Taking New Consumers Into the Woods

It may not have won any Golden Globes, but Disney’s latest live action Stephen Sondheim film ‘Into the Woods’ is generating enormous amounts of excited chatter among movie-goers. In fact, people who would never consider seeing a musical have been won over by the incredible brand of Disney and the galaxy of stars chosen to star in the film. But . . .


There always has to be a ‘but’. Despite these rave reviews populating every media channel, there is one group who isn’t overly satisfied with the film. Hard core theatre traditionalists. They like the film but are rather annoyed that some aspects have been Disney-ified and songs have been added and removed. However, there is good reason for these changes.

Out of all the musical composers in the world, Stephen Sondheim isn’t the most accessible. Don’t get me wrong, he writes phenomenal and moving shows. However they aren’t always the most audience friendly with complex and existential messages deeply embedded in a story that the audience member has to unravel.

Part of this complex journey to unraveling the message is what makes him such a powerful writer, but it does impact his ability to translate to the much wider movie audience.

Under the guidance of Stephen Sondheim, Disney was given permission to make a few tweaks to the storyline and even include a new song written by the great composer himself. While these changes may alter the traditional stage show slightly, they play a much more important overall role. They open this art form of Stephen Sondheim musicals up to a much wider demographic allowing his important messages to pervade through society rather than just the theatre community.

Isn’t this what every art form is looking for? The chance to spread their messages to as many people as humanly possible?

This is much more feasible to do through the medium of film because it can be communicated at a price point many more people are willing to pay. In addition the message is also being communicated through a channel which is much more comfortable and familiar for a larger group of consumers.

Sure, the movie features a slightly changed story. But at the same time it has opened this legendary show up to one of the biggest entertainment audiences in the world. And with every blockbuster feature musical, more people will be enticed to see the real thing live on a stage contributing to the enduring popularity of the theatre into the future. Surely this societal contribution is worth the slight Disney-fication of this well-known show?