Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Wizard of Oz Returns

When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz hit public domain in 1956, people were quick to merchandise it. Producers of records turned out a variety of adaptations of the story. Sometimes they would license the MGM songs, and sometimes they'd create original songs.

The Wizard of Oz Returns was released in the 1960s and surprisingly created a sequel to the story instead of retelling it. Now, Ozma of Oz and up were not public domain at the time, so they only based it on the first book.

The story, punctuated with original songs, finds Dorothy home alone with Toto in Kansas as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry go to look after an ill relative while Dorothy will go stay with the neighbors. The narration stresses how grey Kansas is and how the soil won't raise enough crops. And with that, we can be sure the writer had read up on Wonderful Wizard and The Emerald City of Oz.

A knock at the door reveals the ex-Wizard of Oz who has been looking for Dorothy. He was replaced at the circus, so he wants to go back to Oz and be the Wizard of Oz again. And he's hoping Dorothy can help him find the way. Dorothy practically talks herself into coming, and she packs some food and she and Toto join the Wizard in his balloon.

Toto manages to find the way to Oz and they soon arrive in the Emerald City, where they spot a parade. But everyone ignores the Wizard's balloon: this parade is for the Former Cowardly Lion. (They soon just call him the Lion.) Upon questioning a citizen, Dorothy and the Wizard are told they are not needed in Oz with no more wicked witches.

The Lion has been made head of the Army of Oz, but he doesn't like the job and attempts to pass it to the Wizard, who declines. So they rejoin the Scarecrow, now dean of the University of Oz (the "U of O"), who is hating his new job as he has no room for the thousands of the Winkies and Munchkins and Emerald Citizens who want to attend the University. Tired of writing rejection letters, he offers his post to the Wizard, who declines. (There is no satisfying the Wizard.) So, it's off to the Tin Woodman, who writes a help column for the Emerald City Herald, but dislikes his job because while he helps people he picks up their heartaches. Again, he offers the post to the Wizard, who declines again.

So, they decide to head to the Good Witch of the North (not named). They travel through the China Forest and the Land of the Winged Monkeys, who give them a lift the rest of the way after falling in love with Aunt Em's pickles, or "big green peanuts" as they think they are. (You know, until now, I never thought of the Winged Monkeys liking peanuts.)

The Good Witch of the North muses that if there was a wicked witch to give some scare to the Emerald City, then the people would want the Wizard back. However, she refuses to pretend to be a Wicked Witch as it's against her nature. However, she brings out a bottle of Mean Pills and explains that Wicked Witches take them to make them mean. She takes one and likes the flavor so much she eats all the pills, overdosing and making her think she's the Wicked Witch of the West and heads off to destroy the Emerald City.

The Winged Monkeys take everyone to the Emerald City where the people call for the Wizard to save them. The Wizard and his friends corner the Witch, and Dorothy hesitates about hurling water at her for fear of harming the Good Witch. The Wizard assures her it will be all right, and it is. The water simply removes the effects of the Mean Pills and leaves us a wet Good Witch.

With the Wizard reinstated, Dorothy expresses that she doesn't want to leave Oz, but she can't leave Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, so the Winged Monkeys, excited to bring the woman who made those wonderful pickles, fly to Kansas and carry back Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. The record ends with Uncle Henry singing a song about how they're in Oz.

Fans of the books will spot the major errors with Wonderful Wizard, even ignoring the rest of the books: Oz seems too easy to get to, and the Winged Monkeys shouldn't be able to fly over the desert. (Which is mentioned here.) However, those are really the worst errors in there. The story is simple but entertaining, and the original songs are a little sweet, even if they are forgettable and sometimes unnecessary. (Did we really need songs about the Mean Pills and "Big Green Peanuts"?)

However, the record was only one part of the Wizard of Oz Returns package. The album used the two-disc case design to unfold into a game board for a game called "Emerald City." While one part of the sleeve housed the record, the other held a piece of cardboard with a metal spinner, instructions, and several playing pieces that may be cut out.

I got the record and game over Christmas with some Amazon gift cards and wasn't able to use either for a bit. I just got a turntable to play the record (though it was USB based for recording to mp3, and sadly, I wasn't able to get the full nostalgic experience of listening to a record as I have no speakers for the unit), but about a week ago, I had a day off coinciding with my roommate/brother's day off, and my little brother came over for a visit. We broke out the game, though I didn't cut out the playing pieces (which are just tiny pictures of a man in a stovepipe hat, supposedly representing the Wizard). We used three of my custom Oz action figures instead, though they were mainly too big. (They were Dorothy, Trot, and Toto.)

There are nine large spots on the paths to play the game: the Circus, Dorothy, Toto, the Former Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, Leader of the Winged Monkeys, the Good Witch of the North, and the Emerald City.

Between each of the spots are two paths: yellow and blue. You choose which one you'll follow and you can only go if the number you spin is the same color as your path. You can change at each spot, though. (On our playthrough, we simplified it to the color the spinner landed on determined which path.) The point is to get to the Emerald City, but you must have exactly the right number to get there.

Further complicating matters is the Trubbles and Dubbletrubbles. If you land on a Trubble, you have to go back to your last spot ("friend" it says), and if you land on a Dubbletrubble, you go back to the spot before the last one. However, there are helpful counterparts in the Goodluks and the Verygoodluks. (Whoever named these needed more imagination.) They do the opposite: a Goodluck advances you to the next spot, and a Verygoodluck advances you to the one after the next. This means gameplay might take awhile instead of just taking turns and spinning numbers.

My little brother won our playthrough, and I came in second.

Dedicated collectors of Oz records will want this record and game set, while collectors wanting unique Oz records and stories might be satisfied with the re-release from 1965: The Further Adventures of the Wizard of Oz which used different cover art, and did not contain the game. I do not own this one.

Overall, The Wizard of Oz Returns was a nice little package with an original (if not terribly imaginative) Oz story and a fun activity to do while listening.

And the fact that this impresses me so makes me think I was born in the wrong era...


ericshanower said...

I love the Beautiful Big Green Peanuts song!

Sam A M said...

You know . . . I remember reading how, back in the 'Piglet Press Oz Books site', there was an Oz book with pretty that description (Good Witch takes Wicked pills, thinks she's the Wicked Witch and is restored to normal by Dorothy and water)!!

I won't say the title unless I'm sure . . .