Review: The Wizard of Oz

Having seen Oz the Great and Powerful I was inspired to go back and re-watch the two other films based off L. Frank Baum’s books, the famous 1939 MGM classic and the underrated Disney sequel from the 1980s!


The Wizard of Oz
(1939)

An eternally timeless classic, forever referenced and loved. Personally, I have some problems with it.

Dorothy, a girl in Kansas find herself swept up by a tornado and deposited in the colourful, magical Land of Oz where she is directed to find The Wizard of Oz to get help in returning home. Along the way she will meet other unfortunate characters, and will be terrorised by the Wicked Witch!

The sepia toned Kansas and the technicolor Land of Oz is a wonderful transition, the simple but effective method of Dorothy opening the door of her wrecked house is a great start to the proceedings. The film’s family fun comes from a jolly sense of theatre; characters are bright and colourful and for young children the Wicked Witch and the film’s darker scenes really can be scary.

My one problem with it… and I realise now why the film never grew on me… the songs. Now I know The Wizard of Oz is a musical at heart, but… god, that Munchkin Song, I mean what even was that?? It went on, and on… and on, I think I cracked at the “We represent the Lollipop Guild” segment. Why was all of that in there??
There are great points of character development that aren’t in song. There aren’t many… but outside the doors of the Wizard’s throne room the Lion gives a great speech that says so much about him and it didn’t need to be sung!

But regardless, it is a simple but great story about an innocent soul learning, being brave, and being honest and good. It may have aged in production, but the direction is so honestly made that it clearly as nothing to hide.

If you can stomach some overlong and repetitive songs, it is a recommended family film.


Retur
n to Oz (1985)

Compared to the original 1939 classic… this film is deeply disturbed! But in that weird and wonderful way of 1980s fantasy, it has a great mesmerizing darkness and physical effects.

The film starts six months after the first film, Dorothy is back in Kansas but cannot sleep because of memories of Oz. She is taken to a mental hospital but is rescued after a power outage, escaping into a storm, she wakes up once more in the Land of Oz. Dorothy finds the land under the rule of The Nome King and the sinister Mombi, who have destroyed Emerald City and imprisoned her friends! Can she set things right?

Being based off stories from two of L. Frank Baum’s books many consider Return to Oz as the most faithful adaptation in the trilogy. But that’s as may be, Return to Oz is a surreal trip! Not only are we in a perpetually dark and forboding place; from an old mental ward with leering staff, to empty ruins filled with statues of petrified people. We’ve not even gone into the villains of the film! The infamous Wheelers, and Mombi’s cabinets of living heads (easily what I found most terrifying as a child) the imagery is surely creative, but only goes between dark and surreal. The Gump, what even is it??

But if one character can sum up the film’s great physicality with effects, it would be Tik-Tok, the clockwork soldier who defends Dorothy regularly. He is a joy to watch and a feat of design and engineering. Nowadays he would be completely CGI!

If you can get over the surreal story (that includes a chicken being the enemies’ Kryptonite!) and understand that this is a lot darker than Wizard of Oz, you will find it a magical and highly creative ride.


Additional Marshmallows: Did you know that director Walter Murch invited his friend George Lucas to the film’s sound stages, where Lucas would meet Rick McCallum… He and McCallum would later go on to work on the Star Wars prequels.
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