Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Wizard of Oz, The

Many movies have been based on the Oz series by L Frank Baum. The listing below is far from complete.

1. The Wizard of Oz US movie (1939). MGM. Pr Mervyn LeRoy. Dir Victor Fleming (colour), King Vidor (sepia). Spfx Arnold Gillespie. Screenplay Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Wolfe. Based primarily on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). Starring Ray Bolger (Hunk/Scarecrow), Billie Burke (Glinda, the Witch of the North), Judy Garland (Dorothy), Jack Haley (Hickory/Tin Man), Margaret Hamilton (Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West), Bert Lahr (Zeke/Cowardly Lion), Frank Morgan (Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz). 102 mins. Sepia and colour.

The Cinema's classic Pantomime. Orphan Dorothy, living with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, is persecuted by vile neighbour Miss Gulch over the activities of dog Toto, and runs away. Fortune-teller Professor Marvel uses his tricks to make her return home, but as she gets there a tornado blows up, and a bit of flying debris knocks her unconscious. In her Dream the house is blown away, landing in both Technicolor (up to now the movie is in sepia) and Oz, and on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her – to the delight of the dwarfish Munchkins and the beautiful Glinda, the (good) Witch of the North. But Dorothy, worried for Auntie Em, wants to return to Kansas. Follow the Yellow Brick Road, advises Glinda, to reach the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz will aid you. En route Dorothy encounters and befriends three zanies resembling her aunt's and uncle's three farmhands: the Scarecrow, who has no brain, the Tin Man, who has no heart, and the Lion, who has no courage. The three join her Quest, each in search of his missing attribute, to the fury of the Wicked Witch of the West, Scrying on them; she resembles Miss Gulch and wants Dorothy dead, if only for the Magic Ruby Slippers she wears, taken from the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East (and, like Hans Andersen's Red Shoes, irremovable before death). Evil is in due course confounded, and the wizard is shown to be a charlatan: magicless, he has been using Technofantasy devices to create his imposing persona. He gives the three zanies tokens of the attributes they have discovered in themselves, and offers to take Dorothy back to Kansas by balloon, but – as in a typical anxiety dream – the craft sails without her. However, Glinda appears and tells her that the way home is to tap her heels three times and say "There's no place like home" – and sure enough it works.

One of the most famous movies of all time, debatably responsible for the continued popularity of Baum's book, the fountainhead of a Mythology of its own (as in "Was ..." [1992] by Geoff Ryman, and Labyrinth [1986]). It seems pointless to criticize any particular aspect of TWOO since it is the totality of the movie that impresses, rather than any of its component parts. Several of the songs (by Harold Arlen and E Y Harburg) have become standards, and numerous lines from them and from the screenplay are now everyday quotations.

This was not the first time the Oz stories had been brought to the screen: silents were Dorothy and the Scarecrow of Oz (1910), The Land of Oz (1910), The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914), His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz (1914), which was produced by Baum himself, The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914) and The Ragged Girl of Oz (1919). [JG]

further reading: The Making of "The Wizard of Oz" (1977) by Aljean Harmetz; Down the Yellow Brick Road: The Making of "The Wizard of Oz" (1976) by Doug McClelland; The Wizard of Oz (1989) by John Fricke, Jay Scarfone and William Stillman; The Wizard of Oz (1992 chap) by Salman Rushdie.

2. Return to Oz US Animated Movie (1964). Rankin-Bass/Videocraft/Crawley. Pr Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr (1924-2014). Voice actors Carl Banas (Dandy Lion/Wizard), Susan Conway (Dorothy), Pegi Loder (Glinda/Wicked Witch), Larry Mann (Tin Man), Alfie Scopp (Socrates the Strawman). circa 50 mins. Colour.

Dorothy returns to help her trio of friends, who have lost the attributes they gained in 1. [JG]

3. The Wizard of Mars (vt Alien Massacre; vt Horror of the Red Planet; vt Horrors of the Red Planet) US movie (1964). Dir David L Hewitt. Starring Eve Bernhardt, John Carradine, Roger Gentry, Vic McGee, Jerry Rannow (movie lacks proper credits). 81 mins. Colour.

Obscure low-budget sf revamping of the story in which three men and a woman are crew of the first mission to Mars, crashland, and in their search for oxygen come to the ruins of an ancient civilization, ruled by a solitary survivor – who is the analogue of the wizard. [JG]

4. Journey Back to Oz US Animated Movie (copyright 1971 [often listed as 1964 – presumably in confusion with 2], released 1974). Filmation/EBA/Warner. Pr Norm Prescott, Lou Scheimer. Dir Hal Sutherland (1929-2014). Screenplay Bernard Evslin, Fred Ladd, Prescott. Based on The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904). Voice actors Milton Berle (Cowardly Lion), Herschel Bernardi (Woodenhead Stallion III), Paul Lynde (Pumpkinhead), Ethel Merman (Mombi), Liza Minnelli (Dorothy), Mickey Rooney (Scarecrow), Rise Stevens (Glinda), Danny Thomas (Tin Man). 90 mins. Colour.

This direct sequel to 1 features rather stylized animation – too many of the characters are too strongly reminiscent of those in other animated movies – done in crudish colours and frequently with static backgrounds; the pacing is erratic due to an excess of songs. The voice track is more interesting: Hamilton, Wicked Witch of the West in 1, has a cameo role as Aunt Em, while Minelli, Garland's daughter, provides an uncanny replication of Dorothy's spoken (though not singing) voice. General standards, however, are those of a tvm; voicing distinctions go to some of the minor parts, supplied by Mel Blanc, Dallas McKennon and Larry Storch. Another surprise name in the small print is that of Don Bluth as a layout artist.

In 1978 this movie was transformed into a tvm with the addition of live-action sections featuring Bill Cosby. [JG]

5. The Wiz US movie (1978). Universal/Motown. Pr Robert Cohen. Dir Sidney Lumet. Spfx Al Griswold, Albert Whitlock. Screenplay Joel Schumacher. Based on stage musical by William Brown and Charlie Smith. Starring Lena Horne (Glinda), Michael Jackson (Scarecrow), Mabel King (Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West), Richard Pryor (The Wiz), Diana Ross (Dorothy), Ted Ross (Cowardly Lion), Nipsy Russell (Tin Man). 134 mins. Colour.

An all-singing, all-dancing, all-black version of the tale, set in New York amid contemporary pop music. Harlem teacher is frightened of the big wide world. As she puts out the garbage one snowy night, her dog Toto scampers away and she chases him; both are sucked into a nightmare version of the City by a tornado. The Munchkins thank her on her arrival: Evermean, the Wicked Witch of the East, had ensorcelled them into being mere graffiti, but now that Dorothy has accidentally killed the witch they can become independent beings again. The Urban Fantasy continues – for example, the Cowardly Lion has been hiding in one of the stone lions outside the New York Public Library, The Wiz is an unsuccessful politician, and the Wicked Witch of the West runs a sweatshop. [JG]

6. The Wizard of Oz Japanese-US Animated Movie (1982). Toho. Pr John Danylkiw. Exec pr Alan L Gleitsman. Dir Danylkiw. Based on The Wizard of Oz. Voice actors Lorne Greene (Wizard of Oz), Elizabeth Hanna (Wicked Witch of the West), Aileen Quinn (Dorothy), John Stocker (Tin Man), Wendy Thatcher (Glinda), Billy Van (Scarecrow), Thick Wilson (Cowardly Lion). 78 mins. Colour.

This modest version is not a straight remake of 1 but appears to be derived independently from Baum's novel. Its plot is a pared-down version of 1's but with various novel elements. Most are of no great profit and some – e.g., too much time is spent underscoring the bonding between the central group of Companions – are tiresome. One point of interest is that the Wizard (who resembles Greene, the voice actor, facially) appears to each of the crew in a different guise (a big disembodied head for Dorothy, an Angel for the Scarecrow, a rhino for the Tin Man and a "great ball of fire" for the Lion) – i.e., he is a fake Shapeshifter. The animation is limited, but passable; some of the backgrounds are excellent watercolours. [JG]

7. Return to Oz US movie (1985). Disney/Silver Screen Partners II/Oz Productions Ltd/Buena Vista. Pr Paul Maslansky. Exec pr Gary Kurtz. Dir Walter Murch. Spfx Ian Wingrove. Vfx Peter Krook. Claymation dir Will Vinton. Screenplay Gill Dennis, Murch. Based on The Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. Starring Fairuza Balk (Dorothy), Jean Marsh (Nurse Wilson/Mombi), Emma Ridley (Princess Ozma), Nicol Williamson (Dr Worley/Nome King). Voice actors Sean Barrett (Tik Tok), Denise Bryer (Bellina), Lyle Conway (Gump), Brian Henson (Jack Pumpkinhead). 110 mins. Colour.

Months after 1, Dorothy is sleeping little, and often babbling about the magical country she has visited. Convinced she is mad, Aunt Em takes her to Dr Worley for primitive (this is 1899) EST. Supervised by sinister Nurse Wilson, Dorothy is about to be treated when a thunderstorm shorts everything out; she and a mysterious nameless girl flee the clinic but are swept away by floods. Next morning Dorothy awakes to find herself in Oz, which is in disrepair. With friends Tik Tok, a mechanical man proud of his lifelessness, and Jack Pumpkinhead, a scarecrow, she destroys the Nome King – who is vulnerable to eggs – and uses the Magic of the Ruby Slippers to restore the Emerald City's status quo, also freeing the rightful ruler, Princess Ozma – the little girl at the clinic. Back in Kansas, Dorothy is discovered by Toto sleeping beside the river, having survived drowning. Later, sometimes, Ozma appears to Dorothy in her Mirror.

RTO was poorly received: it lacks the songs and lightheartedness that people expected, and the whole production has a certain murky muddiness about it. Its real fault, however, was that despite appearances it is not a Children's Fantasy: instead, it is a fairly straightforward Genre Fantasy, complete with various Plot Coupons, and there are several strong points of reminiscence between it and The Neverending Story (1984), although it is a better-constructed movie. Balk makes an exquisite Dorothy. RTO deserves better than the almost total obscurity into which it vanished soon after release: it has pleasing ambition. [JG]

8. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz US Animated Movie (1987). Voice actor Margot Kidder (Narrator). 93 mins. Colour.

Animated remake of 1. We have been unable to find out anything about this movie except that it exists. A similar lack of information pertains to The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969), Oz (1976) and Twentieth-Century Oz (1978); it is possible that at least one of these may in fact be a documentary about Australia. [JG]

Mention should be made of The Wizard of Oz (1922 silent), directed by Larry Semon and starring Dorothy Dwan as Dorothy, Semon himself as the Scarecrow and Oliver N Hardy as the Tin Woodsman.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.