Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Retro Review: Classic Wizard of Oz

Okay, so what do I know about this 2-cassette set? ... Next to nothing that's not on the case. Classic Wizard of Oz has a copyright of 1975 from the Cutting Corportation (I can't find an audio producer by that name, but there is an audio archival company, so maybe they changed businesses), so I would be unsurprised if it had been originally available on vinyl records.

For whatever reason, these were re-released on cassette, and are also available digitally. If your local library has digital lending services, they might have it. Mine did. That's how I first heard it. Later, I found the cassettes on, and decided to pick it up with a few extra credits.

The cassettes are "full cast recordings," based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz. However, they are loose adaptations. And by loose, I mean ... they tell almost the same story as the books, but use next to none of the dialogue or prose found in the books. Usually, audio books offer a taste of the author's writing style read aloud, even if it's abridged, and a full cast recording either does away with or minimizes the work of a narrator by letting the listener hear the story as it would have happened.

Classic Wizard of Oz does neither. This is, without a doubt, the worst audio adaptation of Oz I've heard. The narrator is overused, and in one case, says the Scarecrow's dialogue for him. The voice acting isn't too hot. One small clip I find hilarious is Dorothy's "Hey, Aunt Em! There's a cyclone coming!" She sounds like she's excited about it. Even sillier is Aunt Em's line, "Let me see, Dorothy. Oh, that's a bad cyclone!"

... As opposed to good cyclones?

Tip sounds like a girl. I guess they had a girl do his voice, as sometimes they do that, but here, it's obvious. (It reminded me of Shirley Temple's Land of Oz, another loose adaptation which worked better as it was a TV version.) Jack sounds terrible, and the Sawhorse is mute. The Scarecrow is a jerk: "Hey, Tip! If you're Ozma, I don't have to be king anymore!"

Now for story changes—it could be considered "abridged," but as none of Baum's writing, aside from the actual plot, is present, I just consider it an adaptation—the Queen of the Field Mice is cut again, the Lion is just pulled out of the Poppy Field by the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow. The Poppy Field itself is said to have an odd odor like "leftover spinach," which doesn't make sense considering that Dorothy falls asleep there. The Wizard sees them all at once, as the giant head. (Sound familiar?) The Wicked Witch of the West, instead of getting her wolves, crows, bees, and Winkies, summons the Fighting Trees and the Hammerheads to fight instead. Because of that, the journey to Glinda's (suggested by the Wizard as he flies away) has only the Dainty China Country as an event. As it is, they might as well have left it out, especially as the narrator leads us through it mostly.

The Land of Oz is even looser: it begins with the kidnapping of Ozma, which is simply telling us Ozma as a little girl went to pick lilies and never returned. Later, Mombi was seen by a soldier with a little boy holding a lily. (OBVIOUS.) The incantation for the Powder of Life is changed to something really ridiculous: "Bingo bango bongo bive, a cherry, a lemon, an apple, a chive, birds make nests, bees make hives, now powder, now powder, bring ____ alive!" (Never thought "Weaugh! Teaugh! Peaugh!" would sound good? Well, now it does.) Jack remembers being a lifeless pumpkin and stories the animals would tell, including some about Ozma, and it is overhearing Tip and Jack talking about Ozma that makes Mombi decide to turn Tip into a statue.

The Sawhorse runs off with Jack to the Emerald City almost immediately after he is brought to life, and the meeting of the Scarecrow and Jack is reduced greatly. (Jellia's translation scene is gone. A CRIME!!!) Jinjur's army is a marching brigade who get convinced to revolt by Mombi. The Tin Woodman's castle is also captured by Jinjur and Mombi, and it is here the Gump is created. The Jackdaw's nest is left in, but it lacks the battle and the Scarecrow losing his straw, so it could have been left out easily. Glinda is suddenly said to be the ruler of the RED GILLIKINS IN THE NORTH. (I thought she was south, like in their Wizard.)

One change I did like is that Jinjur does not want to defy Glinda and immediately surrenders and turns Mombi over to Glinda right away. Not that I like they changed what happened in the book, but I always felt that this was the true nature of the relationship between Mombi and Jinjur. (Jinjur being afraid of Mombi.)

Overall, it might be an interesting take on Oz, if only it wasn't for the low production quality and over use of narration. The character voices are unconvincing and the music is underwhelming to say the least. I never thought of "Arkansas Traveler" (or, as us later generation kids know it, "Baby Bumblebee") as music that defined the Emerald City.

The package is nice, with a hard plastic case that opens to securely hold two cassettes. A Denslow color plate decorates the front, while the back gives us a weird summary: "Join Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion as they journey down the yellow brick road in search of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Marvel at the magical ruby slippers, shudder at the evil Wicked Witch of the West, and giggle along with the munchkins. This full-cast production brings new life to one of the best known stories of our time." The shoes are silver, the Witch hardly gets to be evil, and we don't hear the Munchkins giggle. I'd suspect whoever wrote the summary hadn't heard it and wrote something up quickly. (It'd match the MGM movie just fine, though.)

Really, unless you're curious, or really want it to complete your collection, I wouldn't recommend picking it up. But, if you do, physical copies are used on Amazon for under $20. Audible did have it once, but it is no longer in their catalog. Any other place that sells a download of it is rather pricey. ($13 is too much for a non-physical copy.) And, as I said, you can check if your library has digital audiobooks for check out, and if it uses the OverDrive system, chances are, they'll have it and you can hear it for free. (Which is how it should be!)

And speaking of that, you should be able to see this page from my library's OverDrive site that has an audio sample in WMA format.

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