In 1900, the George M. Hill
Company published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, with
illustrations by W.W.
Denslow, which inspired by Baum’s desire to capture the wonder of the
stories of the Brothers
Grimm and Hans
Christian Andersen without all the horror. Publisher George Hill didn’t
have much faith in the book and had given a skeptical prediction of selling
around 250,000 copies. He only agreed to publish it after Fred R. Hamlin, manager of the Chicago Grand Opera
House, agreed to turn the book into a musical
stage play for publicity. The book ended up becoming a phenomenon, selling
out of every printing. And the musical, which opened in 1902, did just as well.
|The cover to the first edition of the book.
The book was about young Kansas girl
named Dorothy Gale who is swept away with her dog Toto to the magical Land of
Oz by a cyclone. Her house landed on and killed the evil Wicked Witch of the
East, freeing the Munchkin
people from her rule. The
Good Witch of the North gave Dorothy the Wicked Witch’s Silver Shoes and sent her to
the Emerald City so that
the powerful Wizard of Oz could send her home. Along the way on the Yellow Brick Road, she met,
befriended and was joined on her journey by the Scarecrow, who wants a brain,
Tin Woodman, who wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, who wants courage. The
Wizard agreed to give them what they wanted in exchange for freeing the Winkies from the rule of the
Wicked Witch of the West. After doing so, they learn the Wizard was actually an
ordinary man from Nebraska who was stranded in Oz when his hot air balloon was
blown off course. The Wizard grants their wishes, but Dorothy ended up stranded
once more and enlisted the aid of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South who
revealed the Silver Shoes had the power to send Dorothy home. So, Dorothy
returned home, the Woodman became king of the Winkies, the Lion king of a
forest he rescued from a giant spider, and Scarecrow ruler of the Emerald City.
|The final Thompson book.
Baum had never planned beyond the
first book. By popular demand, he ended up writing 13 sequels to the story;
almost annually until his death in 1919. Ruth Plumly Thompson
was named Baum’s successor by the publisher and she wrote 21 more sequels that
were released every Christmas until 1939 before she left and others came in. As
the books remained popular, they were translated into many other forms of media
from radio plays to films, both live and animated. The most famous adaptation
of Baum’s work came with 1939’s The
Wizard of Oz by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The musical film was directed by Victor Fleming with music
written by Yip Harburg
and composed by Harold Arlen.
It starred Judy Garland as
Dorothy, Billie Burke as
Glinda, Ray Bolger as
Scarecrow, Jack Haley as Tin
Man, Bert Lahr as the Lion, Frank Morgan as the Wizard, and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked
Witch of the West. While the most faithful adaptation at that point, the film
strayed from the original book by combining, condensing or omitting several
elements. Glinda’s character was merged with the Good Witch of the North and
the Queen of the
Field Mice. Many of Dorothy’s side adventures were eliminated, with the
focus placed on her meeting her friends and journeying to the Emerald City. The
Wicked Witch’s role was enlarged to become a looming threat whereas she only
appeared in one chapter of the book. Dorothy’s Silver Shoes were changed to Ruby Slippers in order to
take full advantage of the Technicolor
process used during all the Oz scenes of the film (the Kansas scenes were shot
in a sepia tone, later made pure black and white). Dorothy herself was also
older than the book depicted.
|1949 re-release poster.
The film, while critically
acclaimed, was actually a financial loss for MGM in relation to its budget
until its re-release in 1949, where it made an additional $1.5 million. It went
on to become one of the first movies MGM/CBS Home
Video released on VHS and Betamax in 1980, as well as the basis for several
other Oz adaptations. One of those, to commemorate the film’s 50th
anniversary, was an animated series adapted by Cliff Ruby and Elana Lesser and produced by DiC Entertainment
and Turner Entertainment.
|Scarecrow, Lion, Dorothy, Toto and Tin Man.
The series depicted Dorothy (Liz
Georges) and Toto (Frank Welker) returning to Oz by using the Ruby Slippers
that appeared on her doorstep. They were sent by Glinda (B.J. Ward) to recruit
Dorothy in helping Oz rid itself of the Wicked Witch of the West (Tress
MacNeille), who was revived by the evil winged monkeys. The Wizard
(Alan Oppenheimer) was trapped on his balloon that was constantly blown around
by a magical wind. Reunited with the Scarecrow (David Lodge), Tin Man (Hal
Rayle) and the Lion (Charlie Adler), Dorothy and her friends set out to find a
way to free Oz from the Wicked Witch once and for all and rescue the Wizard.
|Hyena captures the friends.
The Wizard of Oz debuted on
September 8, 1990 on ABC and ran for a single
season before it was cancelled. The introduction depicted the backstory on
Dorothy’s return to Oz and was produced in the same way as the movie; with the
Kansas scenes in black and white except for the Ruby Slippers. The series was adapted
by Cliff Ruby
and Elana Lesser
and written by Pat Allee, Gordon Bressack, Bob Carrau, Jules Dennis, Ben Hurst, Lisa Maliani, Michael Maroney, Michael Maurer, Richard Merwin, Doug Molitor, Michael O’Mahony, Laurie Sutton, Chris Weber and Karen Willson, with Molitor
serving as story editor. Animation was handled by Pacific
Rim Productions, Inc.
|Dorothy and Glinda.
Despite the visual similarities to the 1939 film and the use of several
of its songs (with additional music by Tom Worral), a few things were
changed for the show. For starters, the entire premise was closer to the books
in that Oz was a real and vast place and not the trauma-induced delusion it was
suggested as being at the end of the film. In order to keep the Ruby Slippers
from being the dues ex machina of every story, their magic was shown to be
unreliable because Dorothy didn’t know how to use them properly. The Slippers
shouldn’t have been able to be removed from Dorothy’s feet until her death,
even though they were several times. The Witch’s crystal ball was also limited,
only able to work once a day due to its creator sabotaging it when she first
stole it. The Witch’s demise was changed to her becoming a statue, rather than
having been melted when Dorothy doused her with water; which was how her monkey
minions managed to revive her.
|DVD cover art.
Shortly after its conclusion, Turner
Home Entertainment released 11 episodes on VHS between 1991
and 1995. Lions Gate/Trimark Home
Entertainment brought three episodes to DVD as The Rescue of the Emerald City in 2002. In 2003, United American Video
released The Continuing Story as part of the “Animation Station”
line. Although it had the same cover art as the previous volume, it featured
four different episodes. They next
released four more episodes on We’re Off to Save the Wizard in 2005 under their new name of
Sterling Entertainment Group. The only episode not released on DVD was “The
Marvelous Milkmaid of Mechanica,” which did see release on VHS.
Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2019.