Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful is coming out this Friday, and it is just one in a long string of sequels, prequels, remakes and spinoffs of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. That book was adapted into several films during the Silent Era before making its colorful debut in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. But the adaptations didn’t end there, and they certainly don’t show any signs of slowing down, either. Just take a look at the Wikipedia page full of adaptations of The Wizard of Oz to see how widespread this story has become.
But why? Why do so many filmmakers, playwrights, novelists, musicians, and other creative people continue to gain inspiration from and put their own clever twist on The Wizard of Oz? I’d like to explore this idea for a little bit and see if I can come up with some satisfactory answers. This is gonna be Oz-some!
“There’s no place like home” is the overriding message of the 1939 film version, as well as of many other adaptations. It’s pretty common for children to have disagreements with their parents and even contemplate running away from home. But few do because of the lesson that Dorothy learns through her journey: Her problems don’t go away by running from them. By confronting her foibles through the help of her friends, she learns the value of courage, wisdom, and love, and she returns home to Kansas a better person. There are so many lessons we can take away from this story, and they apply to children as well as adults.
The characters in The Wizard of Oz are all incredibly memorable and interesting from their first introduction. Dorothy is a fish out of water who wants to go home, the Scarecrow wants a brain, the Tin Man wants a heart, the Cowardly Lion wants to be courageous, the Wicked Witch of the West wants power (in the form of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers), and the Wizard wants to be respected.
The fact that everyone knows who these characters are makes it easy to market a film about them. Latching onto preexisting series is nothing new in Hollywood. The reemergence of Star Trek and Batman as viable properties in the past few years has proven that there is still a taste for nostalgia in the viewing public.
Room for Interpretation
I have heard that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was originally intended as an allegory about the nature of money. The Yellow Brick Road is gold leading to the Emerald City, which is the dollar bill. And Dorothy’s slippers were silver in the book, another reference to the power of money. But that allegory didn’t really translate into the various versions of the story that made it onto the silver screen and other forms of media. Instead, people have been free to interpret the message of the book to be about a host of issues: minority rights, prejudice, fraud, freedom, tyranny, and many others. The fact that there is always room for a fresh interpretation of its core story makes The Wizard of Oz as fresh as a Shakespeare play in many creative people’s minds.
Always Something New
Adaptations of The Wizard of Oz range from silly (The Wiz and Zardoz) to superb (Wicked and Return to Oz). But they all have one thing in common: They are all remarkably distinct from one another. Even the most horrendous versions of The Wizard of Oz have genuinely interesting moments because there are so many interesting ways to approach the same material.
In 1985’s Return to Oz (an underrated film, in my opinion), Dorothy grows as a character and demonstrates leadership and courage rather than just being naïve and passively letting things happen to her. The Broadway musical Wicked explores the nature of the Wicked Witch and turns her into a sympathetic character. Zardoz has Sean Connery playing a sort-of Dorothy character, and he does so many unspeakably bizarre things, I lost count. The Wiz has a surprisingly affecting performance from a young Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.
Opportunity to Show Off New Technology
The 1939 film is famous for its spectacular use of color in an era of mostly black-and-white films. It provided the perfect marriage of technology and storytelling to create something audiences had never seen before. The special effects are quite remarkable for what they were trying to get across, even though they’re a bit silly by today’s standards. The fact that they pulled off flying monkeys, a giant projection of the Wizard’s head, a tornado, and so much more is a testament to this film’s ability to transcend its time period and become a timeless classic.
From what I can tell from the trailer for Oz the Great and Powerful, it appears that special effects will play a big part in that film, similar to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland reimagining a few years ago. There are so many magical aspects of the Land of Oz that can be explored through CGI. I’m interested in seeing how it turns out, but I hope it’s not as lacking of substance as Alice in Wonderland and James Cameron’s Avatar.
There are many reasons why The Wizard of Oz continues to endure in popular culture as an iconic story worth retelling and reinterpreting in different media. It could be that there are a lot of creative people itching to make their mark on the story or it could be that a bunch of cynical sellouts want to make a quick buck through easy brand recognition. Whatever the case, for some reason the entertainment industry loves giving us the same thing again and again, as long as we’re willing to watch it. In other words, I don’t know how it works. Goodbye, folks!
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All images are the copyright of their respective owners. Read more Random Stuff articles here.