week. Regardless...there is ZERO reason to change anything about the show. Leave it alone. It works because of what it is.

  • Deb | June 19, 2014 11:43 AMReply

    Changing or stripping out "Hello Little Girl" and the scene with Red & the Wolf...ny enthusiasm for this film just went from over the clouds to bottomed out. That is one of THE single most ICONIC scenes and songs from the show. High school Music Theatre competitors have been doing it for decades, uncensored. What the heck....Super disappointed. Don't think I even want to see it now.

  • William | June 19, 2014 10:25 PM

    I was in this show last summer and until then did not realize how awesome it is. I have spent most of this year trying to figure out how it can be successfully adapted to a film and have come to the conclusion that it will not be too good but I will see it anyway. If my expectations are low, perhaps....

  • Jessie | June 19, 2014 11:38 AMReply

    Just because something has fairy tale characters in it DOESN'T mean it's for kids. You can't take something that wasn't meant for kids and sanitize to be for kids. That's a bastardization of art. Kids need to see sex, death, and infidelity for what they are. The musical doesn't teach that those are good things! There are negative repercussions for the character's actions, if one would actually pay attention to the lyrics of the musical numbers that were cut.

    But it's not worth getting emotional, because we all knew it would happen. Anytime someone attempts to adapt a musical, they simply screw it over. This is no exception. So I hope all these nuns and helicopter moms enjoy taking their kids to this a padded, coddle-worth piece of crap.

  • William | June 19, 2014 10:28 PM

    "Anytime anybody attempts to adapt a musical, they simply screw it over". TOTALLY true. THE SOUND OF MUSIC is the only one I can think of that was improved on screen. There have been TWO movies of ANNIE and both were horrible....and the third one promises to live down to that also.

  • Jester2480 | June 19, 2014 3:19 PM

    Actually, Into the Woods does teach these things are okay. The Baker's Wife clearly concludes that her husband doesn't need to know and that she can have her cake on the side and that cheating wasn't so bad, even if she doesn't want it to become common knowledge and still wants her husband for security. (Aie.) There are no negative repercussions, and she's never called out and never has to deal with the fallout because she dies in a way that could have happened to any of the characters. She's even brought back at the end as if nothing has happened. And the princes? Nothing happens to them despite their scummy ways, does it?

  • Laurie | June 19, 2014 11:46 AM

    Agreed!

  • Mark | June 19, 2014 11:22 AMReply

    I get why they are doing it but I think they are taking it too far. Death and infidelity are facts of life. Happens all the time and not anything that children should be hidden from. Kids that watch this will have to deal with things like that in life, whether it is their parents, other peoples parents, relatives etc.

    But the wolf lusting after the underage girl? Yeah, we can take that out for sure.

  • jo | June 19, 2014 1:25 PM

    I don't know that it's so easy to cut. If they cut "Hello, Little Girl" then I guess they also lose her song "I Know Things Now" and then what's her function in the story? Just the superficial Little Red Riding Hood tale we already know? The point of the show is the darker stories behind the fairy tales. Her story is about growing up and the loss of innocence. It's a shame to change such a great show, but they always do it. I'd prefer it if they'd just film the shows on stage and offer them on tv, or dvd, or the movie theatres like they've been doing lately with opera. They film them for PBS sometimes, but not often enough. The original Broadway production of Into the Woods was on tv. I think I still have it on VHS!

  • Mark | June 19, 2014 11:17 AMReply

    Changing the content does not equal censorship.

  • Mark | June 19, 2014 1:27 PM

    No, Ben. Censorship would be never allowing anyone to see it ever again. All this is is some creative differences between the creator and the studio being worked on. That happens every single day in Hollywood and publishing and every other business. And I can't cry for Sondheim too much since he had to suspect that Disney wasn't going to take the musical as is yet he still signed the deal with them. Brock gets it (although since Sondheim is involved, is it really anything like censorship? Not in my book.)

  • Brock | June 19, 2014 11:49 AM

    It has elements of censorship, but the creator of the work is complicit with the changes. This attitude may reflect that he wants the money from the transaction, or that there is an overall message he hopes the movie can convey even with the edits. Regardless, nothing "wrong" is going down. Business decisions are being made. As the government is completely uninvolved, it does not carry the burden of a censorship debate in the terms we normally use to reflect on that word.

  • Ben | June 19, 2014 11:33 AM

    That's EXACTLY what it means. Do you own a dictionary?

  • Kasey | June 19, 2014 11:15 AMReply

    I think Disney did the best thing for this musical. I'm glad they took a stand and gave the musical morals, instead of leaving it immoral. I think they are doing the world a favor.

  • Jessica | June 19, 2014 2:01 PM

    The whole point is that in reality, people are not moral. Have you seen the show?

  • jo | June 19, 2014 1:44 PM

    The show does not need cleaning up. Would be better to make the story as is at a different studio, than to Disney-fy it. It's not a sweet uplifting tale for kids. At least it wasn't. But it's not immoral, it's just deeper than the sanitized fairy tales kids read. That's the whole point of it. But they'd probably have difficulty marketing it to non-theatregoing adults, so they do what they have to in order to make a profit. Disappointing, but that's business I guess.

  • Tom | June 19, 2014 12:13 PM

    He may not have written it to be a fairy tale, but it appears he was willing to rewrite it is such. :-)

  • Mary | June 19, 2014 11:38 AM

    Based on your comment it's obvious you miss the entire point of Into The Woods to begin with. Life is NOT a fairy tale. There are bumps and turns along the way, and even though your mother tells you not to stray from the path, sometimes you do ... with consequences. Stephen Sondheim never wrote this to be a child's fairy tale. It's for adults. The fact that Disney is doing it will be its ruination. It's going to be changed so much they might as well write their own story. This is sad ... really sad. Anybody but Disney should have done this.

  • James | June 19, 2014 11:29 AM

    Have you seen the musical? Truly have you seen it? The final act of this musical deals with those issues, and how people are affected by those actions, learned how to move on. There is a moral to this story.... And it's a musical, not about someone's life or death. And not killing Rapunzel, might take away the amazing songs and story line of the witch, which to me makes the emotional core of the musical, besides Jacks/Bakers.

    It's sad, pathetic, self-righteous, and ignorances that leaks from your comment. It's sad that OUR world is filled with people like you.

    Disney has TAUGHT our children, that you should give up everything for a man, WAIT for a man to come save you, and so many disturbing attributes DOES more damage to children then a musical that deals with the consequences of cheating, lying, betraying, murder, selfishness, and death. This list could go on. It deals with LIFE issues that unfortunately a lot of us deal with. But this musical does it in a wonderful way, rather than a velar way.

    I think your mother should have done the WORLD a favor and taught you right and what morals are, but she failed.

  • Brad | June 19, 2014 11:22 AM

    What's wrong with you? No one's being forced to watch this, if people want to watch it and enjoy the sense of humor, then they damn well can. Musicals don't need morals, nothing "needs" morals. A work of aren't by definition literally can't be immoral. You're daft.

  • knowmad | June 19, 2014 11:09 AMReply

    So... The same thing every high school has been doing since it started being done by 14-18 year olds?

  • Stephanie | June 19, 2014 11:23 AM

    That's exactly what I was thinking. My daughter was the Baker's Wife in middle school and I enjoyed the production. After that I saw the original, liked the sanitized one better for kids!

  • Realist | June 19, 2014 10:27 AMReply

    Just what we need. A nice pervy Disney movie with sexual undertones of molestation. Yeah like the real Disney executives :)

  • Derp | June 19, 2014 11:47 AM

    Rebecca, it's a movie musical, not an educational movie. I've never actually seen it yet somehow I grew up without being vulnerable to men because *gasp* my parents were involved in my life and raised me to be confident and aware. They didn't depend on movie musicals for my education. I don't think the original musical was intended to be an educational text, either, just entertainment.

    From a story perspective, making the wolf into a sexual predator is both obvious and heavy handed, and not that big of a stretch from the source material for something that's supposed to be a fractured fairy-tale. I've always preferred more subversive adaptations of that particular fairy-tale.

    In this case, Disney is probably just aiming for light PG holiday fare and it's wise of them from a business perspective to make modifications now rather than rush to re edit or worse, rewrite and re film at zero hour because censors won't give them a PG.

  • Rebecca | June 19, 2014 11:10 AM

    Did you read the article? Disney is cutting that. And have you read any real fairy tales? The Disney versions are the ones we know; the originals were much more graphic and often featured older men behaving terribly towards girls. Try reading some old versions of Bluebeard! My girls have watched the original Into the Woods (that the clips above were taken from) since they were very young. Hiding the fact that men lust after girls doesn't stop it, it just makes them more vulnerable to being tricked. The wolf is not a hero. For an apropos song search Catie Curtis "The Wolf."

  • Joao | June 19, 2014 10:07 AMReply

    "Any Moment" was still in the film script and, while Cinderella's prince didn't sleep with the baker's wife, they did kiss again and again.

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