There's been a lot of news lately about "Into the
Woods," Walt Disney Pictures' big holiday release for 2014. What with Jake
Gyllenhaal & Chris Pine recently signing to play the Princes in this big
screen adaptation of Steven Sondheim's Tony Award-winning musical. Not to
mention Emily Blunt agreeing to play the Baker's Wife, while Les Misérables star
Daniel Huttlestone & Anna Kendrick have been in talks to play Jack and Cinderella,
Given that Meryl Streep has already committed to play the
Witch and Johnny Depp has previously signed to play the Big Bad Wolf ... Well,
it's been kind of fun watching how this new Rob Marshall project has been
coming together. Week to week following which new stars have agreed to join the
cast of Disney's "Into the Woods."
That said, it's important to note here that Hollywood
has already taken several stabs at turning this stage musical into a movie. And
while each of these early attempts at turning "Into the Woods" into a
film had plenty of star power (not to mention a surprising number of Disney
ties) involved, they never quite got off the ground.
The initial attempt was made back in 1994, just three years
after the original production of "Into the Woods" had closed on
Broadway. Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope company first optioned the
film rights for this project, then hired Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (of
" & "City Slickers
" fame) to write the
screenplay. Sondheim and "Into the Woods" director & librettist
James Lapine were then signed to serve as consultants on this proposed motion
Now where this gets interesting is that Ganz & Lowell
had so enjoyed working with Penny Marshall on "A League of Their Own
that -- when they finished a first draft of their "Into the Woods"
screenplay -- Lowell & Babaloo immediately slipped Penny a copy and then
asked her if she might consider directing this new movie musical.
And Marshall was
intrigued enough by the material that -- in October of 1994 -- she arranged an
all-star reading of Ganz & Lowell's script at her home. And virtually
everyone who was anyone back in 1990s Hollywood
was there that day. We're talking Robin Williams reading for the Baker, Goldie
Hawn as the Baker's Wife and Cher as the Witch. Wait. It
gets better. Steve Martin was the Big Bad Wolf, Mayim Bialik was Red Riding
Hood, Elijah Wood was Jack and Roseanne Barr was Jack's Mother. Plus Danny DeVito as the Giant and Brendan
Fraser and Kyle MacLachlan as the handsome princes.
Copyright 1992 Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved
From what I've heard from a friend who was there that
afternoon, it quickly became apparent that -- when you applied this much star
power to all that brilliant material that Sondheim & Lapine had already
created -- you had the makings of a massively entertaining motion picture. The
only problem was ... How was the studio ever going to structure the budget for
a movie version of "Into the Woods" (which was already going to
involve elaborate sets & costumes plus tons of special effects) in a way
that they could then actually afford all these stars and still eventually
manage to turn a profit on this project?
American Zoetrophe could never quite find a way to make those
numbers work. So in spite of the fact that they really, really, REALLY did want
to turn "Into the Woods" into a movie musical, they eventually let
the film rights slip away to Sony Pictures in 1995. Where it was then announced
Jim Henson Productions would be adapting this stage show to the screen.
And the folks over at Henson, they had some very intriguing
ideas in regards as to how to properly mount a movie version of "Into the
Woods." First was to hire Rob Minkoff (i.e. the co-director of Walt Disney
Pictures' hugely successful 1994 release, "The Lion King
") to helm
this production. Second was to cast Billy Crystal as the Baker and Meg Ryan as
the Baker's Wife. Which would have been the first time that these two had
worked together since their super-popular pairing in 1989's "When Harry
Copyright 1989 Columbia Pictures. All rights reserved
Then -- when you factor in Jim Henson Productions' decision to
hire Susan Sarandon to play the Witch in the "Into the Woods" movie
-- well, you then had a relatively affordable version of this proposed motion
picture that still had plenty of star power. Not to mention a great promotional
hook (i.e. Crystal & Ryan back together again for the first time since
"When Harry Met Sally") for this project. Sondheim & Lapine allegedly
thought highly enough of this proposed production that they then agreed to craft
five or six new songs for the film. So with great fanfare in the Hollywood
trades, it was then announced that shooting of the movie version of "Into
the Woods" would begin in the late summer of 1996. Which then got pushed
back to the Spring of 1997. And after that ... nothing.
So what happened? As happens all too often in Tinsel
Town, there was a management change
at Sony Pictures. And the executive who had been really excited about turning
"Into the Woods" into a film was replaced by another executive who
wasn't all that big on movie musicals. And without this exec at Sony signing
off on that proposed project's budget, "Into the Woods" never ever got
Which may have been -- in the end -- a good thing. For I
actually own a copy of Lowell & Babaloo's adaptation of "Into the
Woods." And while they obviously had to make some changes to this stage
show's story in order to make that movie into something which Jim Henson
Productions could produce (EX: The Three Little Pigs were inserted into the
storyline so that Jim Henson's Creature Shop could then produce some elaborate
animatronic versions of these characters), some of the story adjustments that
Ganz & Mandel made would have not have gone over with Sondheim fans. Take
-- for example -- SPOILER AHEAD having the Baker's Wife survive her fateful encounter
with the giant's wife by climbing up into this enormous woman's tangled hair
and then hiding there.
So in the long run, it was probably for the best that it
took this long (almost two decades now) for "Into the Woods" to finally
be adapted to the screen. From what I hear, the screenplay that Rob Marshall will
be using was actually written by James Lapine, the man who both directed &
wrote the libretto for the original Broadway show. And from what I've been
told, this version of the film script is remarkably faithful to the stage show.
Which means that the second half of this Holiday 2014
Walt Disney Pictures release is going to be AGAIN - SPOILER AHEAD pretty
But what do you folks think? Are you looking forward to
Disney's "Into the Woods" ? More importantly, do you like that the Mouse & Rob Marshall seem to be circling back on Penny Marshall's original idea? Which was to turn this movie musical into a genuine event by loading the production up with as many stars as possible?
The casting sounds great. Disney should be a good fit. Special effects could make or break it. For Sondheim's sake, I'm hoping Rob Marshall does for "Into the Woods" what he did for "Chicago."
I think the SINGING could make or break it - one must be an exceptional and skilled singer to tackle most of what Sondheim writes. Sweeney Todd had almost an entire cast which could NOT sing.
I'm ok with the casting, all except Meryl Streep. Into The Woods has such an amazing score and the thought of listening to Meryl's thin voice try and warble its way through all of the Witch's challenging and brilliant material is just heart breaking.
I'm skeptical. I love this musical and I disagree with the comment that you don't need to be a skilled singer to do Sondheim. Sondheim in general, and this musical in particular, is very very challenging. I know. I've done it. Sondheim is deceptively challenging and without proper singers the nuances of the music will just be glossed over. I don't know the quality of singing of Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Jake Gyllenhall, Emily Blunt, and Johnny Depp. But all of their characters must be exceptional singers. I'm also dubious at the apparent lack of Narrator (a pivitol and highly important role in the stage play in which the actor plays another highly important role) and the dual casting of the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince, a role written to be played by the same actor, again for important literary purposes. That said, if Lapine is writing this screenplay, there must be some thought behind it. I generally don't approve of Hollywood hiring "stars" in musicals when they don't have the singing chops. I understand that you need to be able to sell the movie and casting unknown but brilliant singers (who may have unbelieveable stage presence, but won't translate to screen) would also be subjecting the project to a terrible fate; still, I'd like to see actors who can both act AND sing. Challenging? Absolutely. Doable? Certainly. I'll be interested to see how this turns out.