We're Off To See The Wizard Of Oz Part 3
Unlike the colorful MGM musical, which featured a cast of beloved entertainers, Baum's original series was anything but cute and cuddly. The MGM version only hints at the mysterious and dark energies infused in Baum's prose. Although the Oz books were always considered children's entertainment, the spooky surreality he created was more in tune with the tales of Hans Christian Andersen than with the simple rhymes of Mother Goose.
Andersen, like Baum, dug up tales from the shadowy side of his imagination, quite unlike the Danny Kaye treatment so typical of Hollywood. Baum also introduced everyday objects and elements that most children could relate to“clocks and circus balloons and items made of tin, stuffed moose heads“in addition to traditional folklore staples like witches and little people.
After Baum's death, Ruth Plumly Thomson became the new Royal Historian of Oz and created 19 more Oz adventures. The entire series, 40 some books, and especially the first, originally written in 1900, has been translated into virtually every language in the world. There have been dozens of films, animated features, television treatments, and even an all - black stage version, The Wiz, which won the Tony for Best Musical in 1975.
Surprisingly it was the Disney studios that managed to accurately capture the essence of Baum's Oz in their Return to Oz, which frightened children across the nation during the mid - 80s. Critics took the Disney people to task for delivering up this unrelentingly depressing and scary depiction of the Wonderful Land of Oz... but those familiar with Baum's originals could recognize that Return to Oz was precisely the kind of vision Baum had in mind. Considering that Baum's work is now universally connected with pleasant childhood memories, it is difficult to truly grasp how dark and sinister the original Oz works by Baum truly were!
While his fantasies were certainly colorful and filled with all manner of unusual characters, they bore only a passing resemblance to the brassy soundstage song and dance of MGM studios. Baum's world was populated by grotesque and tragic critters. For instance, Jack Haley's Tin Woodman was not originally created as a musical comedy crooner but rather as a dour rustic type who has had one too many accidents with his ax. There really was no attempt in the 1939 version to translate the Baum book onto the screen, but rather to capture the popularized versions of Baum's stories, which by then were already well known through silent movies and comic strips. Baum also created sophisticated and diabolical villains and a variety of existential puzzles that would have left MGM's executives gasping for air.
Forget the inconsistencies in the film's internal logic, or the dated language, or the sugary sentiments... MGM's The Wizard of Oz rings a collective bell in our group consciousness. Few other movies have spawned so many catch phrases or have maintained such currency after 50 some years. Perhaps it's because we want to believe the world is still a magical place; perhaps we wish we had friends as good and loyal as Dorothy's, or perhaps we too want to find that special place over the rainbow, knowing all the while that in the end there's no place like home.
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