Monday, February 25, 2008

A little help, Mr. Depp?

So last night, during the Oscars broadcast, they played that handsome clip from Sweeney Todd just before Daniel Day-Lewis took the stage to accept his well-deserved Oscar and Johnny Depp looked on peacefully as he has done a couple of other times before. I still think he looks terrible in the thin, slimy mustache he wears, by the way.

But this isn't about Mr. Depp's lost shot at Oscar Gold. This is about my daughter, Hazel.

Hazel loves Sweeney Todd. Loves him. She's never seen him, she doesn't know how pale and menacing he looks, and she doesn't know that he dispatches dozens of innocents with his barber's razors and delivers them to Mrs. Lovett (the whom Hazel also loves) who processes their carcasses into meat pies for the unsuspecting citizens of London to consume with greedy abandon. Hazel does know that Sweeney is angry sometimes, that he sings to his razors and that he has a daughter named Johanna.

So, when the clip came on last night, Hazel came running from the other room when she heard the familiar, darkened strains of Mr. Todd's baritone announcing his plans for vengeance and salvation. And she watched, rapt and fixedly enamored with the 20 second clip of her life's greatest mystery. And when it was over, she looked anxiously at me and then back at the TV, and then back at me. Her eyes questioned the possible return of the demon barber. Instead, Day-Lewis made the predicted walk and rattled on about something with words too big for her to follow. So she left.

Later she questioned me about Johanna. When could she see her? Was she going to sing? And what about Toby and the funny Italian? And I had nothing reassuring to tell her.

Hazel knows the order of the soundtrack. If the player is on random, it frustrates her to no end. She has her favorite tracks, characters, and plot points. If you let her have control of the player, she'll scan back and repeat the same few bars of My Friends until your nerves are frayed and you have to find a polite way to ask her to quit. The part she likes is at the end when the pipe organ crashes out the famous phrase swing your razor high, Sweeney... As the prologue and interludes didn't make the transition from stage to screen, those words are never sung, and I am saved the careful explanation of what they mean.

So, Mr. Depp, what am I to do? Can you help, Mr. Sondheim? Mr. Burton? Is there a reason your morbidly dark and gruesome bloodbath is so attractive to my perfectly untainted four year-old daughter? On the surface it seems the thing that only a seedy adult like me would go for, but somewhere in the tangled brier of note and lyric, you've laced it with something for children!? How dare you.

What do I tell her now? She asks every other day when she can see Sweeney and my excuse about the theater is losing its foundation by the day. Not too long ago, someone mentioned renting the movie in a conversation aside from her and her play, but she piped up and informed the chattering adults that it wasn't out yet. Not on DVD. I didn't even know she was aware of the concept.

I've also mentioned that it's not really a kids movie. And when she asked why I said that there are some parts that are scary and nobody should see them. She asked why they were scary and I said that Sweeney Todd was angry and hurt some people. She asked if she could see the not-scary parts and I stammered a lot and said we'd talk about it later. Then she asked why Sweeney was angry and I tried to change the subject.

So, Mr. Depp, I could use a hand, here. Anything you could offer to help me establish moral order again would be appreciated. A bloody lot.


  1. Sweeney Todd! Who would have guessed? I remember for a while Jane kept wanting to watch the "skelekons" on Pirates of the Caribbean. She must have been four also and she just didn't find our arguments that it was too scary and violent convincing. The funny thing is we probably could convince her to not want to watch it now, so something has changed.

  2. This is a toughy because it's such a bi-polar piece anyway. Really the music is pretty, lovely, name it. If I were a 4 year old girl, I'd probably love it too, besides that Johny Deep is so dreamy...

    But the play and ESPECIALLY the movie are quite gruesome, which I think many aren't expecting based on the score, heaven knows my father-in-law wasn't ready for it.

    Perhaps letting her watch that old Angela Lanbury production of it will get the taste of it out of her mouth, or, have one of your savy film editor friends cut all the violence out of it, which would leave it at about a 45 minute run time. When Hazel questions tell her if you showed her the other parts she'd never fall asleep again, EVER!

  3. true. and i've thought of showing her the lansbury version-- maybe when she's older (?). but if push came to shove, i might let her see a very truncated cut of the burton version. i think, more than anything, she wants to put faces to voices.

    one of the big problems is that her favorite song is the johanna medley between todd and anthony wherein he cuts a dozen throats like so many ripe tomatoes. and she's such a stickler for the order of the songs, she'll know she missed something. but i don't think anyone should ever have to sit through burton's vision of that scene, as lovely as the song is.

    she does have a taste for the macabre. she devoured a nightmare before christmas and she has to sit through the end credits every time, just too hear that final piece of music. strange little child.