Saturday, June 25, 2016

Warner Brothers and Oz

Angelo posted a blog recently wondering why Warner Brothers doesn't do more with their ownership of the MGM film, The Wizard of Oz. This coincided with the latest entry in their direct to video Tom and Jerry movie: Back to Oz. Angelo reviewed that here, and since he does a good job of keeping it spoiler-free, I'll save my review until Sam and I review it on the podcast.

I did purchase and watch Back to Oz and found it to be surprisingly well-done. Tom and Jerry could easily have been written out and the entire thing presented as a direct to video animated sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Paul Dini (veteran writer for Filmation and Warner Brothers animation including DC Comics properties, and co-creator of Harley Quinn) did a very good job of bringing in elements from the Oz books and mixing them with elements from the MGM movie.

I suspect the Tom and Jerry mix with Oz was to lend the project a bit of grace in the eyes of fans. It wouldn't be a direct sequel to a movie classic, it was a sequel to a previous Tom and Jerry movie. But it really didn't need to be. You get people who care about telling a good story and who are respectful to the source material and the fans, and that's all the grace you need.

So, am I saying Warner Brothers should consider doing a line of animated Oz movies for direct to video? Yeah. Back to Oz was basically proof that they could do something good with the right team. All I'll ask is that they keep them as family films, and try not to appeal only to the very young.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wicked the Movie finally gets a release date

Fan poster by Angelo Thomas,
Featuring a fancast Anna Kendrick
as Elphaba
Every Oz fan knew that a movie version of the hit musical Wicked wasn't a question of if, but when. (Except Sam. If you listen closely, you can hear him yelling "NO!!!" all the way from Australia.)

Well, although I'm sure most Oz fans have heard, the question has finally been answered. The movie is set to open to theaters in the US on December 20, 2019. (International releases should be around this time.) I, for one, think they should've set it for October (since the movie is about a witch, and that would tie it to Halloween), but it seems movies based on musicals get December releases now.

It will have been 13 years since Wicked debuted on Broadway, so it seems this has given quite enough time for the show to run in Broadway, tour the country, and open in other countries before a movie is made.

We knew a movie wouldn't come right away because film adaptations of Broadway hits aren't fast-tracked anymore. (Note the last Oz stage to film adaptation, The Wiz in 1978, opened a mere three years after the Broadway debut.) It's important for plays to be a hit in their own right before they get a movie nowadays. And Wicked isn't just a hit, it's become a part of Broadway history and without a movie has earned an important part in pop culture.

Fan poster by Angelo Thomas,
Featuring a fancast Julianne Hough
as Glinda
So, what's in store for the movie? As Angelo and I discussed in the latest podcast, there's likely to be changes. The stage of the Broadway version is framed with a clockwork motif as part of the Time Dragon Clock. As I mentioned in my review of the play, this can be interpreted as the entire story being depicted by the Time Dragon Clock from the original Gregory Maguire novel. Could this be interpreted into the movie? The Time Dragon Clock can't be in every scene. Or would it be too much? Would it require a framing sequence?

Speaking of which, a play has to compress the events of a story to a number of scenes or have some things only referred to. A movie has more freedom. Could we see a more fleshed-out version of the story in the movie? That would be akin to how The Sound of Music was adapted for film. Perhaps Stephen Schwartz will be penning a new song or two, or reviving ones they dropped during development years ago.

In my opinion, that might be ideal so that the movie version will offer a different experience from the play, so that both versions of the property will offer something unique. Winnie Holzman is writing the screenplay, based on her original script, so that should be in good hands.

And then there's casting. Fans already have their ideas, but I think we should trust the creative team to pick the best people to portray the characters. Fancasting is fun (and Angelo's made a couple picks that he's made into art that decorates this article), but I think fans should have fun with coming up with picks, but don't fight because they don't like someone else's picks, or the actual final casting. All I'll say is that Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenowith should certainly get at least cameos.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Once Upon A Time in Oz with Angelo Thomas

Jay chats with his friend Angelo Thomas about Oz plots on ABC's Once Upon A Time, NBC's upcoming Emerald City, and the possibilities of a sequel to Oz the Great and Powerful and a film version of Wicked. (Note: this was recorded before the date of December 20, 2019 was announced for a Wicked movie.)

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



Download this episode (right click and save)

Also, please consider supporting the Royal Podcast of Oz on Patreon.

Return to Oz - in HD

In a couple of days, WB will release "Tom and Jerry Back to Oz" on DVD.

But Oz historians will know that this is not the first Oz-related film to be released on June 21st.  That honour goes to Disney's "Return to Oz" ... and I am glad to finally provide you with my review of the Blu-ray restoration (with comparisons to its DVD predecessor).

(Any errors or gaps in descriptions will be corrected upon more current viewing - and if there is a chance of my computer getting the treatment needed to screenshot Blu-rays, those pictures will also be updated)


COVER ART:  The front cover (nicely made and better than the previous Disney DVD cover art) uses the theme design of the characters near the top of the title with a rainbow above the Emerald City.
Note, however, that characters such as Dorothy and Scarecrow have been modified from their original photo sources - Scarecrow is no longer holding the green ornament that would be restored to the form of the Gump (who, unfortunately, is absent from the cover, despite being a key and important character) and Dorothy's face has been composited with one where she is actually smiling.
And the Emerald City model is actually from an existing poster, back in the day of its advertising.  Possibly inaccurate to the film's portrayal, ruin or restored, but a neat throwback anyway.  But the yellow brick road is too sharp and clear and vague by comparison.
Also unusual is the sunset sky.

Also note how there appears to be some form of grassy slope on the left side of the characters.

I plan on doing a picture showing "annotations" of the character compilation.


MENU:   The Main (and only) Menu looks identical to the old Disney menu, but has subtle differences.  In another throwback, the Title box also uses the design from the DVD's cover art.

screenshot of the Disney DVD Menu
iPhone photo of Blu-Ray Menu

SCENE SELECTION:   The Blu-ray scene selection / chapter index is the same as the Disney DVD (12 chapters, as opposed to Anchor Bay's more specific 24 listing).
Oddly, the image they used for "Three Chances" on the Blu-ray is different (and inaccurate to the film) from what the DVD selection has.

VIDEO + AUDIO:   One of the most notable things about the past releases was how much the film needed cleaning:  There were scratches and dirt, spots and specks scattered throughout the picture, quite often more on shots with special effects than normal scenes.

Fortunately, the picture is much better. 
The scratches and dirt are gone,
you can see the slowly swirling green mist in the opening title more clearly,
the lines are crisp and the detail is more apparent.  It is amazing what you discover with this new transfer from the DVD upon a more HD viewing.
Now of course the film isn't a very colourful one, but the colours are actually a bit more vibrant here:  Billina's feathers and some of the Wheelers' clothing is a bit more noticeable and colourful.
Not to mention the Ruby Slippers SPARKLE beautifully, as are the little gems on the bows more apparent.
  The "DISNEY CASTLE" intro is smoother and the main title does not have any blotches or specks that plagued the past DVD/s.  There was a hair on the bottom of the screen as Dorothy nervously awaited the "treatment" to begin . . . that flickering hair has been removed.
The film also gains a slightly different hue / hint:  By comparison, the old Anchor Bay / Disney DVDs looked as if slightly pink, but the Blu-ray gives it a slightly more earthy texture, which is fitting for the Kansas scenes and actually a bit more natural for the Oz scenes (especially the underground Nome Kingdom).

As is often the case with Blu-ray HD, it allows a better and improved viewing over the DVD.
Scenes that were dark have some more definition to see hidden details, the noisy soundtrack is now clearer and has more clarification - which it should because the Director, Walter Murch, was and is a Sound Editor himself (if you knew the story of how he got the sound effect of Jack falling through the air onto his body on the Mountain - it adds a whole new perspective).

The Kansas River scene, in which Dorothy and "Kansas Ozma" (Kozma, or K-Ozma, I call her) is less noisy but still loud, only this time with clarity where the music is not overwhelming or drowning out the sounds and dialogue.
Likewise the scenes where Dorothy eludes the headless Mombi and the attempt to escape from the Nomes are also benefited from this.   There are other moments where little background noises are made clearer.
Notable background noises made clearer include the Nomes gasping when Billina peeks out of Jack's upside-down head and ringing bells from the Emerald City after its restoration.


Scenes where the brightness has been toned down is best shown when Dorothy is waving good-bye to her friends.   So that shot with Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead, along with the people of Oz, as they say good-bye to Dorothy looks different.
On DVD the scene starts to brighten after Dorothy turns to Ozma "I haven't said good-bye!" and it gets to a point where Dorothy's close-up is almost completely whited out.
Screenshot of Dorothy's waving good-bye, on the Disney DVD

On Blu-ray the brightness doesn't start to take effect till after Dorothy cries out "I love you all!" and waves, where we can clearly see her emotional face and the blurrying background behind her.  

iPhone photo of Dorothy's wave good-bye, on the Blu-ray

One of the things I noticed on the DVDs was that some scenes, some specific shots, were missing a couple of frames mid-action.   These shots were Billina first seeing Tik-Tok, Dorothy's foot kicking Princess Mombi's shin and the Gump breaking apart amidst the clouds.

I had hoped that upon restoration those scenes would be COMPLETELY restored, allowing those few frames to make the shots flow more smoothly without jumps.
Unfortunately . . . no new frames have been added or put back in.
Likewise, the scene where Tik-Tok's landing on the Nome King's Mountain, is still left untouched, imperfectly cut and rushed.   And you can still (or now more clearly?) see the wires attached to the Gump in the fogged scenes.
However, the wires attached to "Dorothy" (or Fairuza's stunt double) as she lands mercifully on the sofa on the Mountain, have been removed.

What's also interesting about this restoration is how it treats the Hall of Heads special effect scenes: both when Princess Mombi changes her head and when her headless body rises from the bed, walking zombie-like towards Dorothy.

The Blu-ray has some "blacking" in the area underneath the heads when they are lifted from their cabinets, while the area where Jean Marsh's head is absent has ... well, you can almost get the idea of how they altered it after filming.

 (LACK OF) SPECIAL FEATURES:
As has been stated before, this disk has no Special Features or Bonuses.

Therefore, the movie no longer has Fairuza Balk's Introduction, which actually replaced the Castle Logo on the even OLDer Anchor Bay DVD (but came before, without replacing, the Disney Logo on the Disney DVD).
No Trailers, No TV Spots, No Interviews.   Just the regular "Sneak Peaks" as the disk opens (unless you skip them).

  This is my first "Disney Exclusive" and I am not too bothered by it, as the film's presentation in video and sound is pleasant enough (yes, despite the points I revealed above).

So while it's not entirely perfect in complete restoration or bonus packaging, the Blu-ray for "Return to Oz" is still a must and an appreciated have.


Hope you enjoyed my review - I plan on doing one for the 2-disk "Definitive" Soundtrack too!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz - Angelo's Review

Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, a follow-up to the direct-to-video film Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz and a sequel of sorts to the MGM film, was not something that I expected would be made. I didn't love Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz, and it seems like the overall response to the film from fans was rather mixed. Nevertheless, Warner Bros. has produced a follow-up, this one drawing from the books as well as from early drafts of the screenplay for the MGM film. 
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!"
Yesterday, I wrote some about my frustration with Warner Bros. for not doing more with their Wizard of Oz property and questioned the decision to continue tying Oz to the Tom and Jerry brand rather than producing strictly-Oz content. Now having seen Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, I see even greater potential for Warner Bros. and Oz. Why? Because, the presence of Tom and Jerry aside, this is actually a pretty decent little sequel to the MGM film. And, thankfully, the Tom and Jerry characters are more secondary this time around.

Did I mention that James
Monroe Iglehart is really
talented? The guy's a Tony
Award winner!
While the animation itself isn't particularly impressive, it's clear that a lot of care was given to faithfully re-create (and extend) the "world" of the MGM film (as was the case with the first outing), and though the animation may leave something to be desired, the voice acting here is top notch. Grey Griffin, Michael J. Gough, Rob Paulsen, and Todd Stashwick all reprise their roles as Dorothy, the Scarecrow (and Hunk), the Tin Man (and Hickory), and the Cowardly Lion (and Zeke), respectively and are joined by Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame as the Gnome King in Oz and a character named Mr. Bibb in Kansas and James Monroe Iglehart, best known for his role as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin on Broadway, as the Jitterbug in Oz and a character named Calvin Carney in Kansas. Most impressive to me are the performances given by Iglehart, who has two musical numbers in the film, and by Joe Alaskey, whose Wizard of Oz not only sounds almost exactly like Frank Morgan's but also provides many of the film's genuinely funny and even poignant moments. The only performance that really bugged me was Frances Conroy's; her Glinda has a strange, very exaggerated accent that I found to be pretty obnoxious and a weak attempt at a Billie Burke impression.

The film is a musical and includes both a handful of original songs, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and a few songs carried over from the MGM film, such as "Over the Rainbow" and "We're Off to See the Wizard." Likely to be one of the most exciting aspects of the film for fans of the MGM film is the inclusion of "The Jitterbug," which of course was written for the MGM film but was cut sometime before its release. Personally, I didn't find any of the new songs to be necessary or very memorable, but I didn't mind them being in there. I most enjoyed "A Mighty Fine Affair," which is expertly performed by Iglehart and is complimented by some really fun and colorful visuals.

Move over, Scarecrow, it looks to me like the Tin Man might
have his eyes set on Dorothy, too. (I'm kidding, although I am
admittedly a Dorothy/Scarecrow "shipper" myself.)

There's, surprisingly, a good amount of stuff in the film that I think will delight fans of the books, too. Although the film's Hungry Tiger and Queen of Field Mice have little in common with their Baum counterparts aside from their names, I found the film's portrayal of the Gnome (or "Nome") King to be pretty spot-on (and, hey, he's even referred to as "Ruggedo" once or twice, so I can't really complain there). I would've liked for the overall story to draw more from the books, especially because I think the story is the weakest aspect of the film, but again, I'm happy to see some nods to and characters from the books in an otherwise very MGM-centric sequel.

The Nome King wants the Ruby Slippers in order to take control
of the Emerald City? Sounds about right to me.

I'd definitely recommend that you see Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, even if you're like me and didn't really care for Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz. It's not great by any means, but it is fun and enjoyable all things considered, and I would actually compare it to something like Lion of Oz or the Oz Kids films in terms of quality and tone.

Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz is now available to own digitally and will be available on DVD (but not on Blu-ray, sadly) on June 21, 2016. You can pre-order the DVD right here.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Patreon

I have set up a Patreon campaign for The Royal Podcast of Oz.

Patreon is a crowdfunding site, so a bit like Kickstarter. However, instead of a one-time payment, users (known as "patrons") sign up for a monthly contribution. In return, the person operating the campaign may offer rewards or "perks" for contributors, usually in the form of exclusive content or early releases.

As our first patron, Laura Gjovaag, defines it, think of it like a tip jar.

All funds will be used for the podcast, at the moment, funding the hosting plan, but will also assist in helping me replace and upgrade recording equipment. If we get there, stretch goals are listed on the campaign's page.

For The Royal Podcast of Oz, episodes are usually published as soon as they're ready, so the only perks I can offer is listing your name and a link for your website, blog, Twitter on a page I'll be setting up on the podcast website. Those who donate a little more will get free access to my Oz stories in digital form, and I have an omnibus edition of Outsiders from Oz and several of my first Oz short stories that will be exclusive to Patreon backers who have been donating $5 a month for a year.

I mention possibly doing dramatized Oz and Oz-related stories. Sometime back, I began writing an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's The Enchanted Island of Yew as a serialized story titled Prince Marvel. Some funding would help this go from being a script to an actual audio production, distributed freely through the podcast.

I've never been keen on asking for money, but I'm also not thrilled about possibly putting ads on my websites or suddenly shilling Audible or Nature Box on the podcast so I can attempt to improve what the podcast offers. However, Patreon works better than a PayPal donation because it offers a platform to easily offer rewards and even try to connect with backers. (It's entirely possible that the next Christmas and L. Frank Baum special episodes could be determined by Patrons.)

So, if you feel a little generous, here is the link to the campaign again. Thank you!

Why Isn't Warner Bros. Doing More with Oz?

The first teaser for Beauty and the Beast,
which doesn't hit theaters until March
of next year, was viewed 91,800,000
times
in the first 24 hours following
its debut late last month.
Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast remake is one of the most anticipated films, if not the most anticipated film, of next year. Cinderella and The Jungle Book are among the studio's most critically and financially successful films in recent years, and adaptations of Snow White and the Seven DwarfsPinocchioDumbo, Peter Pan, One Hundred and One DalmatiansWinnie the Pooh, The Sword in the Stone, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin are all currently being developed. There's even a Mary Poppins sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, slated for 2018. Meanwhile, rival studio Warner Bros., whose sibling company Turner Entertainment owns the exclusive rights to The Wizard of Oz, seems to have no immediate plans for any sort of large-scale adaptation of the beloved MGM film. While some fans ("purists," you might call them) are undoubtedly glad of this, it's definitely strange, at least from a business perspective, that Warner Bros. has not taken better advantage of the very valuable property that is The Wizard of Oz.

Pan, which reportedly cost
Warner Bros. $275 million to
produce and advertise
,
grossed only $128 million
worldwide in 2015.
The lackluster box office results of Warner Bros. films like Pan and Jack the Giant Slayer (and, more recently, Universal's The Huntsman: Winter's War and Disney's Alice Through the Looking Glass) prove that more original, "re-imagined" fairytale adaptations are not guaranteed to be as successful as Disney's and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland was six years ago, but it seems to me like a faithful remake of the MGM film, especially with a big-name cast and a high-profile director at the helm, would be a pretty safe bet for success. Such an adaptation was briefly in the cards several years ago (with Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis rumored to have been attached), but nothing ever came of it.

Over the past decade or so, a handful of Oz films have been in development at Warner Bros., many of which you can read about in detail here, but most seem to have lived rather short lives, and it's been years since we've heard of movement on any of them. The same can be said for the handful of Oz television shows that we know to have been in development at Warner Bros. in recent years, such as an animated series for the now-defunct Kids WB network and the Game of Thrones-inspired Red Brick Road for Lifetime.

The only real (but not particuarly exciting or ambitious) extensions of the Warner Bros. Oz property that have come to fruition are the direct-to-video films Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz and Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, the latter serving as a sequel of sorts to the MGM film. As of this writing, I've yet to see Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, which is now available to own digitally but won't be available on DVD until June 21st, but I've heard surprisingly good things about it from those who have seen it. But if Tom and Jerry & The Wizard of Oz was relatively succesful, which it must have been to warrant a sequel, then why didn't Warner Bros. treat that success as a "go-ahead" to produce strictly-Oz content (in the form of animated films or even a television series) rather than continuing to tie Oz to the Tom and Jerry franchise?

"You mean they're only going to let us be in Tom and Jerry movies?"

If Warner Bros. isn't eager to do anything with Oz on a large scale right now, then fine (I guess), but I think that they could definitely be "milking" the property much more than they are, and I think it would be smart of them to start squeezing their lemons into some lemonade, even if that for now just means something for the small screen rather than for the big one.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

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.