This morning, in a move not unlike George Lucas announcing a Spaceballs remake, Disney has announced that they are preparing to bring the heavily narratively deconstructive Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods to the silver screen. Now, before you get worried that all the narratively interesting parts are going to be stripped out before it gets to the set, James Lapine, the original writer (of the text, where Sondheim penned the music) of Into the Woods is on board to adapt the two act musical to screen. If you’re wondering why this is a really interesting move for Disney, read on.
But first, the actual announcement:
The Walt Disney Studios recently announced that Rob Marshall is set to direct a film adaptation of the acclaimed Broadway musical Into the Woods, featuring Stephen Sondheim’s original music. The film will be produced by Marshall and John DeLuca through their production company LUCAMAR Productions. James Lapine, who wrote the stage musical with Stephen Sondheim, will adapt for the screen. The project is in development under a new multi-year producing deal between Disney and LUCAMAR.
Rob Marshall most recently directed Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides for Disney, but was also the director behind Chicago, so we’ll assume he can do better with a good script.
Here’s the thing about Into the Woods. It is a retelling of the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, with mentions of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty that pulls no punches and often includes more of the gruesome motifs of the actual fairy tales (like step-sisters eyes getting pecked out, and a bald Rapunzel wandering in the desert) than the Disney versions ever did. And that’s just the first act, where everybody gets what that want. That’s right: by the end of the first act, everybody is set to live happily ever after. Surely you must be wondering what’s in the second act. This:
The curtain opens and all of the characters face understandable, realistic unhappiness or disillusionment with how they have wound up (the Princes and Princesses tire of the relationships they founded on whims, the Baker and his wife long for more space to raise their new family in, Jack misses the adventure provided by the beanstalk), and the unforeseen consequences of the heroes getting what they want come back with a vengeance. The widow of the giant Jack slew, for example, rages with grief, murdering several major characters and destroying pretty much everybody’s home.
Then the entire cast collaborates to sacrifice the narrator to the giantess, major characters are accidentally killed in fits of panic and rage, every character has extended moments of moral weakness and paranoia, and ultimately everybody decides that they have no idea what is morally correct or who is ultimately to blame for their problems. They must simply try to end the current violence with more violence if necessary, and start (at the end of the play) with a clean slate, promising not to pass on this tangle of curses, oaths, and misunderstanding to the next generation, as many of their parents did to them.
Disney wading into the territory of deconstructing their own princess stories? I’m on board.