It was preceded by a 1908 radio-play, five short silent films between 1910 and 1925, as well as a 1933 animated short, but for most people their first real exposure to L. Frank Baum’s fantastical world came in the 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz. Judy Garland leads an extraordinary cast on a journey through Oz as Dorothy Gale, desiring to return to Kansas, meets up with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion as they make their way to the Emerald City and a fantasy adventure that has thrilled generations of viewers. It’s also inspired numerous variations over the decades, culminating in the new television series Emerald City.
The Wizard Of Oz
The Yellow Brick Road stops here! Not to say there haven’t been successful excursions to Oz over the decades since this film’s release, but, c’mon, we’re talking Judy Garland as Dorothy, Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch Of The West, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, and those terrifying winged monkeys, damn it! And then there’s all that color, those classic songs, the ruby slippers, wicked witches, grumpy talking trees….the list goes on and on!
Journey Back To Oz
Considered something of an official sequel to the 1939 film, this musical animated adventure finds Dorothy and Toto back in Oz thanks to another tornado. There, teaming up with Pumpkinhead, they attempt to help the Scarecrow defend Emerald City from a green elephant attack orchestrated by the evil Mombi. Begun in 1962, this Filmation production wasn’t completed until 1971 due to financial reasons. The film — starring Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, as the voice of Dorothy, Danny Thomas as the Tin Man, Milton Berle as the Cowardly Lion, Mickey Rooney as the Scarecrow, Paul Lynde as Pumpkinhead and Ethel Merman as Mombi — failed at the box office, though it enjoyed some life on television until 1984, the last time it was broadcast.
From the arrival of the first trailer, it was obvious that someone had taken a wrong turn on that road of yellow bricks. Based in part on the 1975 Broadway musical of the same name, this was an all African-American take on The Wizard Of Oz. Dorothy (this time a twenty-four-year-old New York school teacher played by the then thirty-three-year-old Diana Ross) and her dog get stuck in a massive snowstorm and suddenly find themselves in the land of Oz, which seems more like a fantasy version of New York City. Despite a cast that includes Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, Richard Pryor as The Wiz, Lena Horne as Glinda the Good Witch Of The South and Mabel King as Evilene, the Wicked Witch Of The West, this was nothing short of a disaster and was pretty forgettable. The musical did, however, serve as the basis for a 2015 TV version presented live.
Return To Oz
Despite the two previous takes on Oz, this Disney production, the first effort perceived as an attempt to match the original in its own way, was considered a bit of cinematic blasphemy. Walter Murch, sound designer for early films of Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, served as director, and brought forth a decidedly nihilistic version of Oz. It’s six months since young Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) returned from Oz, and, considered delusional, she’s about to undergo electrotherapy. At the last moment she's saved by a young girl and finds herself returned to Oz. Once there, she makes the discovery that the Yellow Brick Road is in ruins and her friends have been turned to stone. Teaming up with Billina, a talking chicken; the mechanical Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead, they must stop the evil Nome King (Nicol Williamson) and free the people of Emerald City. Ain’t nobody singing in this one.
This stage musical, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, made its debut on Broadway, but since then has become a global sensation, thrilling audiences everywhere with its combination of music, humor and pathos. The focus is on Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West (first played by Idina Menzel on Broadway and the West End), and Glinda, the Good Witch Of The North (originally Kristen Chenoweth on Broadway, Helen Dallimore on the West End), and the take is different from what we’ve seen before. The suggestion in Wicked is that Elphaba is misunderstood, a victim of racism (she is, after all, green!) and the politics of Oz. In production for the past fourteen years, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon — though eventually Universal will produce a movie version.
Syfy, when it was still called Sci-Fi, produced this three-night miniseries that certainly offered a unique take on the concept. Zoey Deschanel is DG (a descendent of Dorothy Gale, it turns out), who finds herself in the magical world of “The O.Z.,” which is ruled by a cruel sorceress named Azkadellia. Of course it wouldn’t be Oz if Dorothy/DG didn't team up with myriad characters to accomplish her goal, among them Alan Cumming as Glitch, this world’s take on the Scarecrow as half his brain was taken by Azkadellia; Raoul Trujillo as Raw, a telepathic human/lion hybrid; and Neal McDonough as Wyatt Cain, a former member of law enforcement in The O.Z. known as a Tin Man. All of them are off to see...The Mystic Man, as played by Richard Dreyfuss. The hope was that the mini-series would go weekly. It didn’t.
The Witches Of Oz
2011 TV Miniseries, 2012 Shortened Theatrical Release
Dorothy Gale (Paulie Rojas) is an adult and successful children’s book author living in New York City (having moved there from Kansas). When the Wicked Witch of the West appears in the middle of Times Square, Dorothy comes to the realization that the basis of her stories are from memories she’s repressed since childhood. To combat the Wicked Witch, Dorothy turns to her friends, who turn out to be this world’s incarnation of the characters she originally met in Oz (see, it's much cheaper to flip that particular coin — no expensive makeups). The cast includes Christopher Lloyd as the Wizard, Mia Sara as the witch Princess Langwidere, and Lance Henriksen as Uncle Henry. Written and directed by Leigh Scott for a budget of $5 million.
Oz The Great And Powerful
Without doubt the most ambitious of the Oz films since the original. Directed by Sam Raimi, it’s unofficially a prequel to the 1939 film focused on James Franco’s Oscar “Oz” Diggs, who, in 1905, is working as a magician in a traveling circus and who, like pretty much everyone else in these films, finds himself in Oz via tornado. There he goes from fraud to hero as he agrees, for a price, to help the people of Emerald City, not believing for a second, that there are really witches. But the truth soon becomes apparent, and he finds himself in the middle of a magical power struggle. Mila Kunis is Theodora, who will ultimately become the Wicked Witch Of The West; Rachel Weisz is Evanora, the Wicked Witch Of The East; Michelle Williams is Glinda, the Good Witch Of The North (the actress also plays an old girlfriend of Oscar’s who will eventually give birth to Dorothy). A sequel was expected, but while the film turned a profit, it was just enough for Disney to feel it had dodged a fiscal winged monkey, leaving the studio with no intent to return to Oz.
Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
Tornado in Kansas. Dorothy back over the rainbow. Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. Songs (by Bryan Adams). An attempt to free and restore Emerald City. The pieces of what seems to be an Oz formula are all there, with the addition of the villainous Jester, several new characters and the fact that this was produced in CG animation. Voice talent includes Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, Martin Short, Oliver Platt, Patrick Stewart and Bernadette Peters. Despite all of that star power, and the fact that the script was based on an Oz novel by L. Frank Baum’s great-grandson Robert Stanton Baum, the film grossed $18 million globally on a budget of $70 million. No rubies in those slippers.
This television series consists of a ten-hour first season, all of which is directed by Tarsem Singh. In this take, based on a variety of the Baum novels, Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) is a twenty-year-old who’s on a personal quest to find her biological mother. That search ultimately results in her and a stolen K9 police dog driving (in a stolen police car) right into a tornado, the results of which transports both of them to what is revealed to be Oz. And it’s a realm ruled by fear of the Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio), and filled with variations of the characters fans are used to as well as many that they’ve likely never encountered before (unless they've read Baum). Look for competing kingdoms, lethal warriors and dark magic engaged in a bloody battle for supremacy. As such, this is a version of Oz that is quite unlike any that has preceded it.
• Oz The Great And Powerful Review