July 18, 2015


(ABC, September 8, 1990 – December 1, 1990)

DiC Entertainment, Turner Entertainment


            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. 

“Rescue of the Emerald City (Part 1)” (9/8/90) – Dorothy returns to Oz only to learn the flying monkeys had resurrected the Wicked Witch.

“Rescue of the Emerald City (Part 2)” (9/15/90) – Dorothy and her friends manage to expel the Wicket Witch from the Emerald City.

“Fearless” (9/22/90) – The Witch disguises herself as a fortune teller and curses the Lion to become a coward every other time he hears the word “courage.”

“Crystal Clear” (9/29/90) – The friends track the Wizard to Crystal Land after he left, and learns the Wicked Witch had stolen the crystal ball the citizens made for Glinda.

“We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” (10/6/90) – Dorothy wants to visit her family and the Wicked Witch disguises herself and Truckle as Auntie Em and Uncle Henry to greet her.

“The Lion that Squeaked” (10/13/90) – A hyena working for the Witch captures Dorothy, Toto and the Lion’s roar.

“Dream a Little Dream” (10/20/90) – Truckle ends up with the ruby slippers and dominates the Wicked Witch.

“A Star is Gone” (10/27/90) – The Wicked Witch kidnaps the Green Luminary who takes the color from the Emerald Star, and when the friends investigate they’re accused of the kidnapping.

“Time Town” (11/3/90) – The Wicked Witch steals the History of Oz and begins erasing all that is Oz so that she can rewrite her own version.

“The Marvelous Milkmaid of Mechanica” (11/10/90) – The friends must rescue the Milkmaid from the Wicked Witch.

“Upside-Down Town” (11/17/90) – The friends track the Wizard to Upside-Down town, which lives up to its name and causes additional problems for them as they try to figure it out.

“The Day the Music Died” (11/24/90) – Maestro’s baton ends up missing meaning the land will be devoid of music unless Dorothy puts on shoes that appear that will allow her to find it.

“Hot Air” (12/1/90) – The Wicked Witch tricks the Wizard and Dorothy into participating in a balloon race of her own design.

Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2019.

No comments: