Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman

To celebrate L. Frank Baum's 160th birthday, the Royal Podcast of Oz presents a reading of "The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman" from Little Wizard Stories of Oz.

The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman go boating, but when the Tin Woodman falls over the side, it's up to the Scarecrow to save him! Miles away from the Emerald City, what can a straw man with a good brain do?

The cast features Mike Conway, Zach Allen, and Doug Wall.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the player and links below.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Anne Hathaway reads "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"

Four years ago, Audible released a collection of famous actors reading classic books. One they highlighted—and certainly of interest to Oz fans—was Anne Hathaway (now known for Les Miserables, The Princess Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada, Interstellar, and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland) reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The number of audio book versions of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are not in short supply. Searching Audible reveals several abridged, unabridged and dramatized versions, and there are many more not available through Audible. The book has been public domain for sixty years now, and we've had vinyl records, audio cassettes, compact discs, and now digital audio formats to release recordings of the story to. So, even though I think Anne Hathaway is a great actress and fantastic talent, it wasn't exactly a priority to check out another one of these. (Particularly since Audible's monthly plan can be tricky to get out of, although it's not required to purchase their audiobooks.)

Not long ago, I had an offer for two free Audible titles, and decided to finally get Anne's version of Oz. It took me some time to listen to it, but I finally did.

The recording is simple and straightforward. Unlike other audio books, there aren't attempts to add music or sound effects to liven up the proceedings. It's just Anne reading the book. However, it's a good reading. Anne reads at a gentle pace, running under four hours. (Other unabridged versions run from about three and a half to four and a half hours.) This is absolutely one you could let your kids listen to chapter by chapter for a bedtime story.

Being an actress, Anne puts on a different voice for each character, keeping them charming. Dorothy is a nice sounding child, the Scarecrow is a little gruff, the Tin Woodman sounds calm, while she does a bit of a Bert Lahr tribute for the Cowardly Lion. Her Wicked Witch is wicked, her Glinda is good, her Wizard has a drawl to his voice, Omby Amby sounds like a drill sergeant, while her Jellia Jamb sounds a little German. I liked her Queen of the Field Mice, she sounds posh and trilly.

Overall, Anne does a great job with this, and that is what makes me recommend it if you're looking for an unabridged audio book version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and aren't satisfied with the free versions from sites like Librivox or a previous one you may have heard.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

My thoughts about Disney and Oz

This an op-ed piece. This is solely the opinion of Jared "Jay" Davis, and not necessarily the opinions of Oz fans as a whole or any of the other contributors to the blog.

With the word that Disney has plenty more fantasy movies in the works, some Oz fans have noted that there's no sign of the sequel to 2013's Oz the Great and Powerful. Early word is that a script was commissioned, and it seems it was delivered. But since then, no word except for Disney announcing plenty of other movies. Trailers are already running for Alice Through The Looking-Glass, Pete's Dragon, The BFG, and they're gearing up to release a live-action Beauty and the Beast. In addition, word is we're getting sequels to Maleficent and Mary Poppins, a new version of Peter Pan, and a film version of The Nutcracker. This is in addition to their regular animated fare from their own animation studio and Pixar, other live action films, and output from their acquisitions of Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm.

As any longtime reader of the blog knows, Disney has a long history with Oz, and even though there's nothing on the announced schedule yet, it's inevitable that at some point, Disney will make another Oz film. The question is when and what will it be?

Although it might be too early to declare that an Oz the Great and Powerful sequel is dead in the water, honestly, I'm not sure what the sequel would do. Early word from people involved with the movie claimed the sequel would still be set before the events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But what would the story be?

As a fan of the books, I was disappointed to see the first movie seemingly change important details. Ozma was seemingly written out of the continuity as the previous king of Oz was now Glinda's father with no mention of siblings. Now, there'd be enough wiggle room to establish that Ozma is Glinda's younger sister, but how could a story that ends with Ozma missing or hidden away end satisfactorily enough? How can you believably advanced the shoehorned romance between the Wizard and Glinda? Frankly, these quandaries make me think that we won't be seeing Oz the Great and Powerful 2. It's quite possible that after getting the script, Disney has decided not to move forward with it. This could change, however.

There are other ways Disney could begin an Oz movie franchise. Begin with The Marvelous Land of Oz or a story that establishes a status quo for sequels, such as The Emerald City of Oz. And there's plenty of spin-off possibilities. Imagine if Disney decided to do a direct to video movie featuring Polychrome, reimagining her as a Rainbow princess.

Or, if Disney really wanted to be bold, simply do a new film adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, taking nothing from the MGM film, and using the same storytelling sensibilities found in their new movies based on Cinderella and The Jungle Book. With Disney's effective marketing, I'm sure that if any studio could pull it off, it'd be them.

But, that's just my opinion. What do you think? Should another studio—such as Dreamworks, 20th Century Fox, Paramount—attempt an Oz film? Or what Oz-based or inspired film do you think could launch a movie franchise?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Symphonic Suite

I just recorded an interview with Alexiel de Ravenswood for a podcast episode next month. Alexiel just released a symphonic suite on Bandcamp, which is a retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz wholly in music.

The suite is a beautiful experience for any Oz fan by someone who really loves Oz and wanted to present their version of it in a new form suited to their talents. And at only $9.99, it's nicely priced.

If you want a sample, a single track, "The Yellow Brick Road," is available for $1.99, but the Bandcamp page lets you listen to a minute of it.

Check back in early May to hear Alexiel talk about the suite.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Movies of Oz — The Wiz Live

Jay and Sam dish out about NBC's live TV adaptation of The Wiz, including what they really thought of Mary J. Blige and Hamilton gets referenced again.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the player and links below.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Details Emerge on Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz

About a month ago, a trailer for Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz - an apparent sequel to the direct-to-video spin-off of the MGM film, Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz - appeared online.

We now know the premise of the film and have the cover artwork and a release date, thanks to its listing on Amazon, where you can now you can now pre-order the DVD for its release on June 12.
With the Wicked Witch of the West now vanquished from Oz, Tom and Jerry along with Dorothy are back in Kansas! But not for long as an all-new villain has surfaced from beneath the magical land, the Gnome King! Having captured the Good Witch, the Gnome King and his army are wreaking havoc throughout Oz and need but one item to take control of The Emerald City, Dorothy's ruby slippers! It's up to our favorite cat and mouse duo to team up, go Back to Oz and save the land they love. Take to the skies, courtesy of the Wizard himself, with Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion as they make their magical journey. The laughs and adventure will roar as they encounter all-new frights and mischievous creatures down the Yellow Brick Road, 'cause "we're not in Kansas anymore!" 
While I didn't love Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz, I'm actually pretty excited to see this, mostly because the Gnome Nome King will be the big bad this time around. I'm interested in seeing if any other characters, settings, or story elements from the books end up in the film and in seeing how it expands on the "world" of the MGM film. And who knows? We might even get some nods to Return to Oz or even the DIC TV series.

Also exciting to me is the film's voice cast, which includes Frances Conroy, Jason Alexander of Seinfeld, and James Monroe Iglehart, who won a Tony for his role as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin on Broadway. We don't yet know which characters these actors will be voicing, but I assume that they will be characters that did not appear in Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz.

My only concern or complaint worth mentioning at the moment is that it does seem like the film will be given a Blu-ray release. The trailer only includes mention of the film's availability on DVD and digital HD, and Amazon does not currently have a listing up for a Blu-ray. It's possible that there are plans to release it on Blu-ray later on (maybe packaged with Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz), but we'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Ozbusters! What's the official title of the Oz series?

The Chronicles of Narnia. The Space Trilogy. The Alice Books. The Harry Potter Series. The Hunger Games Trilogy. The Little House Books. A Song of Ice and Fire. The Earthsea Cycle.

What do these (and other) series have in common? Each has a title that immediately identifies them. If it was not approved by the author, then they are generally known by that title by fans and are generally marketed by the publisher as such. In this way, they have an "official" title.

So, what's the official title of the Oz series?

The answer is...

They don't have one.

Now, this isn't exactly true, the Oz books are generally identified as "the Oz series" and "the Oz books" by fans and literary agencies. But yet, the Oz books have a problem as to what that identifies. Generally, if they say, "The Oz series by L. Frank Baum," it generally means Baum's 14 original novels, not the books the original publisher of most of his books published after his death, and not the ongoing series of books by fans.

But there's a term we've seen fans of the books use over and over, "the Famous Forty Oz books." Is that the official title?

Not quite in the same capacity. I admit, I haven't fervently researched the origin of the term "Famous Forty," but I believe it actually came from how Reilly & Lee eventually listed the Oz books on flaps of dustjackets and inside the books themselves. The series was listed as "The Famous Oz Books," and when the list was completed (and seen inside some of the White Edition Oz books), the total came up to 40. The Famous Oz books of which there were forty. The Famous Forty.

In recent years, fans have ran with this, and I've even heard Baum's books listed as "The Founding Fourteen," and Joe Bongiorno has designated a "Sovereign Sixty" on his Oz Timeline website.I even used the title "Famous Forty Plus" to refer to not just the Famous Forty, but other works by the authors of those books.

And that is where things begin to get messy as we look at the Oz series as it stands. No one publisher publishes the entire Oz series these days, and while copies of all the books can be found with a little searching, having a complete uniform collection is very difficult. And considering other entries to the Oz series, mainly Baum's
Little Wizard Stories (since Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and The Woggle-Bug Book can get messy when attempting to place them in with the others) and the books and stories the International Wizard of Oz Club, Hungry Tiger Press and Books of Wonder have published by the Famous Forty authors? What about Baum's fantasies he tied to Oz? Particularly The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, do these count as Oz books? Other series have side series that flesh out the worlds from the main series, do these count as a tie-in series, and if so, what is their official designation?

Baum's fantasies that he tied to Oz eventually have been given the honorary title "Borderlands of Oz" books because some reprints of
The Sea Fairies and Sky Island were given that designation in advertising and even on the cover of Sky Island. Those two books are more closely linked to the Oz series than, say, Queen Zixi of Ix and John Dough and the Cherub, but it's a nice title for them since those stories take place in lands that are close to Oz on the maps Baum created.

But still, what about those other directly Oz stories? And what if you just don't like Thompson, Neill, Snow, Cosgrove, and McGraw's stories and just consider Baum's books to be the only real Oz books?

This is why the lack of an official designation is a blessing as well as a curse. If my understanding of "Famous Forty" is correct, that term was not used as a means of designating what are the "official" Oz books, but a pure marketing ploy. Yes, those books were published with authorization of Baum's estate and under the same publisher as his own books, but there was really no authority to ensure that the books had a good continuity. As much as Oz fans may love them, it's a clear point that many details about Oz change from author to author, and sometimes even that author changes details with no real explanation.

Thus, I counter, Oz continuity can be subject to personal selection. Don't like Neill's talking houses? (No one does.) Ignore his books. (And if you were thinking of writing a derivative work, since they're still under copyright, take that advice as well.) There's so many nooks and crannies to Oz that if you ignore those details, it doesn't necessarily mean you're saying they don't exist, you're just not acknowledging them at this time.

The Oz series is unique in that you can apply any title you'd like to the series and decide what books are contained therein.

I mean, it's not like Baum invented a series title, right?

... Well, actually... He did.

In the introduction of
Rinkitink in Oz, Baum drops a few teasers for his next Oz book, and says, "I have an idea that about the time you are reading this story of Rinkitink I shall be writing that story of Adventures in Oz."

That could be read as Baum saying the story will tell of adventures in Oz, except he capitalizes the word "Adventures." So, has the Oz series had a name all these years in "Adventures in Oz" and it just hasn't been applied?

Well, apparently so. But unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if Reilly & Britton (later Lee) took the hint and marketed the series under that title, nor have fans really accepted it and applied it to the series. So while Baum gave us a title for the series, we've just never used it.

(Edit 4/13/2016: Eric Gjovaag points out that
Adventures in Oz was actually the working title for The Lost Princess of Oz. So, I'm actually not correct there. Still, the title could work for the series, except that a number of books take place outside of the proper environs of Oz.)

Still, not having an officially agreed on title puts the Oz series in a spot with J. R. R. Tolkien's works. While there are three books collectively known as "The Lord of the Rings," there's a number of his other books that tell of the same world, and they don't really have an official collective title either.

So, result: the Oz books do not have an officially agreed on title or continuity. There's some good titles to work with, one even offered by the series creator, but nothing seems to have stuck. It's strictly up to you to decide how you enjoy the series.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Wizard of Oz Returns

As the next episode of The Royal Podcast of Oz is still in editing, here's a rare Oz audio treasure to tide you over. The Wizard of Oz Returns was an original sequel to The Wizard of Oz released in the 1960s. The original set had a record and a foldout game board with instructions, cutout playing pieces and a spinner, thanks to a 2-disc album sleeve. It was also reissued without the game as The Further Adventures of the Wizard of Oz.

You can listen, subscribe and download at the podcast site or use the player and links below.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Royal Podcast of Oz: What's An "OmniOzologist?"

For lack of anything else to do during February, Jared and Sam interview... each other! How did they discover Oz for themselves, what does "OmniOzologist" mean, and how much does Sam not like Wicked and Frozen?

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player and links below.

Download this episode (right click and save)