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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this feature-film version of Stephen Sondheim's Tony-winning 1979 Broadway show isn't as family friendly as most musicals (and star Johnny Depp definitely isn't in Pirates of the Caribbean mode). In fact, there's enough blood in this dark story to rival a slasher flick. There are dozens of throat slittings, cannibalism (via pies made out of human meat), and -- it can't be said often enough -- pints and pints of blood spattered everywhere. And if that's not enough, a woman is raped, a girl is wrongfully committed to an institution, and a young boy drinks gin, helps dupe people, and murders someone.
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What's the story?
Tim Burton's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's legendary musical stars Johnny Depp as Sweeny Todd, the demon butcher of Fleet Street. Todd particularly despises London and everyone in it -- he's just arrived back after 15 years in prison, and he's thirsty to avenge those who away took his life (specifically, his wife and baby daughter). Todd returns to Fleet Street to kill the Judge (Alan Rickman) who wrongfully imprisoned him in order to seduce Todd's wife. But it's soon clear that if his nemesis won't do Todd the honor of staying for "the closest shave he's ever had," the gifted, psychopathic barber will make do with slashing the throat of any customer. His accomplice, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who remembers Todd from when he was the happily married Benjamin Barker, turns the fresh cadaver meat into tasty meat pies. And with her to cover up his many slashed corpses, Todd becomes a 19th-century serial killer with an ever-growing appetite. The blood spraying everywhere seems to prod him further and further to continue his messy work.
Is it any good?
Anyone familiar with Sondheim's revenge tale will be ready for a fair amount of blood and gore. But those less versed with the source material should be warned: This is not a general-audience Rodgers & Hammerstein production. Burton is the ideal director to tackle this particular musical, since he's a master at theatrically dark and moody sets. He doesn't disappoint, perfectly bringing Sondheim's bleak London -- "a great black pit" inhabited by the "vermin of the world" -- to the screen. Depp and Bonham Carter are excellent performers who obviously work seamlessly with Burton (one is his acting muse, and the other is the mother of his children). But trained singing voices aren't part of their skill set. Depp's is passable -- actually, better than expected -- but Bonham Carter's upper range is awful, and she has to make up for her shaky voice by talk-singing most of the lyrics. Still, despite their lack of singing prowess, they're otherwise well cast as an odd couple of Fleet Street crazies.
All of the supporting characters have significantly better voices, like the lovelorn Antony (James Campbell Bowers) and Todd's teenage daughter/the Judge's ward Johanna (Jayne Wisener), who's a vision of cornsilk hair and first-Soprano sweetness. And viewers will especially love Sacha Baron Cohen's appearance as swindling Italian barber Signor Pirelli, complete with hammy accent and bushy mustache. While Sweeney Todd offers an abundant amount of blood, it has equal doses of humor and wit. But if you're squeamish, be prepared to spend the second half of the film covering your eyes. And fans of the musical should know up front that they'll be underwhelmed by the singing. Still, it's true to the story, has a dazzling score, and is definitely worth seeing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether the movie's bloody nature is different from the gore in horror films. If so, how? Which has more impact, and why? Does it matter that the violence and bloodshed in this film are so stylized? Are viewers meant to find it funny, disturbing, or both?
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