Small child Sophia Grace Brownlee, she of Ellen appearances and tutus and "Super Bass" covers, has been cast in Rob Marshall's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, Entertainment Weekly has confirmed. The news confirms that the cinematic approach to this classic musical is completely off.
Okay, so it might sound like we're being complete jerks to an innocent child, but it's not really Sophia Grace's fault. She's just a kid who gets a chance to star in a movie with Meryl Streep. So, note that all our complaints are directed toward Disney and Rob Marshall. Brownlee is simply wrong for the role. As Erin Strecker at EW points out: she's 10. Sure, the character cutely chirps the show's titular "into the woods" chorus, but the Red of the musical also has a thinly disguised sexual flirtation with the show's Wolf, who will be played by Johnny Depp. It's, yes, supposed to be creepy, but Red is typically played by a teenager or a young-looking adult—Danielle Ferland was 16 when she appeared in the original Broadway cast—making it not that creepy. So either the movie has to be really creepy, or do away with those sexual undertones, which are ultimately important in context.
Aside from that, while Brownlee can surely belt, singing Sondheim is not that simple. It's all about phrasing, and, let's face it, Brownlee (who takes large gasps for air when she sings) doesn't have great technique. The charm of her viral videos is not that she's fantastic, it's that she's enthusiastic. Enthusiasm does not a Sondheim star make. And who knows if she can sit still long enough for Anna Kendrick's Cinderella to sing No One is Alone to her.
Unless Brownlee did something totally out of character in her audition, her casting amounts to little more than a stunt. Red is a significant role that shouldn't be stunt-cast. This is not to say that Marshall and Disney haven't made any interesting casting choices. James Corden is an actor who deserves more attention in America, which he will hopefully get from his turn as the Baker. And at least Jake Gyllenhaal is no longer playing Rapunzel's Prince. But casting Sophia Grace embodies the problem with turning this show into a Disney production. Disney is all smiles and happiness, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's certainly not Into the Woods. Sondheim's tricky, melancholy, gorgeous musical may have a fairy tale veneer, but once you hit the second act you realize it's mostly a dark, sad show about bad choices. If this latest bit of cutesy casting is any indication, those themes are going to be lost in the movie.