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When word first started to circulate about Disney’s reportedly “family friendly” version of Into the Woods, I realized the wisest course of action for my emotional well-being would be to trick myself into thinking that the Rob Marshall–directed film adaptation arriving in theaters this Christmas had no relation to the beloved Broadway musical I had memorized every word to in middle school. But now we have our first trailer, and for the moment, I’m able to kind of keep doing so, mostly because there’s almost no sign that this is a musical — a Sondheim musical at that — and not a star-studded big-screen version of ABC’s Once Upon a Time.
For those of you wondering why Chris Pine in glam prince drag is worth anyone’s emotional energy, a quick catch-up: Into the Woods is an adaptation of a classic Stephen Sondheim musical with a great gimmick: Like most musicals, it’s divided into two acts — the first is an interwoven retelling of the stories of several fairy tale characters, including Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel, all of whom “wish” for something in the opening number (and in this trailer). Act 1 ends with “happily ever after”; Act 2 explores what happens afterward — mostly, how after everyone gets their “wish,” they find themselves bored and restless again. Maybe a “dark retelling of fairy tales” doesn’t sound like the most mind-blowing concept in 2014, but the musical debuted in 1986, before “dark retellings” were par for the course (it definitely owes a lot to the downer ’70s before it, though). And Sondheim’s brand of darkness focuses less on death and destruction (though there is a fair amount of that, too) than everyday domestic malaise. It’s like Mad Men, with big bad wolves instead of Jaguar execs.
Cool things about this trailer: that cast! Anna Kendrick is going to probably win it all as Cinderella; Meryl Streep as the Witch is a brilliant, blatant piece of stunt casting that is all but guaranteed to pay off. Not-as-cool things: It’s more or less a list of names, with only a hint of recognizable score, and no singing whatsoever. It’s sort of like U.S. trailers for foreign-language films that try to cut around the ugly truth that its actors don’t speak American. Be a musical, Into the Woods! Embrace it!
Without much else to go on, that Disney logo at the top still doesn’t inspire the most confidence (sorry, corporate overlords!). Though Sondheim has stated that the rumored softening of the story has been largely misreported (and — phew — “Any Moment,” the infidelity duet between Cinderella’s prince and the baker’s wife, has not been cut), it’s far easier to believe that Disney would sand down some of the play’s darker themes to uphold its brand. Have you seen the fireworks display they do every night at Disneyland? It’s called “Remember … Dreams Come True,” it is a gorgeous, completely engrossing piece of corporate propaganda, and it’s kind of everything that Into the Woods isn’t. There’s room for both things in this world, but if Disney’s trying to make Into the Woods its next Frozen, it might have to wish (or edit) a little harder.