The Wizard of Oz vs The Rankatron

8 01 2011

And this is a bunny rabbit.

When I first started this movie, I was tempted to pop in Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of Moon to see how true this alleged myth is. Does the Dark Side of the Moon really place the happy-go-lucky Wizard of Oz in a warped light? I was thinking this because I was skeptical if a movie I loved so much as a child could still maintain my interest. The only parts I truly remembered where fuzzy scenes of dancing scarecrows, flying monkeys, catchy choruses, lions and tigers and bears. Oh My! But would that be enough to keep me going?

My apprehension abated when I realized, from the gravity that Judy Garland commanded on the screen, that I’d have no trouble being pulled into this amazing world.

First, let’s all take a walk through the Kansas cornfield of trivia before we take a whirlwind into Oz:

  • Based on the L. Frank Baum story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written in 1900.
  • Directed by Victor Fleming (Gone With The Wind) and released in 1939 to only a modest reception.
  • Stars Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man and Frank Morgan as The Wizard.
  • Won two Oscars (Best Original Song, “Over the Rainbow”; Best Original Score).
  • Nominated for Best Picture but lost to Gone With The Wind (also on the Ultimate Rankatron list, I might add…or I did add).
  • Differences from the novel to the movie: The original novel called for Dorothy to wear Silver Shoes but, to take advantage of the new innovation of Technicolor, production changed them to Ruby Slippers. The novel treated Oz as a real place but the producers felt that the audience wouldn’t be able to relate to a straight fantasy tale and made Oz only a part of Dorothy’s dream.
  • Shirley Temple had been in the running for the role of Dorothy but when the director heard her sing, he opted for Judy Garland instead.
  • W.C. Fields was considered for The Wizard but negotiations fell through due to money before signing Frank Morgan.
  • One version of the script had Dorothy have a singing duel with a selfish Princess of Oz with Dorothy winning because of her jazzy tunes but this was later dropped.
  • Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies) had been cast as the Scarecrow and Ray Bolger had been cast as the Tin Man originally. But they swapped roles due to Bolger’s passion to become the Scarecrow to which Ebsen had no problems. At this point in filming, Ebsen had already recorded all of the Scarecrow’s songs. So Bolger re-recorded most of the songs except during “We’re off to see the Wizard” where the voice of the Scarecrow is Ebsen’s.
  • Ten days into the shoot, Ebsen suffered a reaction from the silver powder makeup which he had inhaled and coated his lungs. He had been hospitalized in critical condition. Jack Haley had been hired to replace Ebsen as the Tin Man. Though one scene in the film still shows Ebsen’s Tin Man when he, Dorothy, Scarecrow and Lion sneak into the Witches castle.
  • “Over the Rainbow” was almost cut from the movie as it was deemed to slow and serious for a movie of this nature and producers felt it was demeaning to Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard.
  • Judy’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, did a sequel called Journey Back to Oz in 1974 but was received poorly. Also starred Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman.
  • Michael Jackson and Diana Ross starred in a really terrible musical remake called The Wiz in 1978.
  • Disney released a now-cult classic, Return to Oz, in 1985 which is surprisingly entertaining in that Tim Burton kind of way.
  • Sam Raimi is working on a prequel for 2013 called “Oz: The Great and Powerful” basing the story on how the Wizard made it to Oz. Robert Downey Jr is rumored to be the lead. Yes…this is all true.
  • Robert Zemeckis is in line for a possible remake to the Wizard of Oz for 2014. Some movies shouldn’t be remade. This is one of them. I for one hope this never happens.

As you can tell, this movie has had an amazing cultural influence. From the Simpsons, to Family Guy, to Lost, to Glee, to best-selling books, to cartoons and gay empowerment emblems, the Wizard of Oz is one of the upper echelon movies in history. Few others came claim this much breadth.

To this day, the movie plays in its original format with minor digital updating. The Wizard of Oz is treated more of a cherished heirloom instead of simply an amazing movie. And thanks to some smart deletion of some scenes like this really terrible dance routine by the Scarecrow we are left with a classic:

It seems as I watched that every scene has been spoofed or paid homage to in some form or another. I don’t mean this to be a cavalcade of videos…but look at this amazing video by Bobby McFerrin with his rendition of Over the Rainbow (then watch the rest of the silly video):

I found myself tapping along with every musical number. I felt like a kid again. Or rather…a juvenile adult.

Judy Garland was/is an amazing actress and singer and would still hold her own today. If she was one of the young starlets today, no one would be able to touch her level of talent and maturity. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else improving on Garland’s Dorothy. Of course, we all said the same thing about Jack Nicholson’s Joker before Heath Ledger came around. Perhaps improving on it would be near impossible but a different take might be more realistic. Don’t think it can happen? How about lil’ 6 year old Connie Talbot singing “Over the Rainbow” a couple of years ago? 92 million YouTube watchers can’t be wrong…

The Vaudevillian physical comedy definitely holds up over time. The simple yet engaging story is timeless. And the last half hour with the confrontation with the Wicked Witch and the Flying Monkeys is much darker and scarier than I remembered. Not in that horror way. More like in that Disney villain way. Dark enough to creep you out but not so dark that you’ll be trying to saw your arm off to get out of the room.

The Wizard of Oz is near perfect with little faults that could be overlooked because of film technology at the time. The special effects are equivalent to something you might see in a shadow puppet show…but does it really matter? For what was done, I forgive this little limitation.

Just as I hope you forgive me for the video explosion on this review.

So what are you waiting for? Reclaim your childhood and watch The Wizard of Oz, right now! I won’t keep you.

9.7 double rainbows out of 10


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16 01 2011
The Ultimate Rankatron! « The RANK-A-TRON

[…] Wizard of Oz, The (1939) – (Review) […]

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