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Disney's long, long journey to Oz

Disney's long, long journey to Oz

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It was 50 years ago tonight that the 1939 version of "The Wizard of Oz" was first shown on television.


Copyright 2005 Warner Home Video

The first-ever telecast of this Victor Fleming film was a rating smash. Over 44 million people tuned in to catch this broadcast (Which was hosted by the Cowardly Lion himself, Bert Lahr as well as by Judy Garland's then-10-year-old daughter Liza Minnelli).

CBS executives (Who had aired this Academy-Award winning motion picture as part of a special extended version of the "Ford Star Jubilee" program) were obviously thrilled with those ratings. But you know who was even happier? Walt Disney.

"Why Walt Disney?," you ask. Well, you see, Walt had long been a fan of L. Frank Baum's "Oz" books. In fact, back in the mid-1930s, just as Disney Studios was starting to search for a story that would serve as a suitable follow-up to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Walt had Roy inquire about the movie rights to the original "Wizard of Oz" book.

Unfortunately, the Baum family had just sold the rights to this best-selling fantasy novel to rival mogul Samuel Goldwyn for some $60,000. Which is how Disney Studios missed out on the chance to make an animated version of "The Wizard of Oz."

But even though this initial opportunity had slipped through Walt's fingers, he never lost his enthusiasm for the Oz books, their colorful characters and spectacular settings. Which is why -- in 1954 -- when the movie rights to 11 of Baum's books became available (I.E. "The Emerald City of Oz," "Glinda of Oz," "The Lost Princess of Oz," "The Magic of Oz," "Ozma of Oz," "The Patchwork Girl of Oz," "Rinkitink in Oz," "The Road to Oz," "The Scarecrow of Oz," "Tik-Tok of Oz" & "The Tin Woodsman of Oz"), Walt quickly snatched them up.

Mind you, back then, Walt wasn't thinking about bringing Oz back to the big screen. But -- rather -- he wanted to use some of the Baum books as possible fodder for episodes of his new ABC television series, "Disneyland." Toward that end, the studio hired TV writer Dorothy Cooper to adapt "The Patchwork Girl of Oz" to the small screen.

In April of 1957, Ms. Cooper turned in an outline for a proposed two-part episode of the "Disneyland" TV series which was initially supposed to be called "Dorothy Returns to Oz." However, by August of that year, when Dorothy turned in her fleshed-out version of this teleplay, the project was then titled "The Rainbow Road to Oz."


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

Walt read Dorothy's teleplay and liked it. Quite a bit. In fact, Walt liked this script so much that he took "The Rainbow Road to Oz" off of the studio's television development track and moved this project over to the feature side of the house.

At that point, the studio's publicity department kicked things into high gear. Press releases were sent out to the trades announcing that Walt Disney Productions would begin shooting "The Rainbow Road to Oz" in November of that same year. This multi-million dollar live action musical was to have been directed by Sidney Miller and produced by Bill Walsh. Who -- at that time -- were both playing huge parts in the day-to-day production of "The Mickey Mouse Club."

And speaking of "The Mickey Mouse Club," guess who was supposed to have filled most of the major roles on this motion picture? That's right. The Mouseketeers.

So with just a few months 'til production was actually supposed to begin on "The Rainbow Road to Oz," Disney's design team threw themselves into the project. Using William Denslow & John R. Neill's original illustrations for inspiration, these artists quickly created a costume design for the Scarecrow ...


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

... as well as the Patchwork Girl.


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

Then after figuring out what Oz might look like ...


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

... These artists handed these plans over to the studio's fabrication staff. And quicker than you can click your heels together three times ...


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

... Oz and its colorful characters had been brought to life on a barren soundstage on the Burbank lot.

As you can see by the costume design that Disney artists put together for the Cowardly Lion ...


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

... Walt was going for a look that was reminiscent of the MGM movie but not actually derivative.


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

The way I hear it, the production staff most enjoyed working on the characters who had not appeared in the 1939 film. Take -- for example -- Ozma.


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

The "Rainbow Road to Oz" design team put together an outfit of Ozma that Annette Funicello just adored. So much so that -- after she completed shooting the wardrobe tests for this character -- Annette begged to be allowed to wear her Ozma wig home. So that she could then show off her faux long locks to her family.


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

So as you can see, in the late summer / early fall of 1957, "The Rainbow Road to Oz" seemed to be on Disney Studio's fast-track. A 15-minute-long segment of the season opener of the "Disneyland" show (Which -- FYI -- will be included as part of the "Walt Disney Treasures -- Your Host, Walt Disney" DVD that will be hitting store shelves on December 19th) was devoted to this forthcoming film. With the conceit of this portion of the "Fourth Anniversary Show" being that the Mouseketeers were trying to sell Walt on the idea of turning "The Rainbow Road to Oz" into a movie ...


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

Which is why Annette, Doreen Tracey, Darlene Gillespie and Bobby Burgess were supposedly all in costume, appearing in possible musical numbers for this proposed motion picture ...


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

But it was Walt -- rather than the Mouseketeers -- who was really pushing to get this movie made. Even going so far as to acquire the rights to a 12th L. Frank Baum book, "Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz," for an amount that was said to be the equivalent of what the studio had paid for the first 11 books.

 

But then the previously-announced start-of-production date in November came and went. And then -- by February of 1958 -- rumors began circulating that Disney had abandoned plans to shoot "The Rainbow Road to Oz." That Walt had suddenly tabled this project and was now searching for a more suitable production to serve as his studio's entry into the world of live action musicals.

Why did Walt suddenly flip-flop on "The Rainbow Road to Oz." Over the years, I've heard a variety of explanations about the abrupt cancellation of this project. They run the gamut from "The projected cost of production got too high" to "Walt didn't think that the Mouseketeers could carry the picture" to "The rewrite that Bill Walsh did of Dorothy Cooper's script didn't quite come together" to "The score that Tom Adair & Buddy Baker wrote for the movie wasn't nearly as strong as the score that Yip Harburg & Harold Arlen wrote for 'The Wizard of Oz.' "

Whatever the real reason was, Walt lost confidence in "The Rainbow Road to Oz." Though -- that said -- when he finally did decide on the property that would serve as a replacement for this proposed production, Victor Herbert's comic operetta, "Babes in Toyland" ...


Copyright 1961 Walt Disney Productions

... Walt picked a project that had a surprising amount of things in common with "The Rainbow Road to Oz." Take -- for example -- "Babes in Toyland" 's storybook setting. Which was very reminiscent of what Disney had planned on doing with "The Rainbow Road to Oz." Then there's Annette Funicello ...


Copyright 1961 Walt Disney Productions

... Who was originally supposed to play Ozma (Which was one of the lead roles in Disney's "Oz" picture) but wound up playing Mary in "Babes in Toyland" instead.

And it wasn't just "The Rainbow Road to Oz" that must have been weighing on Walt's mind as he over-saw the casting of "Babes in Toyland." Clearly Disney must have also been thinking about MGM's 1939 version of "The Wizard of Oz" when he began hiring people to appear in this picture. Otherwise, how do you explain how Ray Bolger ...


Copyright 1961 Walt Disney Productions

... the Scarecrow from that Victor Fleming film wound up playing the villainous Barnaby in this Jack Donahue picture? Or -- for that matter -- how Ed Wynn ...


Copyright 1961 Walt Disney Productions

(Who had actually been MGM's original choice for the title character in "The Wizard of Oz." But Wynn proved that he was indeed "The Perfect Fool" when MGM offered Ed the part in 1938 and he turned that studio down) wound up playing the Toymaker?

Truth to be told, the parallels between "The Rainbow Road to Oz" and "Babes in Toyland" run even deeper than this. Given that the real reason that Victor originally wrote his operetta back in 1903 was because the Broadway stage version of "The Wizard of Oz" had been so successful earlier that same season. Herbert's backers basically told him to " ... write a show like 'The Wizard of Oz.' " Which is how Victor wound up writing the score for "Babes in Toyland."

Okay. Enough with the operetta history. Let's get back to the Disney / Oz saga, shall we?

Even though Walt had seemingly lost all enthusiasm for making a new "Oz" movie, that didn't mean that Disney had actually fallen out of love with Baum's characters. Truth be told, Walt was just looking for a new home for Dorothy and her pals. And -- for a while, anyway -- it looked like he had found one along the shores of the Storybook Land Canal Boats ride at Disneyland.

As the story goes, Walt proposed putting an addition on this Fantasyland attraction in the late 1950s. One that would have created a Big Rock Candy Mountain for the Casey Jr. Circus Train to climb as well as some new mysterious caverns for the canal boats to float through.


Copyright 1959 WED Enterprises

As to what would be hidden away deep inside the caves of the Big Rock Candy Mountain, Walt had the Imagineers design various tableaus featuring the lands of Oz ...


Copyright 1959 WED Enterprises

... With the basic idea being that all of the characters were heading to the Emerald City to take part in a surprise birthday party for Dorothy.


Copyright 1959 WED Enterprises

It was Walt's hope that this new Oz-themed sequence would finally give Disneyland's "Storybook Land Canal Boats" ride a fitting finale. So blueprints were drawn up ...


Copyright 1959 WED Enterprises

... Like the one pictured above. Which is for the Tin Woodsman's castle. And then models were made ...


Copyright 1959 WED Enterprises

... and maquettes of the Oz characters were created. Below, you'll see the versions of the Wicked Witch and the Cowardly Lion that Joe Rinaldi designed.

Copyright 1959 WED Enterprises

But in the end, Walt opted not to go forward with construction of this Oz-themed expansion of the Storybook Land Canal Boat ride. No one that I've ever spoken with about this proposed Disneyland addition can come up with a logical explanation. Except perhaps that while a Big Rock Candy Mountain may have looked good on paper, the full-sized dimensional model that the Imagineer built using real candy was distinctly unappetizing.

What is certain is that Walt was still very fond of the Oz characters. Given that he kept many of the maquettes that had been created for the Storybook Land expansion project on display in his formal office (I.E. The area where Disney greeted guests & dignitaries that were visiting the Burbank studio) for years after that project had been tabled.

Yeah, Walt clearly wanted to do something with the Oz characters. Which is why -- in 1965 -- he had his staff invite Ray Bolger back to the Burbank lot, so that he could reprise his performance as the Scarecrow on a new Disneyland Storyteller album "The Scarecrow of Oz."


Copyright Walt Disney Productions

That LP was so well received that it was followed up by three other Oz-theme storyteller albums: "The Wizard of Oz," "The Cowardly Lion of Oz" and "The Tin Woodsman of Oz." (The "Cowardly Lion" album has always been of particular interest of Disney history fans. Given that it reportedly features several of the musical numbers that Tom Adair & Buddy Baker had originally written for "The Rainbow Road to Oz.")


Copyright Walt Disney Productions

But for the next 10 years, Disney executives basically did nothing with the Oz characters. And -- with every day that ticked by -- the options that Disney had held on those 12 L. Frank Baum books back in the 1950s were losing their value. Given that many of these titles -- just like the original "Wizard of Oz" had -- were getting ready to slip into public domain. Which meant that any studio could then produce an Oz picture.

Finally, in 1980, Tom Wilhite -- the then-head of production at Walt Disney Studios -- had had enough. He was tired of seeing the company produce this seemingly endless series of mediocre films. Particularly since the studio was sitting on the movie rights to this spectacular series of children's books. So Tom began searching for a director who'd be willing to tackle the Oz project.

To hear Walter Murch tell the story, "Tom had to work his way down to the Ms before he finally found me." Murch -- an Academy-Award winning sound & film editor -- may seem like a rather unlikely candidate to direct Disney's Oz movie. But Walter's pedigree (I.E. Murch had worked with Francis Ford Coppola on the "Godfather" films as well as George Lucas on "THX 1138") was impeccable. More to the point, given that Murch had just won an Oscar for his work on "Apocolypse Now," he had a fairly high profile at the moment.

So Murch was signed to both write & direct what was then known as "Oz" ...


Copyright 1983 Walt Disney Productions

... (The "Return to Oz" title wouldn't actually be tacked onto the film 'til much further on down Disney's developmental track). And -- when Wilhite first announced the project to the press in January of 1991 -- he revealed that Dorothy would most likely not appear as a character in this picture. "We'll probably combine characters from various books and structure a new storyline."

But the screenplay that Walter would submit in the spring of 1982 did feature Dorothy as a character. It was also much darker in tone than the studio had been anticipating. Which caused Disney executives much concern.

Still, development of "Oz" continued. A veteran production designer, Norman Reynolds (Who had worked on "Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back" as well as "Raiders of the Lost Ark") was hired to bring Baum's world to life. And work then began on the various robotically-controlled characters that would be featured in the film ...

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions

At this point, some $6 million had already been spent by Walt Disney Productions on "Oz." And then -- in November of 1983 -- Richard Berger (I.E. The executive who had replaced Tom Wilhite as president of production at the studio) suddenly shut down production of the picture.

As Berger explained to the New York Times back in July of 1985:

''The budget was up to $27 million (Which was significantly higher than the $20 million that 'Oz' was originally supposed to cost) ... The movie was supposed to (be shot in) Algiers, Sardinia, Spain, Canada, Kansas and England ... All of Disney's recent movies had (gone) over budget. 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' had been $5 million over budget. (Which is why I) decided to close down the movie and write off the $6 million (that the studio had already invested in the picture).''

Eventually however a compromise was reached. "Oz" 's budget was pared back to $25 million. Which meant that virtually all of the movie's on-location sequences (Which would have sent the cast & crew off to Sardinia & Algeria to shoot the scenes set in the Deadly Desert, Kisserta near Naples to shoot the Nome King's throne room sequence and Hadrian's Villa outside of Rome for Mombi's palace as well as the ruins of the Emerald City) were scrubbed. Except for the scenes that were set in Kansas (Which were shot out on the U.K. 's Salisbury Plain, near where Stonehenge is located), the entire film would be shot on five soundstages at Elstree Studios.

The film (as Murch and his production team had originally envisioned it) never quite recovered from all these budget cuts. Though much time & effort had already been devoted to creating authentic likenesses of favorite old characters like the Scarecow ...


Copyright 1983 Walt Disney Productions

... Now there was no money left in the budget for the complicated electronics that would have brought his face to life. Which is why the Scarecrow mostly had a fixed expression in the finished film.

As for Jack Pumpkinhead ...


Copyright 1957 Walt Disney Productions

... A Baum character who had also been slated to have a featured role in "The Rainbow Road to Oz" ... It often took as many as six puppeteers to bring Jack to life ...


Copyright 1984 Walt Disney Productions

... Where even the seemingly simple act of standing up and/or sitting down involved all sorts of elaborate off-screen mechanics.


Photo by Jeff Lange

The "Return to Oz" shoot did not go well. Given that Fairuza Balk, the film's 9-year-old star, could only work 3 1/2 hours each day and that characters like Billina the talking chicken were notoriously difficult to operate, the production quickly fell behind schedule. At one point, Disney execs actually tried to remove Murch as director of "Return to Oz," only to have George Lucas intercede on Walter's behalf.

Once production was completed, Murch's movie had to deal with other problems. You see, by the time that "Return to Oz" had finally made out into theaters in June of 1985, Mouse House management had changed yet again. Now it was Michael Eisner & Jeffrey Katzenberg who were calling the shots in Burbank. And -- to be honest -- Michael & Jeffrey didn't know quite what to make of Walter's film. A PG-rated pseudo-sequel to 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" with no music that was often too dark & scary for small kids to handle.

So while "Return to Oz" may have been the centerpiece of an elaborate presentation at Radio City Music Hall that summer, around the rest of the country this Walter Murch film didn't receive very special treatment. At that time, noted author Harlan Ellison actually accused Disney Company management of deliberately sabotaging "Oz" 's chances at the box office. Which is why he urged his readers to " ... go see it, before it disappears."


Copyright 1985 Walt Disney Productions

Luckily, thanks to VHS and DVD, "Return to Oz" has not disappeared. And while this movie may have been a real box office disappointment back in 1985 (Earning only $11.1 million during its entire domestic run), it has since gone on to be embraced by Baum enthusiasts around the globe. Who have applauded Murch's efforts to keep the look & style of this film consistent with that of L. Frank's books.

Still, it speaks volumes about what Michael Eisner must have really thought about "Return to Oz" when it came time to chose which films would be featured in "The Great Movie Ride" at Disney-MGM Studios. Michael could have made use of the characters & settings from Disney's own "Oz" picture for free. But he paid big bucks to Ted Turner for the rights to use the 1939 version of "The Wizard of Oz" instead.

The Imagineers then used the MGM film as inspiration for the various scenes that they wanted to include in the studio theme park's thesis attraction ...


Copyright 1986 WED Enterprises

... They even made use of then-state-of-the-art Sarcos technology to create a scarily life-like Wicked Witch of the West in the ride's Munchkinland sequence.


Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company

Clearly, WDI has a thing when it comes to the 1939 version of "The Wizard of Oz." Otherwise, why else would they have included nods to that film in attractions like DCA's "Golden Dreams" and Walt Disney Studios' "CineMagique"?

Meanwhile, Disney Company execs seem eager to continue to cash in on the public's affection for the Oz characters. Take -- for example -- last year's "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" ...


Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises

... or the deal that Disney & producer Jerry Bruckheimer signed with American McGee back in 2003 to produce a trilogy of films based on McGee's twisted & sinister Oz prequel. Which promised to make the formerly-thought-to-be-dark "Return to Oz" seem like a walk in the park.

Anyway ... My apologies if today's article about Disney and the Oz books seems somewhat downbeat. An endless litany of projects that either didn't make it off the drawing board and/or ultimately didn't turn out as well as had been initially hoped.

'Cause -- you see -- that's not really the case. There is at least one Oz-related Disney project that turned out beautifully. Of course, in order to see it, you first have to journey to Disneyland Paris and then visit that theme park's "Les Pays des Contes de Fées" attraction.


Copyright 2002 Nouveau Millénaire

The very last thing that you see on this Fantasyland attraction is a beautiful miniature recreation of the Emerald City.


Photo by Eric Craven

And who's there waiting at the entrance to the city? Tiny versions of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion.


Photo by Eric Craven

I don't know why it is -- as a baby boomer -- that seeing these characters there on the steps of the Emerald City just makes me smile. Maybe watching "The Wizard of Oz" all those years whenever the film aired annually on CBS has finally truly warped my brain.

Speaking of which ... In honor of that very first telecast 50 years ago tonight, why don't you throw the 1939 version of the movie into your DVD player tonight? And remember (at least for a little while) what it was like to be a kid again, when you first saw Dorothy begin her journey down the Yellow Brick Road?


Copyright 2005 Warner Home Video

The above article is actually something that I've been working on -- on & off -- for about seven years now. In fact, if I remember correctly, when I initially came on board at MousePlanet, one of the very first story ideas that I ever pitched to Al Lutz was doing something about how Disney had tried to get all of these Oz-related projects off the ground since the 1930s.

Obviously, when you're writing an article like this, you have to do an awful lot of research. Which is why I'm grateful to Disney historians like Greg Ehrbar, Jim Fanning, Bruce Gordon, Ryan Harmon, Tim Hollis, Jack Janzen, Leon Janzen, David Mumford, Brian Sibley & Dave Smith and -- on the Oz side of the house -- Alan Eyles, John Fricke, Aljean Harmetz & Brad Munson for all the hard work that they did prior to me actually starting to put this piece together. Without all of the reference books and magazine & newspaper articles that these folks had written previously, today's article would not have been possible.

Thanks also to Eric Craven & Jeff Lange for providing photographic support for this piece. And the ever-wise & patient Nancy Stadler for scanning, comping & cropping all of the images that you see in today's story.

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  • "You see, by the time that 'Return to Oz' had finally made out into theaters in June of 1985,
    Michael & Jeffrey didn't know quite what to make of Walter's film. A PG-rated pseudo-sequel to 1939's 'The Wizard of Oz' with no music that was often too dark & scary for small kids to handle.
    it has since gone on to be embraced by Baum enthusiasts around the globe. Who have applauded Murch's efforts to keep the look & style of this film consistent with that of L. Frank's books."
    ---
    Can't blame Mike & Jeff for this one--Fans applaud it for LOOKING like Baum's books, and we all hoped, but ye gods, what Walter Murch did to it.  >_<
    The Oz books are supposed to have a silly-sensible Kansas "logic" to their adventures ("Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking"); Murch's Oz had a schizophrenic Don Bluth habit of careening between G-rated heart-yanks and creepy-deliberate kiddy nightmare-fodder without warning:
    In L.Frank's books, the princess with the head collection is a flighty, selfish snob, and Mombi is a standard grumpy witch--Murch combined the two into a -literally- snarling psychopath.

    The debate comes up with 80's fans every time the movie is mentioned, but those of us who saw it in theaters remember parents taking younger kids out by the truckload--What a well-designed, beautifully scored - mess - .  :(
  • I have followed the Disney/Oz connection for years, with curiosity and with my connections in the puppetry and animation worlds, was really looking forward to "Return To Oz" thinking this would be one for the ages.

    All I can say is-what a mess.

    The look, the style and many of the elemets of the final film showed the possibility of what could have been.  But even after all these years, I find it nearly impossible to get all the way through this thing.  The unsetteling hopsital sequence in the beginning along is good for a few nightmares for adults.

    One minor connection that was missed was a "Return To Oz" float that ran for one year in Disneyland's "Main Street Electircal Parade", complete with a live girl carying a fake chicken, costumed versions of the film's Scarecrow and Lion, and a life-sized marrionette of The Tinman, all set in the mirrored palace and surrounded by dancers.  The music of which was available for a time on a fairly recent "Official Album".   The crowd around me, was totally into the Parade as alwasy until I heard a comment from the lady standing next to me, typical of the reation to the float:  "What's that?!?! Oh....Return To Oz......".

    Interestingly, a few years ago, I spotted a lovely female dancer working an earlier version of the Park's Halloween celebration, and she was actually wearing the "Jack Pumpkinhead" head that was used in the parade, so the Disney/Oz connection continues, I guess.
  • One big problem with Return was the promotion:
    Like all big-set 80's movies, pre-release hype told us all about how amazing and dazzling the set and art-direction would be--Props and costumes for the Emerald City characters even toured Macy's and other big stores during spring, to show off how colorful the new Oz would be.
    Three months later, you walked into the movie, and...SURPRISE!  Oz's been destroyed!!  :D  We spend 90% of the entire movie in a burned-out shell of our childhood favorite, running from scary, unpleasant characters pumped up to nightmare level.

    Of course, the Tinman, the Lion, and all those other Emerald City book characters that we saw on tour -do- finally appear in the movie, in the one-bright-spot "Ragtime march" scene where the characters return victorious....At the end of the movie.  The very end of the movie.  The very, very, very...very....VERY last ten minutes of the movie, when we're well too numbed by this point to care.  And try not to blink.
    If Murch had just ruined the movie, that would be fine...But for pity's sake, Walter, -DON'T- tease us by showing how fun this movie could've been with a sane director!  We can take the despair, but not the hope!!  >_<
  • I've seen "Return to Oz". Lordy what a mess. Dorothy gets taken by her Auntie Em to a doctor's office to get electro-shock treatments because she kept talking about "lions, tigers and bears, oh my!" Geezz.....Of course the fact is that anybody who ever tries to make another Oz film has the first one to try to live up to, and that is just plain impossible. Which is one reason I thought using the Muppets to do an Oz movie was just plain stupid. Which pretty much describes the movie come to think of it. But you know, the book "The Land of Oz", which was Baum's sequel to the original "Wizard", is a very good book and would make an excellent film in its own right were it properly produced. A lot of the books in Baum's Oz series were really pretty weak, I'm sorry to say - he reportedly got tired of his brainchild and wanted to move on to something else, and his writing got sloppy. But the "Wizard" and the "Land" books are excellent. "Land" in particular is very witty and funny. I do believe that Shirley Temple once did a TV special based on it, long time ago. But anyway, if Disney ever does make another try at Oz, I hope they use "The Land of Oz". If they go CGI maybe they could recreated Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, etc. That would be interesting...
  • Thanks for a strong, interesting piece of writing. The wonder of Oz came through here. I never saw Return to Oz but I remember the hype and it was loud and incessant and you could tell there was no magic there. It sounds like a psychotic horror movie. Today, it woud have fit right in. There's no place like home, there's no place like home...
  • gigglesock said:
    "But you know, the book 'The Land of Oz', which was Baum's sequel to the original "Wizard", is a very good book and would make an excellent film in its own right were it properly produced.
    'Land' in particular is very witty and funny. I do believe that Shirley Temple once did a TV special based on it, long time ago.
    ----
    The "Shirley Temple Storybook" version (with adult-Shirley as Tip/Ozma) is currently available on disk, and fairly good--General Jinjur is replaced with a funny Jonathan Winters character, but Agnes Moorehead chews perfect scenery as the witch Mombi.
    And despite a lot of other "cutesy" liberties, it also keeps a surprising amount of Baum's original book humor (like the "translated" conversation between the Scarecrow and Jack), a lot more faithfully in spirit than, ahem, certain OTHER filmed Baum sequels....  9_9
  • I was only a few months old when "Return to Oz" came out, so obvously I don't remember the promotions for the film.  I've heard about it, and I've heard that it's dark, but I never knew that it was "a mess".  My local Best Buy sells it, and I'll pick it up someday.  The Oz part of the Great Movie Ride is the best part- it's unfortunate that the Mary Poppins part isn't elaborated on like the Oz part- we're in Oz for many minutes, and it's interactive, and colorful...  
    It's too bad that the Mousketeers never got to be in "The Rainbow Road to Oz"- I think that sounds like an excellent idea!  
    It's amazing that so much work got put into creating Oz films and attractions that never made it to anything.
    Thanks so much for the article and pictures!
  • Too bad Disney didn't go in for Gregory Maguire's "Wicked" treatment of the old story.
  • Well I'll be the voice of dissent here and say that I absolutely adore Return to Oz, and am a bit disappointed by all the negative voices about it.  "Mess" is a word I'd use to to describe its history, its production, and its release, but I always felt the film itself was an overlooked gem, and it became a cult classic for a reason.  It's certainly easy to see why the studio was unhappy with it, but as far as being faithful to the source material it's miles ahead of "Wizard," and I've always applauded the film's creativity, craftsmanship, and atmosphere.  There's some great early animatronic work here, stellar puppetry and top notch Will Vinton claymation in the climax.  See it if you haven't and give it a second chance if you have.

    I really enjoyed the Oz/Disney history.  Makes for an interesting read.  Great article, Jim!
  • I'd say Return to Oz is probably the closest adaptation made out of the Oz books so far- using some of the disturbing imagery without going into the American McGee or McFarlane Toys all-out horror action figures that came out some time back. Which is too bad. I've always loved how charming and creepy the books are.

    And here's a sidenote... Filmation's Journey Back to Oz (new to DVD) has a number of shots that are identical to ones in Disney's Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
  • Yyyyep--Told ya:  Check your watches, the Great Debate always happens right 'bout now:
    "Return is so faithful because it was just as scary as the books, not like that poopyhead musical, and they have the other characters in them!"

    First off:  Baum's books WEREN'T SCARY.  As in, he didn't -want- them to be.  "Exciting" yes, but no child was ever sent into shock treatment.
    In Baum's day, as he liked to point out in his prologues, stories usually had to be "responsible" as possible, and the 1900 bar for children's fantasies had been permanently set by "Alice in Wonderland"...Which Frank always tried to compare his stories to (he wanted to be "the American Fairytale author"), but said that kids wanted a more "real" down-to-earth Dorothy to follow on their adventures.
    Baum's stories may be exciting, but his style was always to defuse them with a sort of silly, no-immediate-danger humor where characters (usually the Scarecrow with his newly educated brain, or one of the farm-raised Dorothy substitutes) reasoned things out with a slightly more fantastical and unlikely application of good Kansas horse-sense....Murch, throwing stories and characters in to a blender, and flailing cluelessly between kiddie-mush and nightmare, didn't come within a football field of what the author had in mind.

    As for that "dated" 30's musical?--MGM may have been all over the map in production, but go back and read the books, and then listen to Noel Langley's dialogue for the final script:  Story liberties for Technicolor, yes, but Langley captures Baum's own bad puns and "Kansas sense" humor in lines you could've sworn were in the original book, and have to read it again just to make sure they weren't.  (I don't recall a Horse of a Different Color in Baum's own text, for example, but it isn't a note out of place in the movie.)
    Me, I'd love someone to follow MGM's act too and move on to the next books, but dang, if Noel hadn't made it look too easier than it was.
  • When did anyone say anything negative about the original?
  • scroot said:
    "Too bad Disney didn't go in for Gregory Maguire's "Wicked" treatment of the old story."
    ----
    Disclaimer:  The following goes off on a tangent to this thread - Disney purists may want to skip.

    Universal Pictures had the movie rights to "Wicked" before Stephen Schwartz convinced them it would work better as a stage play.   The Kennedy Center hosted 'An Evening with Stephen Schwartz' and has excerpts available as free downloads on iTunes (go to Podcasts / An Evening with Stephen Schwartz); he also recalls how he came to work on Pocohontas & Hunchback, and the differences between stage and motion picture musicals.  

    FYI, you don't need an iPod to view iTunes podcasts, but you will need a fast connection or a very long dial-up session to download ~ 35MB iTunes software *(also free).
  • Did I say they were scary? No. They were weird and whimsical and strange in places. For me as a kid, I loved all the creatures and meat glue and such. It's just always been the stuff I gravitate towards. Love the MGM movie too, but it's a horse of a different color. The fact is that I've bought it twice on DVD and Return to Oz was a rental some years back. It just made me happy to see more of these characters, even if they combined one of my favorites with Mombi. I think that lady with the head collection was pretty cool... and she springs to mind every time I pass the Bratz section. Those girls come with replaceable heads too.
  • It used to drive my ex nutty that I disliked the MGM movie so much.

    But I grew up reading the books.  All of them.
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