Not seeing the forest for the trees: ‘Into the Woods’ and other ways Hollywood gaffes in retelling classic fairy tales

“Into the Woods” fans, brace yourself: The Disney adaptation of the award-winning, long-running, grown-up thinking fairy tale musical by Stephen Sondheim – one of the stage’s pre-eminent writers – is getting neutered.

As the New Yorker reported recently, during a master class in New York City Sondheim told the audience of high school drama teachers that characters that are killed in the musical are not in fact dead and that sexual liaisons that occur are either not happening or probably not happening. C’mon folks, it’s Disney, right? What do you expect?

Somewhere along the line – and it was probably starting as far back as 1937, when Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was released – Disney became the de facto, go-to home for anything that even whiffed of childhood. In the ensuing years, the company has refashioned, retold and co-opted just about every fairy tale known to Western civilization, and some (hello, “Aladdin”) from other cultures entirely. The stories are their stories, the way they want to tell them, and that means the way the most adults and children want to consume them. And if that means smoothing out the rough parts and neutering anything that whiffs of controversy, supplanting all of it with sentimentality and tired moralistic and gender tropes, then so be it. The people don’t know better, do they?

The thing is they could. Fairy tales have been having a good run on TV and in the movies in recent years, even with Disney backing. From ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” series to NBC’s “Grimm” and even Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” (a blend of folk and fairy tale), these stories are not just for children any more – not that they ever really were in the first place. Original, undiluted fairy tales are dark, scary beasts big on retribution and less big on telling a big moral story or dispensing justice. They were warnings, not advisories.

Check out the rest of my new "Between the Lines" column over at Curiosity Quills!