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10 Things You Should Know About Disney's Film Version of "Into The Woods"

10 Things You Should Know About Disney's Film Version of "Into The Woods"

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Into The Woods Disney movie logo

Meryl Streep stars as the Witch in Disney's Live Action movie Into the Woods

Twelve years ago, following the phenomenal success of the big screen adaptation of the Broadway musical "Chicago" director Rob Marshall sat down with Stephen Sondheim and expressed an interest in directing a film version of one of the legendary composer's stage productions. At the top of Sondheim's list: "Into the Woods," one of his most acclaimed - and poignant - works, and one which he thought would be a perfect fit for Marshall.

Marshall and his producing partner, John Deluca, had been fans of Sondheim and James Lapine's landmark musical since it opened on Broadway in 1987. Together, they took their passion project to Disney, and immediately knew they had found the perfect company to bring the stage musical to life. "They were truly interested in expanding the definition of what a 'modern fairly tale' film could be," says Marshall.

So after 27 years, the long-awaited classic was set to begin its journey forward. "The Woods of our story is universal, and can mean so many things," Marshall says. "It is the place you go to find your dreams, confront your fears, lose yourself, find yourself, grow up and learn to move forward. It's all part of life. So 'Into the Woods' we go, again and again..."



Number OneDirector Rob Marshall was inspired by a speech President Obama made on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Marshall heard President Obama addressing the families of the victims. In an effort to console them, Obama said, "You are not alone... No one is alone." The phrase "No One is Alone," which is one of the most moving and memorable songs from "Into the Woods" struck a chord with Marshall and in that moment he knew that the time was finally right to bring the beloved musical to the screen.

"In many ways, I think 'Into the Woods' is a fairy tale for the 21st century post 9/11 generation," Marshall says. "Sondheim and Lapine were way ahead of their time when they wrote it. The comforting knowledge that we are not alone in an unstable world gives us all that glimmer of hope."


Number Two

Meryl Streep turned down similar Witch roles in the past, but was the first actor to come on board this musical

Speaking about why this Witch is different from those that have come before Meryl Streep said, "I changed my mind when this role came along because this Witch is quite different. First of all, she transforms. Her whole reason for being is to reverse a curse that has been placed on her; she sets in motion all sorts of devices and causes a dramatic upheaval in everybody's lives."

"This is a musical with a brain," she said. "There is an intelligence at work because it is Sondheim and Lapine. It is visually fun and emotionally satisfying, but it also has this other element that engages us as artists and makes us want to bring everything we can to it." 



Number Three

The cast had six weeks of rehearsals to get confident with Sondheim and cows

Director Rob Marshall says, "Since this film is an ensemble piece, it was important for everyone to work together to create a cohesive piece." 

"Rob comes from musical theatre and he comes to the project so prepared," Tracey Ullman explains. "During the rehearsals we all sat around and sang and read the material, which is exactly what you do when you are putting on 'a stage show, and when we got to the locations we knew the timings and we could get right into the take."

According to producer John DeLuca, the rehearsal period was not so much about blocking the actors' movements but about getting to know the text and giving the actors the chance to get to know and become confident, with their characters journey. "This was a time when everyone could experiment with their characters and toss around all those different ideas to see what would stick, Musicals were new to a lot of the people, and it's very difficult music. Sondheim's music and lyrics are calculus for actors. It was really a bootcamp they went into. " he says. 

"They also had to learn to ride horses and be with the cow," he continued. "We had four cows and you really have to learn where to stand and what to do because cows can have a temperament." Tracey Ullman admitted that she fell in love with the cows while learning to work with them.



Number FourIt was decided early on that the filmmakers would avoid the use of green screens as much as possible

Director Rob Marshall: "It was also decided early on that we would avoid the use of green screens as much as possible, because I believe it's harder for actors to imagine themselves in such a specific world when you can't truly visualize where you are. So the majority of our sets were practical sets."

While a good portion of the film was shot on practical locations, there was a substantial amount filmed on sound stages as well. As a result, the filmmakers were constantly having to adapt certain looks, as they would see things on location and would need to modify the sets accordingly.

According to producer John DeLuca, "One of our major concerns from day one was how to shoot the film to make our locations in the woods seamlessly blend with our constructed sets. We needed to make the two worlds gel so the audience was never aware, and we had daily conversations about the best way to keep those two worlds as one.

    Number Five

It was Johnny Depp's idea to base his Wolf character on a Tex Avery cartoon character

In explaining his inspiration for his character's costume, Depp says, "When I was first approached about the role, I just had this burning sort of vision in my head of the World, and all I could think of was the wolf in the zoot suit and a cat chain, and the second I mentioned my idea to Colleen Atwood she got very excited. And from there she went to work, and she did it up exactly right. She was right on the money... and as usual, she totally nailed it."

To complete the look of Little Red Riding Hood's dastardly stalker, Depp's personal makeup artist, Joel Harlow, initially devised a full prosthetic piece. But after a series of camera tests, the look was scaled down to more of a suggestion of a wolf through the use of shadows and lighting. 


Number SixRapunzel's single braid was 20 feet long and made of real blonde hair from Germany

Six pounds of the German hair was hand-woven with very strong cotton and braided into MacKenzie Mauzy's (Rapunzel) real hair. Mauzy spent the entire production, as well as several weeks of pre-production, wearing the braid, as she wanted to be sure it looked as if she'd had it her entire life. "It felt very odd at first, but when it was cut off, I realized I had become strangely attached to it," she says.


Number SevenLocation, location, location 

When filmmakers began their initial discussions as to where to shoot the film, it was determined that England's preserved history and enchanting energy was the perfect place to create a world where fairy tale characters come to life, and the country's lush, picturesque landscapes, numerous castles and stately manors offered a wealth of possibilities. And Rob Marshall felt that it made sense to shoot as much on location as possible.

The logistics of filming on location in England in the fall required meticulous planning, as the filmmakers had a small window in which to make the film before winter set in. As a result, all the location work was scheduled early on in the production schedule when there were still leaves on the trees.

Murphy's Law - what can go wrong, will - doesn't care about meticulous planning, however. When a shooting location suddenly became unavailable the  movie's producers had to scramble to find a new castle location. Just 3 days before shooting was to begin an English manor owner changed his mind about having the filmmakers on his grounds. The production team did eventually find a suitable location as well as an agreeable property owner. In the end both producers agreed that this new location made the film even better.


Number EightEmily Blunt's (The Baker's Wife) condition was incredibly ironic

Emily Blunt: "The Baker's Wife needed to have a sort of slightly-flustered look, and and costume designer Colleen Atwood was masterful at not only creating beautiful costumes, but as hiding the fact that I was pregnant during the shoot, the irony being that I was playing a character who desperately wants a child, while I actually had a child inside me."


Number Nine

No CGI Lady Giant here. Actress Frances De La Tour stomped her way through a miniature forest set

One of the advantages of bringing a story like Into the Woods" to the big screen is being able to effectively create a world in which the characters live.When the filmmakers defining that world have needs that go beyond the confines of practical sets, that's when visual effects supervisor Matt Johnson steps in. 

In "Into the Woods," the visual effects included many of the classical fairy tale elements which are key to the story. Like a computer-generated beanstalk that sprouts up to the sky, a 60-foot giant trampling through a forest, the magic transformation of Cinderella's shabby dress into a beautiful new gown, and the vortex tornado that swirls around the Witch whenever she appears and disappears (something the filmmakers affectionately refer to as "Meryl Magic"). While the effects were computer generated, they still felt very real, because Johnson and his team undersood how it should work and only used the effects when they were truly needed.

The style of computer generation employed was a mixture of old-fashioned practical effects combined with cutting-edge visual effects technology. Johnson explained  "Rob is quite fond of many of the old, classic films so we're bringing elements of that into this one. For example, many filmmakers would have wanted the Giant to be a computer-generated creature, but Rob was keen to get an actress (Frances De a Tour) so as to get a really great, human performance."

This feat was accomplished by creating an entire miniature forest with miniature trees for De la Tour to march through, smashing and knocking them over, which is similar to techniques used in 1950's films. But with "Into the Woods," the footage is blended with CGI to provide more of a modern feel.


Number Ten

Chris Pine (Cinderella's Prince) discovered the joy of singing in Rob Marshall's living room

Rob Marshall wanted 'actors that can kind of sing', so when asked what it was like to audition for the role of Cinderella's Prince, Chris Pine replied "I had no idea what 'Into the Woods' was so I had no idea what I was getting into/ But it was Rob Marshall and Meryl Streep so I said yes right away. I had a night to prepare a song to sing in Rob Marshall's living room. I had not sung for anyone but myself and my soap dish so I was terrified.But Rob and John were lovely and understanding and talked with me first about what kind of music I liked then joined me in singing which was great fun. It is just a blast and a great joy and reminded me that what we do is joyful."

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