The Wizard of Oz
Since Baum's original 13 novel's, there have been countless movies, stage productions, books, comics, games and TV productions based on Baum's Oz. These have included sequels, prequels, spoofs and adaptations of the original Oz books. Most adaptations of the books have been based on either of Baum's first two novels in the Oz series -The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or The Marvellous Land of Oz.
Motion Picture Adaptations:The Wizard of Oz movie trailer on Youtube
While there have been numerous attempts to make a major motion picture based on one of the Oz books, nearly every major production has been a flop, or was quickly forgotten after only some initial success. The one exception so far has been the 1939 MGM production The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy and Frank Morgan as the wizard. Not only has this movie been the most successful adaption of one of the Oz books, but it has indeed been one of the most successful movies of all time. The film was nominated for Best Picture and won an Oscar for Best Song (Over the Rainbow). It lost for Best Picture to Gone with the Wind, which, ironically, is also one of the most successful movies of all time, and Victor Fleming, who directed most of The Wizard of Oz, left Oz to take over Gone with the Wind.
Some catchy tunes in this musical version of Baum's novel helped ensure that the film left an indelible mark on early movie-goers, who were also unaccustomed to seeing movies in color. The movie made some significant changes from Baum's novel, adding sub-plots and removing others, changing Dorothy's slippers from silver to ruby red, and in making the whole Oz experience just a dream. Nevertheless, the film was closer to Baum's novel than the early silent movie versions that had already been done.
While it has been said that The Wizard of Oz was an intial box-office flop, this is not entirely true. The movie grossed three million dollars with its intial release, which was a respectable sum in 1939 figures. However, this was not regarded as a commercial success, given that it had cost 2.8 million to produce, which, in 1939 terms, was a very steep sum, given that most movies of the period used sets that were not much more elaborate than their stage production counterparts. The movie ultimately did prove to be a big money maker with its ability to captivate each successive generation of movie audiences as much as it had originally. Part of the movie's appeal has been that it has proven popular both with adults and children.
The success of MGM's 1939 adaptation of the novel, while so many other adaptations have been dismal flops, can no doubt largely be attributed to the acting talents of the girl they found to play Dorothy -Judy Garland (pictured at right in Dorothy costume). The role of Dorothy was a difficult role to cast, in an era when women were not supposed to be heroines, and were expected to sit back and wait to be rescued by their male co-stars. Women were supposed to be followers rather than leaders. When Baum invented a girl to be the hero of his novel, he broke all the rules of the traditional fairytale. This was such a strange concept for early movie-goers that in some of the early silent movie versions of the story, Dorothy becomes almost a minor character, as she gives way to her male co-stars. Although some actresses, such as Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, were able to capitalize on the notoriety of an independent woman, Dorothy Gale had to be likeable in order for this movie to work. Judy Garland, in the MGM adaptation, was able to hold the spotlight in this film from start to finish, without becoming so pushy as to be a turn-off to audiences, who at the time still thought it proper for a girl to do a curtsy when she introduces herself, as Judy Garland does in The Wizard of Oz.
The recent success a few years ago of the Sci-Fi Network's Tin Man may suggest that main-stream audiences are finally ready for a Dorothy-type heroine. The Dorothy Gale in Tin Man is actually closer to MGM's Dorothy than the original "butt-kicking" Dorothy of Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who threw the bucket of water at the wicked witch quite intentionally. Nevertheless, Tin Man's DG showed some spunk that the MGM Dorothy didn't have, and still gives us reason to believe that a more assertive Dorothy in some of the upcoming Oz adaptations will prove likeable with modern movie-goers.
Journey Back to Oz (1974)Watch Journey Back to Oz on Youtube
An animated sequel to the 1939 movie, loosely based on Baum's second Oz novel, The Marvellous Land of Oz. Directed by Hal Sutherland, this adaptation features the voice of Liza Minnelli as Dorothy. (Minnelli is the daughter of Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in the 1939 adaptation.) It also features Margaret Hamilton, who played the witch in the 1939 adaptation, as the voice of Aunt Em. It also features Garland's life long friend Mickey Rooney as the voice of Scarecrow, and Milton Berle as Lion.
The Wiz (1978)See The Wiz movie trailer on Youtube
This was a Motown Productions motion picture adaptation of the 1975 Broadway musical of the same name that starred Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the scarecrow, Richard Pryor as the Wiz and Lena Horne as Glinda the Good. It featured music from the stage version, as well as a couple of extra songs. Despite the fact that the stage version had been a big success, the film's huge budget, and an impressive list of African-American stars as the film's cast, the movie was a flop.
To understand why Baum's novel had found such a receptive reading audience, when it first hit the bookshelves back in 1900, we have to understand a little bit about the mind-set of turn-of-the-century America. In 1900, Dorothy's gray Kansas farm was what many Americans of the day thought of as "home". This was still a largely rural nation, and among big-city dwellers, there were plenty of folk who still had fond memories of growing up on the farm. Among those who were steadfastly sticking to a traditional way of life, which, at the time, had not yet benefitted much from modern machinery, the lights of the city were calling, promising a way of life free from the never ending grind of farm life. The call of the city lights must have been particularly powerful for young women of the time. The big city seemed to offer the potential for a kind of independence for women, which a farm girl could only dream about.
So you've got this novel about a farm girl, who travels to this big futuristic city (Emerald City), where everything seems to be made of Emeralds. On her journey to this big city, she meets kind and generous people and makes some new trustworthy friends. Upon reaching this magnificent city of Emeralds, she meets a bunch of "phonies", who don't really live in an Emerald City, but who live in a city made to look like it is made of Emeralds. The novel ends with our farm girl concluding that there is no place like home -back on the farm.
By 1978, when The Wiz hit movie theatres, something of a reversal of this move to the big city was in progress. This was the post-industrial revolution, and all across America, people were moving to the suburbs. The baby-boom of the 50s and 60s had long since ended, and city streets, that had once been filled with children's laughter during the day, were now home to roaming, restless teens after dark. Large urban centers, that had given rise to a generation of affluent industrial workers, were now the abode of the nation's homeless and poverty-stricken social assistance recipients.
So in many ways, The Wiz seemed to be a movie right for the times, just as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had come along as people were making their way to the big city. The Wiz, unlike Baum's novel, does not have Dorothy land in the land of "little people" and then journey to this big magnificent city; rather, it has Dorothy land in what looks like a fantasy version of what appears to be a largely abandoned New York City. In this adaptation, Dorothy is not a farm girl who has an experience in a big dazzling city; instead, she's a NYC girl who has a journey through what we might describe as a ghetto. And after a trip through this ghetto, I guess anyone would conclude that "there's no place like home!" Moral of the story: Barricade yourselves in your apartments all you city-dwellers.
The year was 1978, and this was the same year for the release of another popular musical -Grease. The irony, of course, is that what should have been a really bad movie, Grease, turned out to be not half bad, and what should have been a really good movie, The Wiz, turned out to be just awful. The reason for this, I think, is that the film-makers for Grease managed to avoid all the usual pitfalls that movie-makers tend to make, while the makers of The Wiz seemed to fall into all of these pitfalls.
The other major thing this movie had working against it is when Diana Ross, who was not even being considered for the role of Dorothy, insisted that she should get the role. Now Miss Ross may be a fine singer and a great actress, but when your Dorothy Gale is a 33 year old woman (Ross' age at time of filming), then the whole "wizard of oz" concept just starts coming apart at the seams. Dorothy has got to be the youngest of her set of companions, or the story just doesn't work. This is a movie for young people, and we all know that kids like to think themselves much more brilliant than their elders. So this movie ended up with a cast, where the only major star under thirty was cast as the scarecrow. Now it doesn't take a whole lot of brains to guess that when you make a movie and cast the youngest guy as the brainless one, then it's going to be an immediate no-starter with most any young person.
Baum's Dorothy and her concluding that "there's no place like home" struck a chord with turn-of-the-century Americans, who were enamoured by the bright lights of the city, but who, at the same time, had their reservations about city life. Dorothy from The Wiz is a big-city woman (not a girl), who gets lost in what looks like a child's nightmarish interpretation of a ghetto, and who just wants to get back home to her apartment in the city. The concept didn't work for old folks; it didn't work for young folks either. It didn't work for city dwellers; it didn't work for country folk. People were leaving the cities for the suburbs, and few were nostalgic about going back to the city. Of course, young people always enjoy city life more than country life, but as already mentioned, this movie was a no-starter with young people, because of its older cast. Moreover, the movie featured an all African-American cast, so the concept may have been fine for blacks living in uptown districts of big cities, where there was a clear boundary between the uptown districts and the ghetto areas. And yes, it was whites who were leaving the cities in the 70s, and it was blacks who were getting left behind, but for the most part, these blacks were winding up in the ghettos, not the uptown areas. Assuming blacks wanted out of the ghetto as much as whites did, we can see that this movie's target audience was older, middle-class blacks, living in the uptown districts of very large cities. Whether this movie actually found much appeal with its target audience is another matter again.
As the stage version of this movie proved, this particular adaptation had some potential, but it failed for obvious reasons. Some movies fail because they were all wrong to begin with. But should there come a day when someone wants to give this one another try, I think that potential is still there, but one would have to avoid the mistakes that The Wiz made: You begin by looking at your competition (the 1939 MGM version), and you do everything bigger and better than what they did, starting with the costumes. You look at the Judy Garland Dorothy . . . a plain old country girl look . . . simple, yet cute, and it has since become iconic, despite the fact that there is nothing fancy or unusual about it. Then there's the cast: You would need a much younger cast, and you would need to re-work the concept a bit so it looked a little less like a little girl's nightmare, and maybe more like a teenage girl's nightmare. And maybe instead of having Dorothy as a schoolteacher who gets lost in a snowstorm, they could have a teenage girl running away from home, and winding up concluding that "there's no place like home" -wherever home happens to be . . . whether it's in the city . . . in the country . . . or on a mountain-top.
Return to Oz (1985)See Return to Oz movie trailer on Youtube
This was a Walt Disney Pictures production, starring Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, based on Baum's two follow-up books to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz -The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. Directed by Walter Murch, it earned an Academy Award nomination for "Best Visual Effects". The movie bombed at the box office, raking in less than half of what it had cost to produce it.
The reason this adaptation failed is, no doubt, it was Disney, and it resembled a horror movie, much more than it did a children's fantasy movie. Now horror movies are usually fool-proof, when it comes to making money -all you have to do is scare people, and you don't need much in the way of a plot -just plenty of ghouls and monsters chasing people around, screaming at the top of their lungs. You don't need any big name, high salaried actors; just a bunch of young women who are good screamers. Nor do you need a lot of elaborate sets, since most of the scenes are shot in the dark --a nice, creepy old gothic style house will do just fine, and the more dilapidated, the better. So, horror films are inexpensive to make, and they always draw a crowd of young thrill-seekers. Disney made the mistake of pumping a lot of money into this production. Their next mistake was using an eleven year old Miss Balk (five years younger than Judy Garland when she played Dorothy) as their Dorothy Gale. Now when you've got a Disney movie with an eleven year old star, people are naturally thinking this a good movie for their nine and ten year olds. Trouble was, the little kiddies who went to see it were having nightmares for years afterwards. Of course, those who might have enjoyed a good "fright night" said, "This is Disney (it's for kids) and it's Oz (singing Munchkins, dancing scarecrows etc); I don't think I want to see this one."
After finally getting an opportunity to watch this, I must say that I didn't find it all that frightening, although I can imagine it possibly frightening a young child. If I were a teenager again, I think that I would have liked something a little scarier. Basically, I think this was supposed to be a "kiddie horror movie". Now when I was a kid, my parents didn't set any boundaries as to what I could and could not watch. I can't say that this hurt me, and I can't say that it benefitted me. I think that parents have to use their own discretion in deciding how much excitement their own kids can handle. I've watched some of the kids shows today, where they've tried to remove all violence and bloodshed, and what happens is the drama usually gets centered around somebody who is in crisis mode, because he's having a bad hair day. I pity the kids who are watching these shows, because they are just not going to be ready for the real world, when the time comes for them to move away from their mothers' apron strings.
The Muppets Wizard of Oz (2005)See Muppets Wizard of Oz trailer on Youtube
Directed by Kirk Thatcher, this adaptation stars Ashanti as Dorothy, Queen Latifah as Aunt Em, Jeffrey Tambor as the wizard, Kermit as Scarecrow, Gonzo as the Tin Thing, Fozzie Bear as Cowardly Lion and Miss Piggy as all four witches.
I often say this (but it's worth repeating): I like a movie that doesn't go over an hour and a half, and at just under an hour and a half, this movie is not that bad. Still, when it's a movie for your younger kids, it's even better if they keep them down to about an hour; plus, it makes it more tolerable for the adults who might want to watch them with their kids. I remember watching this one with my nephew, before he had started school, and it seemed to keep him amused, at least for a little while. This adaptation makes a few variations on the original book, but stays fairly consistent with the main storyline, with a little added silliness, as would be expected from a muppets movie.
Upcoming Motion Picture Adaptations:
Dorothy of Oz:See Dorothy of Oz movie trailer on Youtube
Due for release in 2012, this will be a 3D, computer-animated musical. It is a sequel to Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and is based on the novel Dorothy of Oz, by L. Frank Baum's great-grandson, Roger S. Baum.
Oz: The Great and Powerful:See Oz: The Great and Powerful movie trailer on Youtube
Set to be released in March of 2013, this prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz stars James Franco as the wizard, and tells the story of how the wizard found his way from the fairgrounds of Kansas to the Land of Oz, and how he came to be ruler of the Emerald City.
While numerous other Oz projects have been proposed, including a motion picture version of the Broadway musical Wicked, the above two productions, so far, are the only Oz works where significant progress has been made towards turning a concept into an actual film.
Television Adaptations of the Oz Books
Tales of the Wizard of Oz (1961) and Return to Oz (1964)
See Tales of the Wizard of Oz on Youtube
The series continued to receive considerable air time on the smaller networks for many years after its initial run. In 1964, the characters from the series once again found employment; this time, in a one hour TV movie much more resembling a Baum novel. In this adaptation, Dorothy returns to the Land of Oz to do battle with a resurrected wicked witch of the west, and to help her old friends, whom the witch had been menacing while she was gone. Like MGM's musical adaptation, Return to Oz featured a few musical numbers that weren't too hard on the ears. The movie did get a DVD release (pictured right); the original series, however, never did make it to DVD or VHS. Nevertheless, one can usually find many of the episodes from the original series posted on Youtube.
The Wizard of Oz (1982)Watch The Wizard of Oz (1982) on Youtube
This is a Japanese anime feature film production, produced for Toho Co. Ltd. Based on the original novel, it also borrows from the 1939 adaptation. An English language version appeared on American television in 1983. Although it drags a bit at times, overall, it's not a bad movie for your little ones.
Forgive me if I go off topic a bit here, but some things just need to be said. The thing that really disturbs me about this movie, is not the film itself, but the Japanese' fascination with young girls, almost as though the teenage girl somehow represents the ideal of feminine beauty. But before we accuse the Japanese of being a bunch of pedophiles, we ought to take a closer examination at our own Western culture. If you go into your search engine and do an image search of Dorothy, I think you'll find plenty of images of sexed-up Dorothies. The only difference, perhaps, between here and Japan, is that these sexed-up Dorothies are all at least 18, but every attempt is made to make them look more like teenagers. In Western culture, the traditional ideal of feminine sexiness has somehow come to be replaced with a college aged "woman", who is otherwise shaped, talks, dresses, behaves and styles her hair like a teenager. Of course, these women are just giving the male audience what they want, but, in this regard, women are no less to blame. Men's shaving is undoubtedly a vain attempt to appear more boyish, while these men are just giving the female audience what they want. I suppose it's only natural to want to appear youthful, but must this zeal for having a youthful appearance extend to the personality as well? If adults want to look like teenagers, then I suppose that's their business, and they can dye their hair or whatever, and fool some of the less discerning members of the public. But one of the side-effects of trying to look like a teenager must be acting like one as well. I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets frustrated at all the melodramas on TV these days that feature middle-aged actors dressed and playing the part of a teen.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Animated TV Series (1986)Wonderful Wizard of Oz Intro on Youtube
This was an anime adaptation of the first four Baum books into a 52 episode series, intended for young kids. The original 52 episodes eventually got edited back into their original format, in a four volume DVD set, consisting of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz and The Emerald City of Oz, with Warner Brothers handling their North American distribution.
While the concept may have worked well as a television series for kids with a short attention span, they became rather laborious to watch once they got strung together as a four part animated movie. At 90 minutes each, they no doubt would have benefitted considerably from a good deal more editing, as they seem to drag even when the pace picks up a bit from their usual focus on "chatter-box" Dorothy. These movies are probably best suited for the under ten age group, and at 90 minutes each, they greatly exceed the attention span of most kids in this category. And as for adults who also enjoy the works of Baum, they aren't likely to find this particular adaptation very stimulating; nevertheless, they may appreciate its relative faithfulness to the original Baum works.
Tin Man (2007)See Tin Man movie trailer on Youtube
This was a 2007 co-production by RHI Entertainment and the Sci-Fi Channel, starring Zooey Deschanel as DG (Dorothy Gale), Kathleen Robertson as evil Queen Azkadellia and Neal McDonough as Tin Man.
Now when it comes to doing movie adaptations of popular novels, there are those who place faithfulness to the original novel near the top of their list of qualities which they use as a measure of how good the movie is. Then there are people like me, who think it irrelevant as to how good the movie is. I suppose this may be due to the fact that I hate novels and never read them anyway; nevertheless a good movie is a good movie, and the only time a good movie is bad is when you are expecting one thing and get something else. This, perhaps, has been a problem with every Oz production, since MGM's The Wizard of Oz. Tin Man was one of the most successful non-stage adaptations of the Oz books since the MGM movie, and I think its success must be due in part to the fact that people were not expecting another MGM Oz from this TV series. The first clue came from the show's title -Tin Man. Right away, this told people that this was not going to be another story about a girl named Dorothy Gale, with three trusty sidekicks as pals.
About the early Oz adaptations, I said that a problem with them was how to keep Dorothy from getting pushed into the background, as women, and especially girls, were not expected to be too assertive. I also said that the success of Tin Man was an indication that modern audiences might finally be ready for a strong, assertive female heroine, who can co-star alongside the strong, assertive male hero. In the MGM production, the female villain was a very one-dimensional character; in Tin Man, Kathleen Robertson makes for us a wicked witch who is not only very nasty and very forceful, but a witch who seems very real.
This particular adaptation was obviously intended for the "sci-fi crowd"; nevertheless, it doesn't go overboard with special effects and techno-gadgetry, as many science-fiction shows are prone to do. Unlike many of the other Oz adaptations, it does have more appeal with a slightly older audience, and with more straight guys who would normally go for something Ozzie.
The Witches of Oz (2011)See Witches of Oz movie trailer on Youtube
Directed by Leigh Scott, this adaptation features a grown up Dorothy as a successful children's author. After meeting an old foe, the wicked witch of the west, Dorothy discovers that her novels are based on repressed memories of actual childhood events.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
In 1902, Baum and Denslow produced the first stage adaptation of their popular novel, with music by Paul Tietjens. This musical was suited more for adults, and contained numerous political references. (Perhaps this was why Littlefield, in 1964, came up with a theory that Baum's novel was intended to be a political allegory, about the failed political movement of the populists.) The musical opened in Chicago and proved very successful, soon moving to New York.
The Wizard of Oz (1942)
Musical produced by the St. Louis Municipal Opera (The Muny), based on the novel and 1939 movie. It has been revived many times and by different companies, since the original production. Now somewhat dated, in recent times it has given way to the 1987 John Kane version (see below).
The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
This adaptation, based on the book by William F. Brown, was intended as a retelling of Baum's novel in the context of African-American culture. It featured an all black cast, with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. It opened in Baltimore in October of 1974, quickly making its way into Broadway, by the start of 1975. The Broadway production won 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. A motion picture adaptation (The Wiz) was released in 1978.
The Wizard of Oz (1987)
Written by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company of Stratford-upon-Avon, this musical, like the 1942 Muny version, is based on both the novel and the 1939 movie, but follows the movie script even more closely than that older version. In recent times, it has stolen much of the popularity of the 1942 version, and is now a favorite at schools and small local theatres. Like the 1942 version, it features music from the 1939 motion picture.
Wicked (2003 to present)See trailer for Wicked at Apollo Theatre
Produced by Universal Pictures with Marc Platt and David Stone, it is based on the Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995), and features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. This musical serves as a prequel to the 1939 MGM movie, and tells the tale of Elphabe (later, the WWW) and Galinda (later, Glinda), up to and including events from the movie.
This production premiered on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre in October 2003. Despite mixed reviews, it has proven to be a favorite among theatre-goers, continuing its production run to the present at the same Gershwin Theatre, and since, expanding to other cities, both in the US and abroad, including a North American tour.
The Wizard of Oz (2011)See trailer for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Wizard of Oz on Youtube
A musical based on the 1939 MGM motion picture. Adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams. It uses all the songs from the MGM film, and includes new music and new songs by Webber and additional new lyrics by Tim Rice. It had its official opening in the West End on 1 March 2011, with the lead role of Dorothy going to Danielle Hope, who was chosen in a television competition.
The Wizard of Oz meets Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon
Many claim that there is a strange sort of synchronicity between the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz and the Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon. Examples of this synchronicity include Dorothy balancing on the pig-pen enclosure to the lyrics "Balanced on the biggest wave; You race towards an early grave" and falling into the pig-pen after these lyrics, and then a change in tempo as the next song begins ("On the Run"), contrasted to all the excitement that Dorothy's little mishap causes.
This phenomenon, usually referred to as Dark Side of the Rainbow, or Dark Side of Oz, has become an item of curiosity, especially since members of the band adamantly deny having intentionally synchronized their album to any movie. To make the whole thing even weirder, there is the "double-sync" -after the album finishes playing, it can be restarted later in the movie to produce another synchronization with the second half of the movie. Just when and how the practice got started, and by whom, is something of a mystery, as no one seems to want to take credit for its discovery. The album was originally released on vinyl, and the earliest written mention of synchronizing the album to the movie goes back to the mid 1990s, after the release of the album on CD, in an article in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, citing its source as the Usenet discussion group alt.music.pink-floyd.
For a full discussion on Dark Side of the Rainbow, including commentary, analysis, interpretation and instructions for duplicating the effect, click on HOME below.
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