Thursday, March 08, 2012

Adventures in Oz with Cheryl

We've had the Land of Oz for 112 years now. When asking how it's been interpreted, a better alternative may be how hasn't it been interpreted?

Well, in 1999, Oz entered the fitness field with Adventures in Oz with Cheryl, a fitness program for kids consisting of a coloring book that came with a set of three video tapes or one DVD. (Guess which one I picked up?)

Cheryl Ann Silich, who appeared on American Gladiators, had fond memories of watching the MGM film The Wizard of Oz on television with her mother as a child. She decided to take the Wizard of Oz story and rework it as a fitness video adventure.

The three programs (Munchkidland, Yellow Brick Road, and Emerald City) tell a story loosely based on Baum's book, interspersed with lively song sequences featuring dance/exercise movements children are encouraged to move along with. The bits of plot in between the songs allow kids to have time to cool down and regain their normal heart rate so they don't overexert themselves.

The story is narrated by Cheryl, who is seen at times reading from a book titled Adventures in Oz with Cheryl, opening and closing each program. She also plays Dorothy, beginning in her house in the cyclone and continuing into the gaudily designed take on Oz.

In Oz, Dorothy meets the Lizard of Oz, a librarian lizard who wears a fez (which makes him cool). He's an animatronic, and even though he doesn't perform the same exact role, we can just say he replaces Toto. He also has a speech impediment, in which his "L"s sound like "W"s. (Several people think he says he's the Wizard.) He tells Dorothy how the Nice Witch got mad and sent a Lazy Rain over Oz, making everyone stop exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods. Then, she became the Ice Witch.

Another altered take is that the Silver Shoes become the Silver Exercise Shoes Archie and Leftie, who perform a lot of wisecracks. ("I wish we'd skipped." "Yeah, out of town.") They belonged to the Ice Witch, but she sealed them away. However, Dorothy is able to free them and she takes them with her as she and Lizard travel down the Yellow Brick Road to encourage the people of Oz to practice healthier life styles.

A character original to this take is the Key to Fitness. It frequently pops up on the upper right hand corner of the screen and dispenses fitness advice to the characters.

Along the way, they are joined by the joke-cracking Scarecrow who wants to learn to read. (While discussing reading and singing the song "Reading is a Dream," Baum gets a couple name drops.) Then, they meet the Tin Kid who doesn't have a heart, so he's rude. Finally, they meet a Lion, who is "Not An Ordinary Lion." He's a coward. They all join Dorothy, the Lizard, Archie and Leftie to the Emerald City to see the Wizard.

At the Emerald City, they find the Wizard has become a vegetable watching too much TV. (I have always wondered at video programs that speak against watching too much TV. Aren't these also counted as TV?) So they set off to the Northern Gardens to find the Ice Witch.

The Ice Witch is a little girl (who, before you say it, Sam, looks a lot like Alice in Wonderland), but she's frozen in her own ice. The Scarecrow manages to cheer her up with his jokes (a couple of which actually made me laugh). She thaws and Dorothy returns her shoes to her. The Nice Witch is back and is ready to undo what she did.

In the Emerald City, the Wizard is soon restored to his own shape (which made me think of Rinkitink) and helps the Scarecrow, Tin Kid and Lion out, and makes Dorothy (brace yourself, Oz fans who are prone to nerd rage...) Ozma, Princess of Fitness.

Feeling better now?

Yeah, so Dorothy stays in Oz to encourage everyone to have healthy life styles. Everyone gets a happy ending.

Now, I can't attest to how good the exercises are, especially since they were designed for children and I'm not a child anymore (in body, that is). However, the message behind it, encouraging healthy habits, is good and really drives home. Some might find it preachy, but hey, you're watching an exercise video, what did you expect?

This is a very different take on Oz, so it's best not to expect it to follow Baum's original story closely. The character designs are interesting if not especially great. They certainly play on your familiarity with the MGM film while not being derivative.

The camera work is okay, but some wonky shots might upset those who experience motion sickness from odd camera angles. (You can see some tilted shots in the screencaps I linked to. By the way, clicking on them will enlarge them.)

The songs I find nice, but not particularly memorable. There's some fun lyrics ("I want to live vicariously, to read along hilariously, of those who lived nefariously, I'd like to read with you."), but it's not easy to pick up on the lyrics right away.

So, Adventures in Oz with Cheryl, very good for what it is, a video exercise program for kids. As a take on Oz, it's interesting if not especially notable.

You can get the DVD on Amazon here.


Sam A M said...

I can't say I would have said how the N/Ice Witch look,s but . . .

A masculine Dorothy? Urgh, what a discomforting thought.

I imagined the Tin Kid to be younger, not a teen/young adult.

I sort of like the Emerald City sets, but I think it could be a bit lighter (and it resembles "Tin Man", actually).

Doug Wall said...

She is muscular, but I don't think she looks masculine. In fact, I think her midriff-baring costumes might be enhancing her femininity a bit much for a kids production.