Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Disneyland Records: The Scarecrow of Oz

Oz movie buffs will know that after Maud Baum's death, Walt Disney was quick to buy up the rights to L. Frank Baum's Oz books. (She wasn't a fan of Walt.) He initially planned a cartoon, then a movie to bring the Mousketeers from TV to film. However, The Rainbow Road to Oz never gelled, so despite an exciting peek on the Disneyland Fourth Anniversary show, Walt decided against doing Oz right away.

Most fans skip forward to when Disney's Return to Oz began production, but in 1965, Jimmy Johnson, head of Disneyland records, decided to do something with the rights. An audio production is cheaper to fund than a film. Voice acting (and the best voice actors could perform multiple roles), a bit of music, some sound effects, and you're set. So, Johnson selected The Scarecrow of Oz to be adapted for record.

To bring the story to life (and add a selling edge), Ray Bolger was brought in to narrate the story and perform the voice of the Scarecrow. The MGM film The Wizard of Oz had been airing annually for a few years, so children and their parents would hopefully know Bolger even if the Oz title didn't sell them. (The back cover of early versions of the record had an image of Bolger in makeup as the Scarecrow.) One can almost imagine this as a side piece to his other Oz readings for Caedmon Audio.

Filling out the cast were Robie Lester as Glinda, Gloria, and Button-Bright; Martha Wentworth as Blinkie (Disney fans may recognize her voice as Mad Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone); Dallas McKennon as Cap'n Bill, the Ork, and King Krewl; and actual children (who aren't identified) as Trot and Pon.

The record opens with an original song called "Happy Glow."

Oh, there's a scarecrow that I know
Who always has a happy glow
He's never sad, never feels bad you see

Whenever summer breezes blow
He dances with a happy glow
He's happier far than either you or me

He has the sky, he has the sun,
He has his friends the birds
With all of these he has such fun
He has no need for any words

So you and I can get a glow
Forgetting all our care and woe
If we will take it easy just like him

Have a happy glow
Life can be a sweet thing if you will
Have a happy glow
Life can be a sweet thing for you still

It's a nice song, but taking another look, it could be about any old scarecrow. However, the Scarecrow comes along and says it is by the Official Songwriter of Oz and he agrees with the sentiment that people should enjoy all the things around them and be happy.

Then the Scarecrow reminds us of his brains and begins to tell a story about a time he got to use them. This version of The Scarecrow of Oz begins several chapters into Baum's original book with the Scarecrow going to visit Glinda, who tells him about Trot and Cap'n Bill.

Instead of the automatically updating Book of Records, Glinda now has a Magic Television Set (like the Magic Picture) and she records what she sees in her Books of Records. To be honest, I don't see why they needed to change that part, as the Book of Records could have been simpler to explain, and since it's audio, the description is all we're getting.

Glinda recounts Trot and Cap'n Bill's journey briefly, ending with their arrival on Pessim's Island. No mention of Pessim or how they got to Jinxland (where Glinda says they are) is made, nor how Button-Bright joined them. There are a few head scratching bits here: when Glinda tells them they are on an island, the Scarecrow says that there are no oceans or lakes in Oz, and hence, no islands. This isn't quite accurate, as there is Lake Quad, Lake Orizon, the Ozure Isles, and the island of the Magic Flower. And it makes the jump from the island to Jinxland all the more curious.

Also, the Scarecrow says that Trot and Cap'n Bill are the first to come to Oz since Dorothy's visit, but then says that Button-Bright has been to Oz before. And we also know that in the books, this adventure happens after Betsy Bobbin has come to Oz.

So, after hearing how Trot and Cap'n Bill have been persecuted by King Krewl and Blinkie, the Scarecrow heads to Jinxland in much the same manner as he does in the book. From here on, the story follows the book pretty faithfully. Blinkie wrecks the Scarecrow, but Trot, Pon, and Gloria put him back together. The Ork arrives with Button-Bright and they make a plan on how to conquer King Krewl. The Scarecrow goes to Krewl's palace to command him to surrender, but he is captured and almost burned when the Ork rescues him, throws Krewl in jail, and captures Blinkie, who the Scarecrow makes shrink until she restores Cap'n Bill and Gloria.

Then everyone goes to Oz proper where Trot and Cap'n Bill and Button-Bright (getting lost again) are welcomed. Over the final moments, a children's chorus sings "Over the Rainbow," but they drown out Ray's final lines. He says "That is the end of my story. I hope all of you will visit me in the Land of Oz..." and that's all we can clearly hear. I'll venture to guess the rest is "someday soon."

The production quality is very good, and the songs are nice, though I don't think "Happy Glow" sounds very Ozzy. I also think Button-Bright's voice is too squeaky and the Ork is too deep. Barring those, a solid production, and using only enough MGM touches to try to make it sell.

The record's case also opens into a picture book containing a brief retelling of the story with many wonderful pictures. Many characters have original designs, but some of the more classic Oz characters (Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Woggle-Bug, Tik-Tok) are based on their classic designs. Overall, it's a pleasing package, though dedicated fans of the original Oz books will likely still prefer Neill at the end of the day.


Sam A M said...

I was surprised when the actual audio said a LOT More than what was on the pages I read and I didn't quite like all the drawings - Scarecrow looking too long and skinny and Glinda's costume.

One time they mention Dorothy (text and picture) and she is with Ozma but they identify her as Glinda, while they never actually show Button-Bright. I thought Gloria sounded too whispy-voiced.

But it was not bad!

John Troutman said...

Though not strictly accurate, I'm quite fond of those illustrations. During this era, many of the storyteller books were illustrated by the studio's staff artists; the guys that did concept art for the films and parks (well, park, at that point). I think it shows in the quality, as each page is rather beautifully rendered in what I believe are pastels.

A bit more info can be found here - http://jimhillmedia.com/editor_in_chief1/b/jim_hill/archive/2006/11/03/6565.aspx - in which Disney historian Jim Hill traces the history of Disney and Oz.

British Fan Of Oz said...

I've been I trigger by the Disney record Oz releases! I actual have the book to the Wizard of Oz but not the Record! How many of the Oz books were released in this format?

I have only Scalawagons of Oz to get then I have the entire FF and will need some new Oz to collect very soon and may start with these.

British Fan Of Oz said...

Stupid predictive text on the iPhone!!! That should be intrigued not trigger

saintfighteraqua said...

I would really love to see Disney release the entire Oz series in their style, it could be bigger than Disney Princess or Winnie the Pooh in my opinion! :)