Disney's announcement on January 11 that Rob Marshall will direct a new musical adaptation of "Into the Woods" must have linked up two different types of film fans: those who love the adult fairytale and those who love and miss movie musicals. The former genre has been a popular (yet creatively troubled) formula in Hollywood and an easy sell. The latter genre is still waiting for a new renaissance, despite fans thinking there was one after "Chicago" won Oscar's Best Picture in 2003.
As with all pairings of disparate things, the result sometimes turns out unexpectedly delicious. But there couldn't be a wider divergent group of fans between the adult fairytale crowd and musical buffs. Movie producers still have problems understanding that the Broadway stage is a vastly different entertainment universe from a theater screen.
You can bet, however, a pitch meeting in Hollywood will always go over well when a hot genre is creatively paired with some other salable genre. The thought of dark Brothers Grimm tales mixed with great Stephen Sondheim music is too hard to turn down. There may also be a thought, right or wrong, that the musical genre always has a roaring comeback approximately every 10 years.
Just what makes up a movie fan of an adult fairy tale and a musical aficionado? It seems the adult fairytale crowd is part of the "Twilight" contingent that wants to see a 20-something actress portraying a sophisticated Snow White. Conversely, the musical crowd is possibly a combination of ages, though must logically have some older members based on the lack of recent, good movie musicals.
If you go by demographics, any younger movie musical buffs are either studying theater in college or live on the East Coast and see Broadway shows often. It's this demographic that helps make the annual Tony Awards telecasts barely stay on the air. The crowds who gravitate toward the modern fairy tale are ones who expect a little steaminess with their Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel & Gretel, and no characters breaking into song over their misfortunes.
Then again, we're talking Stephen Sondheim music here. His scores broke all conventions of what you'd expect in a typical Broadway score, harmonically as well as complementing content. Sondheim can also turn the darkest of turns into a witty song that's worth your time.
Those who want dark will get it in "Into the Woods," along with songs that worked logically on a stage. In a film, the rhythm will have to be just right to not create an unfortunate annoyance when a song begins. The 2007 movie version of "Sweeney Todd" had its lengthy Sondheim songs get in the way of the drab Tim Burton set designs and all the blood.
It seems Sondheim is the only producer of musicals Hollywood wants to adapt. And that gives you a hint of where movie musicals (if more made) are heading: Into grittier territory. "Chicago" was enough of a harbinger. Now a musical has to be blended with an already popular film genre to get on a marketable streak.
Also, since "Into the Woods" consolidates Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel, you may not have to worry about new or updated non-musical, adult film versions of these tales. 2011's "Red Riding Hood" nearly ended the adult fairytale market. A failure of "Into the Woods" might brand the musical genre one giant "Nine" -- loads of stars, but lacking heart.
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