Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Trifold Land of Oz

The Marvelous Land of Oz was quite a popular novel, and an odd sequel for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. To be sure, we had our old favorites the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, as well as appearances by Glinda, the Queen of the Field Mice, and the people who work in the Emerald City. But the main character, Dorothy, was notably absent, as well as the Cowardly Lion. No one expected the first book's titular character back.

The book was written with a musical adaptation in mind. The lead character Tip, was obviously going to be a trouser role (a woman playing a male), the Woggle-Bug and Jack Pumpkinhead ready to offer comedy relief, and General Jinjur's army would translate well as chorus girls.

Baum did adapt the book as the musical, The Woggle-Bug. However, his previous musical success in The Wizard of Oz worked against him. The leading characters, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, could not be used for legal purposes, so they were written out, and replaced with the Regent. (Nathan DeHoff believes the character was named "Richard Spud".) The Emerald City became the City of Jewels. The story felt similar to the musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, even with a field of sunflowers being destroyed by a flood, a touch too much like the death of the poppies by snow in The Wizard. (Yes, it was in the play, and later imported into the MGM movie.) As a a result, The Woggle-Bug was never a success.

However, since the book has passed into public domain, many adaptations have been made. It was suggested sometime back that I compare some of them, so I will do three: The Land of Oz from the Shirley Temple Show in 1960, The Wonderful Land of Oz from 1969, and The Marvelous Land of Oz, a video taping of a stage musical in 1981.

Right off...
Overall Story Adaptation, Faithfulness To The Book:
1960 - It doesn't adhere to the book, but the major plot points are present. General Jinjur is replaced with the cruel Lord Nikidik, who wants to conquer Oz, so he enlist's Mombi's help. Ozma's transformation by Mombi and subesequent restoration are intact. So is Jack Pumpkinhead's origin and the flight from Mombi's house, and the finding of the Sawhorse. Even the "interpretation" scene with Jellia Jamb is retained. The Tin Woodman comes to the rescue, being called by the Scarecrow, instead of him going to the Winkie Country. The Woggle-Bug is dropped. Glinda saves the heroes from being pulled into a volcano by Mombi, and her army is a little boy who brings his toy soldiers to life (and makes them life size) by calling the word "Oz!" Instead of Mombi transforming herself to escape, she turns herself over to Glinda, then transports herself and Tip to the Emerald City, where she tries to shrink Tip into oblivion. Glinda arrives in time to undo all of Mombi's magic, thus saving the day.
1969 - Actually, this is a very faithful adaptation. The Sawhorse has been removed, so when Tip and Jack are separated, Jack has just wandered off to find the Emerald City himself. The biggest change is that Glinda isn't hard on Mombi, who has just stayed home and doesn't really try to oppose Glinda at all. She reveals the secret of Tip, and is not punished at all. And Ozma makes many of her old companions peace ambassadors... Whatever. Oh, and Tip becomes an oversoul, which once inspired a video I released for last Halloween.
1981 - By far the closest adaptation to date. It doesn't alter the story very much, just concessions for a stage adaptation, except instead of Mombi transforming herself, she possesses Jellia Jamb, trying to make her murder Tip. Dr. Nikidik appears on stage, dealing with Mombi in two scenes. Jellia is given an expanded role, where she accompanies the Scarecrow to the Country of the Winkies. Tip is given an Emerald Ring that tips off Glinda to his true identity.

1960 - The script is nicely done for an hour-long (with commercials) production, and it's held up well, even with it's humor.
1969 - Flat, the slightest bit of humor is killed by the poor acting. The script feels almost unnecessary as most of the story is told adequately through the visuals. A few songs brighten the viewing experience, though not all are performed well.
1981 - Very good indeed! Manages to be humorous, and it's held up well. It doesn't overwhelm the production with dialogue, but it's still an integral part of the production.

Production Design
1960 - Since this was made for TV, it does look like an elaborate stage play. However, the design is reminiscent of the MGM movie. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Glinda look almost exactly like their MGM counterparts.
1969 - Honestly, once again, it looks like a stage play, but not very elaborate. In fact, the whole movie looks like a community theatre adaptation. (More on this when I get to acting.) Some of the costumes are good.
1981 - Well, this time around, it is a play. At least it's well-done for one.

1960 - The cast is very talented. There's not really a weak actor or actress in the whole production.
1969 - OH, GOSH!!! You'd think there'd be at least one talented actor or actress... Okay, the actress playing Jellia Jamb is okay, but she gets next to no screen time, and no one seems to know who she is. But everyone else is horrid. None of them can really sing (too bad it's a musical), or act. I mean, the lead, Chan Mahon as Tip, must have realized that he could never show his face on screen again after appearing in this, so he never got into acting again. (Now he's a producer, behind camera.)
1981 - Well, they did get good actors here. You have to remember that this is a videotaped stage play, and not a movie, so the cast projects their voices, which is normal for a stage production. So, good stage acting, not good movie acting, but then, this is a stage play.

So, really, when we get down to it, the best of these is probably a toss-up between Shirley Temple's version and the 1981 Stage Adaptation. One is a TV production, one is a stage production, while the only version that made it to the big screen is the worst. And I mean worst!


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

You might mention that there is no Wogglebug in 1960, and the roles of Jellia Jamb and Dr. Nikidik are expanded in 1981. the costumes in 1969 (and song "The Powder of Life") weren't that bad in 1969, especially compared to the rest of the film.

Nathan said...

I believe the Regent's name in the stage play is Richard Spud, an obvious play on "dictator."

Bill Campbell said...

Just for general info, the 1981 version by the Minneapolis Children's Theater was edited a bit for the video version. In the stage production, Mombi did transform into a griffin and battled Glinda. This happened in Glinda's tent and was seen by the audience in silhouette on the tent side. Also, the video does have the new character of Colonel Cardamom, who was created as a sidekick for Jinjur.