There are some positive aspects to the Into The Woods movie. It's beautifully shot with a cast that sings each note(with Auto-Tune's help) almost perfectly. But what frustrates this writer, along with many other fans, is that it could have been the greatest and the reason why its not, makes me afraid for future movie adaptations.
Lately movie musicals haven't been all that great. Les Miserables was way too pretentious, even for Les Miserables. RENT was toned down so much it could have been rated G. The Producers, The Phantom of the Opera and Hairspray were so inferior to the original productions, the films are a forgettable footnote.
But something about Into the Woods felt different. The cast seemed right for their roles, Sondheim and Lapine were directly involved, it sounded like Rob Marshall had learned from his Nine experience. The stars seemed aligned that this could be the best movie musical since Chicago yet better because Into the Woods is a far better piece to begin with.
But then the stars seemed to fall one by one as we got closer to the release date. First was the quote from Sondheim himself that Rapunzel doesn't die in the film. I found this to be incredibly alarming because so much of the show centers around her death. Marshall then came out and said that Mr. Sondheim misspoke and that while Rapunzel doesn't die, she does "meet a much darker fate."
So walking into the theatre, I was intrigued to see what Marshall meant by this. When the scene came, it became clear that Rob Marshall lied to us. Rapunzel doesn't meet a dark fate, instead she rides off for her own happy ending. While some fans don't have a problem with this, I do because of what it represents and what it could lead to down the road.
Let's talk about what it represents first. Columnist Meredith Woerner explains it best,
"In the original stage musical, Rapunzel's mother (the Witch) banishes her to the desert. There she gives birth to the Prince's twins, alone. Eventually, the blinded Prince finds her; she heals him with her tears, and they reunite. But the damage is already done, and Rapunzel's journey has driven her insane. Back in the enchanted kingdom, her madness sends her screaming and weeping through the woods, where she's eventually trampled to death by the Giant. And this all happens right in front of her mother."
By not killing Rapunzel the entire point of the "Witches Lament" is lost, making the character far less dimensional. "Witches Lament" is a brutal and chilling moment. Woerner goes on,"The Witch isn't necessarily upset with her past decision to imprison her daughter. The Witch is struggling with her grief and her own stubbornness. She's not singing about how she should have been a better Mother; she's singing about how she tried to protect the one she loved the most and failed." It's a ballad of delusion and grief.
It's too bad this was changed because Streep would have crushed this scene. She does an admirable job with the new direction but it is definitely an opportunity lost. Even her best moment, "Last Midnight", loses a bit of its power because of the script change.
Now let's talk about what this could mean down the road.
Despite the damage control that Marshall, Lapine and even Sondheim are doing regarding this, it's very clear that the decision to make this change was Disney's. There was no way that a character that is also included in their Disney Princess Gallery was going to trampled by a giant. I can imagine that the only reason why Sondheim was okay with this was because he's over 80 years old and this is the only chance he'll ever see this musical on screen. I bet that 20 years ago, there is no way Sondheim would ever allow this to happen.
What this change represents is a movie studio having the right to change important plot points for musicals to fit their ideals and philosophies. Say what you want about Les Miserables but Eponine and even Gavroche still die. I have no problem with songs being cut to fit for time but changing the plot is where I draw the line.
What is even more disturbing is that not more fans are worried about this. Many I've seen are taking the "well if this is the only way we'll get a movie version, then we'll take it.." or "it doesn't take away from how great the movie is.." If you are a fan of the original show and feel this way, that means you're either not an actual fan or you missed the point entirely. If "fans" are so easily accepting these changes, then who knows what may lie in store for us when the Pippin, In The Heights or Wicked movies are eventually released.
We've seen movie studios change or alter our favorite musicals before. The entire ending of Little Shop of Horrors was changed after test audiences thought the original ending from the stage version was too dark. Warner Bros, the studio behind Bugs Bunny, forced Frank Oz to make the changes.
As I said before, Into the Woods is an ok movie musical, I would certainly rank it in the better half of movie musicals of all time. But if the movie featured the material as it was written, with all of its complex themes, it could have been the greatest of all time. Instead it is just like every other Hollywood movie musical.