Thursday, May 21, 2015

How to ruin Oz?

Whenever a new Oz movie comes out, there is almost always someone who says, "Why can't they just film one of the original books?" Which is a pretty fair wish. A lot of recent Oz films almost seem as if they have no respect for Baum's original text or would rather go in new directions with it that are more in line with currently popular properties. Oz the Great and Powerful probably came the closest of the most recent projects, but you almost feel as if that was more so they wouldn't get sued for cribbing from the MGM film.

So, we're left with the question, why hasn't anyone anyone tried to directly adapt Baum's world for the cinema?

And, after many years of considering this, I have the answer.

You can't.

At least, not if you want to actually have an audience.

In an article I wrote recently for The Baum Bugle, I examined the differences between MGM's The Wizard of Oz and Baum's original book, focusing not on what was dropped or added, but how the storytelling style was quite different for the film. The book has an episodic plot, while the movie has a linear one. When viewed from that angle, the other changes began to make sense.

So therein lies our problem. Most of Baum's books are very episodic. The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz each work fairly well with linear plots, though each have episodes and sometimes characters that could be easily eliminated.

So, I thought, how would a story like The Emerald City of Oz work if you tried to make the plot linear?

And so, I've been puttering at a screenplay for The Emerald City of Oz that tries to do exactly that. I say it's based on Emerald City, but it actually draws from several of the Oz books, actually jettisoning a large part of the original book's middle and reworking part of Tik-Tok of Oz in its place. A song from The Patchwork Girl of Oz has been reworked into a song sequence here, and Ozma has dialogue adapted from a bit in The Road to Oz.

There are a number of pieces in place actually original to this version that would depict Oz not as a place where people stay where they are, but as a living, moving place. And while it's rather different from Baum's original story, I think it's going to be faithful to his world. (And I mainly got the idea when I heard a song I knew would work as a montage to end the movie.)

Basically, you can't take the Oz you find in Baum's books and put it directly to film. It just won't work that well. But you can do some streamlining and wind up with a reimagined version of Oz that feels faithful to the ideas of the books.

You may remember I started this blog discussing how to adapt Oz for film, and while we've certainly moved past that, it's still a subject I think about a lot. I mentioned my own screenplays, but let me tell you, those are probably not going to see the light of day ever. That said, if this screenplay actually got produced, I'm certain that there will be Oz fans who believe I've ruined the story.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Little Dorothy and Toto

Continuing the series of short stories for L. Frank Baum's birthday, the Royal Podcast of Oz presents "Little Dorothy and Toto" from Little Wizard Stories of Oz.

Dorothy and Toto encounter a strange menace while adventuring, but perhaps the situation is easier to deal with than Dorothy thinks.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Visit the podcast website to subscribe to the Royal Podcast of Oz!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Movies of Oz — The Dreamer of Oz

To celebrate L. Frank Baum's 159th birthday, Jared and Sam discuss NBC's The Dreamer of Oz, the first L. Frank Baum biopic. But how factual is it? Jared has a few words... How well done is it? Sam has a few more...

Download this episode (right click and save)

Go to the podcast site and subscribe to the Royal Podcast of Oz!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Oz news!

Some new announcements have come up we can't wait on...

Intrada Records (specializing in film/TV score releases on CD) released a 2-disc soundtrack for Disney's Return to Oz, "including alternate takes, bonus cues, and the original 1985 album presentation." The official track list is shown below.

The title can be ordered from their website, and it can be ordered from Creature Features, who is offering an autographed version. The official release date is the 12th.

(Intrada also released the score CD for Oz the Great and Powerful. Most of their releases eventually pop up at Amazon.)

Creature Features also offers a podcast, and the latest episode interviews Walter Murch, discussing Return to Oz, offering his look at the movie's conception, production, and legacy. If you wanted a director's audio commentary for the movie, this might just be the next-best thing.

Some updates were revealed about NBC's upcoming live production of The Wiz, to air December 3rd. The first bit of promotional artwork was released (above), seemingly promising a lively interpretation of the musical.

Also, the first cast member was announced.

Stephanie Mills, the original Dorothy in the Broadway production, will appear as Aunt Em in the television event, meaning that the show will open with her singing the ballad "The Feeling That We Once Had" to the new Dorothy, seemingly handing over the role 40 years after she first performed "Home" onstage.

They have announced they are seeking a "fresh face" for Dorothy. Hopefully with Stephanie onboard, she really can hand over the role. NBC's official synopsis says that Dorothy is a young woman from Kansas, confirming that they will be sticking with the original play, and not going after the take attempted in the 1978 film version.

Several news articles wind up using pictures from the movie, speculation articles have popped up suggesting how they can work in the movie's ideas, and the public in general is not as familiar with the play as they are with the movie. This is why NBC is doing these plays, people. If you want the movie, you can have it: it's on home video. This is something else.

No other cast members have been announced, but fans are expecting NBC to cast Audra McDonald as Glinda. She played the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music Live two years ago, knocking out "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," so she can probably handle "A Rested Body Is A Rested Mind" and "Believe In Yourself" quite well.

I'm so excited about this, I've actually written Universal Studios Home Entertainment about getting the recording of the live event released on Blu-Ray. (The Sound of Music and Peter Pan were only released on DVD and digital video, and following their format, we should also be getting a new cast album on CD and digital.) If you'd like to write in yourself, here is the link for where to contact them. (Well, follow the appropriate link under "other inquiries.")

Few tips: Say the title you're writing about is "The Wiz Live" and select "Blu-Ray" when selecting which format. Be respectful and write in a way that lets them know you're excited about the production and would love to buy the recording on Blu-Ray. And please be prepared to do exactly that. (I tweeted Disney Movie Club about wanting Return to Oz on Blu-Ray, and we got it! So who knows what a few e-mails might do?)

Finally, Amazon has another Oz-based kids series with a pilot coming soon for free viewing. Titled Lost in Oz (not to be confused with any other project with that title ever), the description is thus:

The show is an animated, action-adventure comedy set in a modern, metropolitan Emerald City. Stranded in this spectacular world, 12-year-old Dorothy Gale befriends West, a young, street-smart witch grappling with dark temptations, and Ojo, a giant munchkin. With Dorothy’s dog Toto, this unlikely crew embarks on an journey, seeking out the magic Dorothy needs to get back to Kansas.

Developed and produced by Bureau of Magic’s Darin Mark, Jared Mark, Abram Makowka, and Mark Warshaw (East Los High, Smallville), this contemporary re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s universe is designed by Flaunt Productions (Under Siege, Project Spark), animated by Arc Productions (9, Gnomeo & Juliet), scored by Adam Berry (The Penguins of Madagascar) with theme music by Mark Mothersbaugh (The Lego Movie).
Sounds interesting, and a lot more family-friendly than NBC's Emerald City which was recently revived and expected to air either during the winter break or as a midseason replacement during the 2015/2016 season.

A lot of Oz news, people! What a time to be a fan!

Bucketheads in Oz

Bucketheads in Oz has been a long-time project for Chris Dulabone. As one may gather from the title (if they know a little about Dulabone), it started when Dulabone was still issuing books under Buckethead Enterprises of Oz, but as it was, it came out under the Tails of the Cowardly Lion and Friends imprint.

One might expect the book to be a real mess since it's written not only by Dulabone, but also by Greg Gick, Melody Grandy, Greg Hunter, Phyllis Ann Karr, Chuck Sabatos, Deen Shumate, and Jim Vander Noot. (Shawn Maldonado took the job of illustrating the book.) The book largely tells a nice, cohesive story that only gets a little muddled in switching between plot lines between chapters. (My advice is alternate chapter by chapter.) Early on, there's a little bit of "Cliffhanger for the next writer to figure out!" but that quickly disappears.

The book is a classic travel, multi-plot thread Oz story. Most of the characters are original. Two of them—Kericot the Considerate Kalidah and Terrence Oldshell the Tortise—had previously appeared in Oziana and other books Dulabone published. However, since Kericot's introduction story is found in this book as a chapter, it appears she was created for this book, and the chapter published as a standalone short story in Oziana when the book was delayed.

The book finds several characters heading to get help from Zim Greenleaf, the Wizard of Munchkinland. There's a woman trapped in a ring they found, a strange river serpent that claims to be Professor Nowitall, transformed by Mombi, the Bubble Bird needs to be restored, Tekouri the troll accidentally resurrected Mombi, and on the journey... he ate a little girl...

The story is kind of slow-moving until the travelers meet Zim, who sends them to the Emerald City, where things really pick up! Unfortunately, then the book is over in just a few chapters...

This isn't a book for a newcomer to Dulabone's take on Oz. This is more of a celebration of about 25 years of wacky, humorous additions to the Oz mythos by fans who love it but aren't too serious about it.

You can order your copy here.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Those Contemptible Kalidahs!

Art by Sam Milazzo from "The Way of a Lion"
One of the first monsters we meet in the Oz books are the Kalidahs. They appear even before the Winged Monkeys in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as Dorothy and her new friends head to the Emerald City.

The Cowardly Lion tells Dorothy when they are in the Kalidah forest and tells her what they look like:
"They are monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers," replied the Lion, "and with claws so long and sharp that they could tear me in two as easily as I could kill Toto. I'm terribly afraid of the Kalidahs."
 And my little story "The Way of a Lion" tells you why he said that, but that's beside the point.

For being so fearsome, the Kalidah's appearances in the Famous Forty are few and only by Baum himself. In Wizard, they appear as Dorothy and her friends are trying to cross a gulf by a felled tree. The Kalidahs pursue the travelers onto the tree, but before the monsters can cross, the tree is sent into the gulf.

Their next appearance is in The Magic of Oz in which one of them attacks Trot and Cap'n Bill, who is able to skewer it and pin it to the ground. Eventually, it frees itself and wanders off to a Kalidah magician who will be able to heal it.

There are a few Kalidah-centric stories outside of the Famous Forty. One of my favorites is "Gugu and the Kalidahs" by Eric Shanower. This story has some renegade Kalidahs invade the Forest of Gugu. Eric does feature a Kalidah King and suggests that Kalidahs are cruel beasts who abuse each other. (Gugu sees a female Kalidah being clawed at for the amusement of others.)

In Bucketheads of Oz (written by Chris Dulabone and several of his friends), a Kalidah community is detailed, particularly how they treat each other. Something about it seems a little too orderly with how long families stay together and even a "considerate Kalidah" being put on trial.

So, how do I see the Kalidahs? They are the most vicious creatures in Oz. In "The Way of a Lion," I reveal that most animals in Oz get meat from special plants. It's mentioned that Kalidahs only eat these as a last resort: half of their meal ritual is the hunt.

The Kalidahs have been skipped in most major adaptations of The Wizard of Oz. The Wiz musical had "the Kalidah people," and the movie had Dorothy and her friends being chased by giant evil puppets and attacked by live support poles and trash cans. The Muppets Wizard of Oz had Statler and Waldorf as "the Kalidah critics." Tin Man featured the Papay, monsters that could bite and kill our heroes.

Animated adaptations have been far more generous to the Kalidahs, except while many are monstrous (being large or threatening beasts, the best going to the Toho anime adaptation), few are actually menacing. The 1999 Russian animated version actually turns them into giant lizards.

In Alexander Volkov's Magic Land series, the Kalidahs were replaced by Saber-Toothed Tigers. They're largely the same in Wizard, but at the end of Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers, the Deadwood Oaks are tasked with exterminating the rest of them. (One escapes this fate, but is later killed by Munchkins following advice from Tim in The Fiery God of the Marrans.)

One might ask why didn't Ozma do this? Because even though the Kalidahs are cruel menaces to Oz, they are part of it. They are not the most desirable, but they're part of nature. And furthermore, even if the Kalidahs destroy life, would destroying theirs make those who did them in any better?

So, Oz will have its dangers, and the Kalidahs aren't going anywhere.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Pearl and the Pumpkin

After The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, other writers for children and artists noticed. More books featuring a marriage of nd illustrations began to appear. Some even view Baum's later work as his attempts to improve on what he'd done in Wonderful Wizard. (Baum felt he did well with The Scarecrow of Oz and Sky Island, actually.)

But what about W.W. Denslow? After he and Baum parted ways, Denslow released several other picture books, and of course, none of them ever gained the popularity of Oz. However, thanks to Denslow's connection to Oz, publishers such as Dover Publications have reissued some of his post-Oz work. And one of the books they chose to reprint was clearly an intended successor to the Oz illustrator's biggest success: The Pearl and the Pumpkin.

According to Michael Patrick Hearn's introduction in the Dover edition, Denslow came up with the idea of The Pearl and the Pumpkin's plot and had his friend Paul West write the idea into a story he'd illustrate. The concept of creating a musical based on the story was also there from the beginning.

The Pearl and the Pumpkin opens on the Pringle farm in Vermont, where Joe Miller (nephew of Farmer Pringle, cousin of his daughter Pearl, meaning that there really shouldn't be a "The Pearl" in the title as much as just "Pearl") is turning the remainder of the Pringle's bumper crop of famous pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns for a Halloween party. Joe figured out how to grow healthy, large pumpkins just about anywhere, and this is his reward.

However, bemoaning their loss is the Canner (Ike Cannem) and the Pieman (John Doe, no relation to Baum's own John Dough) who wanted Pringle pumpkins for their respective businesses. During the party, a third person looking for Joe arrives: the Ancient Mariner from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, except now he just runs errands for Davy Jones and his pirates in their underwater locker. And what do the pirates want? Pumpkin pie! But since pumpkins aren't found under the sea, the Mariner wants to learn Joe's secret.

Joe at first blithely refuses to share his secrets with the three men, but Mother Carey—a wise and kind sea goddess—arrives and warns Joe that they may do him mischief if he doesn't share his secret and she gives him a whistle to summon her with.

We're already seeing Denslow's style of making characters non-threatening. The Ancient Mariner came from a poem about a pretty traumatic sea voyage, and Mother Carey was actually a goddess of sea storms. But here, the Mariner and Davy Jones and the pirates are comic characters, while Mother Carey is basically a rehash of Baum's Good Witch of the North, just now underwater. In addition, the Albatross the Mariner is otherwise famous for killing is never said to be dead, and in Denslow's illustrations, appears to be alive. But it very quickly vanishes from the story.

Getting help from the Corn Dodger (a farm sprite), the Canner, Pieman and Mariner trick Joe into wishing he was a Pumpkin-head to make him give up the secret, even though he'd already decided to tell the Mariner if he asked. The Corn Dodger works this transformation, and Joe turns into a boy with a pumpkin for a torso, a jack-o-lantern head, and vines that make up the rest of his body. As a result of being "a pumpkin head," he also can't remember the secret to growing his pumpkins. The Corn Dodger can't do another transformation until the next midnight, and he can't work magic if he's captured, and the Canner has turned his eyes from pumpkins to the fine corn that makes up the Dodger's body.

Meantime, the Mariner and the Pieman decide that if Joe can't remember his secret, taking him to Davy Jones will surely scare him into doing it. And if that still doesn't work, well then the pirates will have pumpkins for their pie at least.

Denslow, I thought you didn't want to scare children, and here you are with a story where a boy is transformed and threatened to be eaten, and a fairy is threatened with being processed into canned corn. But yet these disturbing themes are present all through the story.

Using magic, Pearl and Joe are transported by the Mariner and the Pieman to Davy Jones' locker. From here, the story turns into a long chase as Joe tries to stay ahead of the pirates, using help from Mother Carey. The Corn Dodger tries to stay ahead of the Canner and is also protected by Mother Carey until the Canner finally catches him. The story reaches a climax in Bermuda where Joe's body is baked into pies in a hotel kitchen and the Canner cuts up the Corn Dodger and puts him in a giant can to be presented to the President of the United States.

Mother Carey is able to recover Joe's head and this is enough for the Corn Dodger (who emerges whole from the can) to restore Joe. (It's mentioned the pies at the hotel are thrown out, because it's only now that eating food made from a transformed person becomes gross...) Joe shares his secret and we are told the world will never experience a pumpkin shortage thanks to this!

The story is light, fun reading and actually pretty enjoyable. But when viewed critically, it lacks a clear, active protagonist. Pearl and Joe are both pretty passive and do little to move the plot along. It's mainly the characters who wrong Joe who do that. Another odd thing is how easily people take to the idea of fairies living amongst them.

And as I said, the idea of making the story into a musical extravaganza was part of the early planning, and it's easy to see how the idea was in mind, just like another Pumpkinhead-starring book released the same year: The Marvelous Land of Oz. In Pearl, all of the major players are introduced early on and if you're familiar with comedy stage productions from that era, it's easy to see how much comic running around is already in the book. And sure enough, the story was made into a musical, and like Marvelous Land's first adaptation The Woggle-Bug, it was a flop.

Perhaps The Pearl and the Pumpkin won't appeal to more casual Oz fans, but those interested in more of Denslow's work should check it out for a fun but weird story.

Hugh Pendexter III added Denslow and West's Davy Jones' Locker to his Wooglet in Oz, meaning that Pearl could be considered an expanded universe Oz story if one wants, though it does raise the question of why people in America are just fine with fairies and otherwise presumed mythical people popping up.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Characters You Didn't Get In Return to Oz

So, Return to Oz is pretty popular for being a faithful representation of the Oz books. This may be a matter of debate, but it's generally considered a well-done film. However, there's some characters who didn't make the final cut...

The Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion and the Army of Oz
"Wait!" I hear you say, "The Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion were in the movie!" And yes, they were. But an earlier draft of the story had them having a much larger role. Either they hadn't been turned to stone and escaped with Dorothy, or were at the Nome King's Mountain with the Scarecrow and not transformed with him, and later got to try their hand in the ornament rooms.

Also in an earlier draft was a scene that was actually storyboarded (seen in the Winter 2010 Baum Bugle) in which Tik-Tok and Jack's head did not land on the Nome King's Mountain, but Dorothy finds a sandboat being rowed across the deadly desert by deserters of Tik-Tok's army. As they talk with Dorothy, Tik-Tok arrives, carrying Jack's head.

Personally, I think it was a better decision for the movie to cut these characters. As it was, the production had gone overbudget, and having these characters at the Nome King's mountain would have made for a much longer sequence and a more frantic restoration.

Those who have read Ozma of Oz will remember that Dorothy and Billina and even the Nome King are unable to locate the transformed Tin Woodman, which is referenced by Tik-Tok not being restored before they leave the Nome King's Mountain in the final cut. This let them pay tribute to the original text and also let them not have to handle the Tik-Tok puppet during the chase scene. Now imagine if two more complicated characters were added to the mix. (They already had Jack and the Gump.) If they'd gone the "We didn't find them, oh look, here they are!" route with them, doing it more than once would strain credibility.

As for the army, more characters would have crowded the chase scene, so it seems that this is a "less is more" situation. Less characters was more tension and suspense as well as focus.

The Sawhorse, the Woggle-Bug and the Hungry Tiger
Return to Oz drew most of its plot from Ozma of Oz with The Marvelous Land of Oz being close behind it. Those books had a few more featured characters who don't seem to appear in the film. Well, the Sawhorse does appear. As an illustration in a book a woman in the Emerald City was reading. It might have been nice if he'd been included in the return to the Emerald City sequence in the finale, but that would have required them to build another creature that would barely have any screentime.

Many of the above arguments about the Cowardly Lion and the Sawhorse also apply to the Hungry Tiger. Baum did little with the character in Ozma of Oz and it's hard to see how he'd uniquely figure into the plot in Return to Oz. Again, while a finale cameo would have been nice, it would also require another expensive creature to be created.

Perhaps the one character who might have been an interesting addition to the movie is the Woggle-Bug. Imagine if he'd met Dorothy near her old house and began warning her that things weren't right in Oz in an overly pompous and dignified manner. Imagine if he'd tried to distract Mombi and had Dorothy and her friends leave on the Gump without him and Mombi pushes him out of the broken open window where he uses his wings to glide back to the ground to hide and finally reappear in the finale sequence. Perhaps he might have added some much-needed levity to the movie. But then, the Henson Company would have had to figure out how to make that work, further straining the already stretched budget.

In The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma had been raised by Mombi (who was an old sorceress in Baum's world; Return to Oz mixed her with Princess Langwidere, creating a character that was a little of both but ultimately neither), but she was transformed into a boy named Tip.  Return to Oz had Emma Ridley (who played Ozma) appear in Kansas as a mysterious, anonymous girl who rescues Dorothy from the clinic. It's suggested by dialogue at the end ("I was afraid you'd drowned," Dorothy says, to which Ozma nods knowingly) that she is Ozma.

I have a theory about this: a dancing girl says that Ozma was enchanted into a mirror. As such, until Dorothy frees her at the end, Ozma only appears as a shadowy form in mirrors. If Oz is a mirror version of Dorothy's world, then wouldn't it make sense that Ozma is suddenly able to cross over to Kansas while she's under this enchantment? Or, considering Ozma appears in Dorothy's mirror at the end, maybe this is just something she can do and Mombi's enchantment let her project her entire body into Kansas.

So, if they'd used Tip, would a boy have rescued Dorothy and adventured with her to Oz? Perhaps. But unless they'd come up with a good dynamic for him and Dorothy, then we'd run into the "too many characters" problem again. And how could they pull off the restoration?

Okay, seriously, though, where was Glinda during the events of Return to Oz? She doesn't even get a name drop. Now, possibly she was the one who helped send the key to Oz, but you'd think that even with her usual hands-off rule, she might make a concession when the fate of the entire Land of Oz is at stake.

In Sam's Return to Oz comic adaptation, Glinda makes an unannounced appearance and declares who Ozma is. My only theory is that she was attempting to get Dorothy to Oz and help free Ozma just as everyone was turned to stone, deciding that if she was successful, Dorothy and Ozma would restore her along with everyone else.

So, who knows how Return to Oz might have been if they'd added more characters to the plot? But I think it works well as it is in its final cut.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Take Me Back to Oz" and "And Justice for Oz"

I finally got some new books from Chris Dulabone's Tails of the Cowardly Lion and Friends. I have the credit for illustrating the second one, And Justice For Oz, but that actually came about by accident. I'm no artist, but I did sketch several non-human Oz characters around an Oz logo on some mail I sent to Chris, and he wound up asking if he could use it in a book. I gave the go-ahead, and it appears as a chapter heading on each chapter.

These two books are supposed to follow up Dulabone's The Marvelous Monkeys of Oz, which I haven't read, but it turns out these two form a story well enough on their own, although it seems the first one might have helped if I wanted a better introduction to the characters. As it is, these two actually tell a pretty interlocked story and really should have been published together as a single book.

The books are by Lisa McFauh-Queppe and Lark Vandergrace respectively, but if it wasn't for the names on the covers, I would've thought this was Dulabone's work.

Take Me Back to Oz features the disappearance of Queen Diamond Ann of Anapeland, the elected ruler of the Flying Monkeys. Her mischeivous sons take the throne as two flying monkeys are joined by the Scarecrow and Scraps to find Diamond Ann. Along the way, they are joined by an enchanted princess.

Diamond Ann is actually trapped on another in the distant future, and is given a number of slave jobs she fails at for being too considerate. She finally escapes and gets a lift back to Oz. Except, Oz is not around anymore in the future... (At least, not where or how it is in the present.)

Take Me Back tends to overindulge in the goofiness and spends little time in Oz and doesn't really feel like an Oz book. ...And Justice for Oz spends little time with Diamond Ann and does spend more time in Oz as the Scarecrow, Scraps, the monkeys and the princess search odd little Ozian kingdoms for the missing Monkey queen before returning there to confront her sons. It's still a goofy book (and has a nifty tribute to the Wizard of Oz Returns record), but is nicely toned down from the last one. Justice made for a nicer read than Take Me Back.

While the story ended well, I couldn't recommend putting these high up on your list of Oz books to pick up. If you're a fan of Dulabone's humor, then you know what to expect and should enjoy them. As with most of Dulabone's publications, this is one for those who don't mind their Oz getting a little wacky.