A forthcoming Disney adaptation of Into the Woods has dispensed with many of the iconic musical's more adult themes due to society's fondness for "puritanical ethics", according to its creator.
Into the Woods, directed by Chicago's Rob Marshall and starring Meryl Streep as an evil witch, is due to debut in US cinemas this Christmas. The musical features fairytale stalwarts such as Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel feeding into an original story centred around a baker and his wife who are vying to rid themselves of the witch's infertility curse. But Stephen Sondheim, lyricist and composer for the original Broadway production, said more subversive elements of the Brothers Grimm-themed story had been excised by studio chiefs.
"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 an audience of drama teachers at Sardi's restaurant in New York, also noting that Disney had objected to the sexualisation of the relationship between Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. Sondheim's comments were first reported by the New Yorker.
Added Sondheim: "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."
The composer said he had some empathy with Disney's position, which has also led to a key song from the original show, Any Moment, being cut. It was originally written to allow the baker's wife to reflect on her liaison with the prince.
Sondheim said teachers had a duty to explain to their students that creative licence could be undermined by social conservatism. "[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," he said. "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."
The composer said James Lapine, who wrote both the Tony-winning book of the musical and the film's screenplay, had argued against changing essential plot elements but ultimately lost the battle with Disney. As well as Streep, the cast includes Johnny Depp as The Wolf, Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife, Chris Pine as Cinderella's Prince, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and James Corden as the Baker. It will be released on Christmas Day in the US and 9 January in the UK.
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