Today: June 18, 2024

The Legends Of Oz


“The wind began to switch – the house to pitch – and suddenly the hinges started to unhitch. Just then the Witch – to satisfy an itch – went flying on her broomstick, thum … uh you know the rest and if you don’t, you’ve sorely missed out. Seventy-five years ago, former Hollywood sweetheart Judy Garland breathed life into the role of Dorothy Gale, becoming the endearing star of Frank L Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz. She, along with her other enchanting screen mates  – Ray Bolger (Scarecrow), Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion) and Jack Haley (The Tin Man) – swept in as powerfully as the famed Kansas twister and left behind a wonderfully bewitching residue in the lives of those who loved and watched.

Cherished by many, The Wizard Of Oz has become a kind of movie heirloom, passed down through generation after generation. Rare, valuable and precious, there truly are very few movies like it – not only able to stand the test of time but drawing in new viewers decades later. Its likeability factor has led to a surge of spin off films – including this week’s new release Legends Of Oz: Dorothy Returns starring many A-list talents. The voice of Glee, Lea Michele, takes on the role of Dorothy while Patrick Stewart presses pause on his Professor X persona to play Tugg. Kelsey Grammer, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi also star as Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. But just what is it about Dorothy and her mismatched crew that is so darn alluring?

Despite 75 years of cinematic success, The Wizard Of Oz story hasn’t always gone down well with the public when transported to big screen. In fact the 1939 version was preceded by a string of failures including the 1925 silent rendition also titled The Wizard Of Oz. After taking a massive departure from the original plot, this Larry Semon version sees a seductive 18 year-old Dorothy caught in a love triangle between Scarecrow and Tin Man who happen to be nothing more than farmhands in disguise. Possibly even more shocking is that ‘desperate for a heart to love’ Tin Man is actually a villain in this piece.

The earliest surviving screen production of Oz – Selig Polyscope Co’s 1910 The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz – was a mere 13-minutes long and not surprisingly failed to capture Baum’s magical world. The same can be said for the 1914 movies The Patchwork Girl Of Oz and The Magic Cloak Of Oz. Critics were also quick to slam more modern versions like The Wiz starring musical legends Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, dubbing Ross too old to play Dorothy.

Possibly the only other winner in Oz movie history was last year’s Oz: The Great And Powerful which some critics regarded as an entertaining watch. However the overall mixed response left a lackluster after taste. So how did Judy Garland and the MGM team manage to razzle dazzle the public where others have so spectacularly failed?

“MGM had the best of the best and put them all to work,” explained Oz historian John Fricke in a recent interview with Chris Heller in Atlantic Magazine. “Baum knew how to entertain, MGM was about entertainment, and Garland was one of the supreme entertainers of the time.” In other words, stellar talents from all areas of production, pulled together to churn out cinematic gold.

What is there to say then, about the latest Oz adaptation, Legends Of Oz: Dorothy Returns, which has given Baum’s much- loved characters new twists and new challenges to face. Speaking in a YouTube interviews to promote the release, the Glee actress admitted to wanting to bring out Dorothy’s tougher side – to portray a young and spunky Dorothy that 21st Century girls could relate to.

It’s not just Dorothy who has undergone changes, when we last left the Kansas foursome (five if you count Toto), Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion had only just received their hearts, (brain’s and courage’s…) desire. Now the audience gets the chance to see exactly how their new gifts have changed their lives.

While the Lion is taking a while to “own his courage” the Tin Man also comes up against some struggles where matters of the heart are concerned. For the X-men Marvel star Stewart, Legends Of Oz also offered a great opportunity to bring some wonder back into the lives of the younger generation who, he feels grow up too fast. Wise words ‘Professor’. Wise words. Let’s hope the latest Oz does exactly that.

Legends Of Oz: Dorothy Returns is out in UK cinemas from 23rd May.

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