Friday, March 02, 2012

Depicting Oz Characters: Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman

Jared's posting of Disney's "Tin Woodman of Oz" Record+Story Album has reminded me that it's been too long since I last did a Blog about portraying characters of Oz, so now's the time to do so! Maybe soon I'll also discuss my thoughts on the CG movie but for now let's just focus on the character and his various looks throughout the century-plus . . . I won't be able to name ALL the depictions, illustrated on paper or played physically/vocally, but I can mention some examples.

Now of course anybody who has read the book, the FIRST Oz book, would know that the Tin Woodman wasn't tin in the first place, but a human Woodchopper (later named Nick Chopper). In checking the actual text, L. Frank Baum never actually said that he, the woodchopper himself, was a Munchkin: just "one of the Munchkin girls" he fell in love with, so MAYBE Nick was a normal-height human who loved a shorter woman (as shown in "Oz: the Manga"). But we'll never know the details for sure.
And of course those who have read the book know how he became tin: the Wicked Witch of the East enchanted his axe which then cut a piece of his body - a leg - instead of the tree he intended. Nick took himself to the Munchkin Tinsmith (later named Ku-Klip) and had that damaged body part replaced with a tin limb, then later upper body and finally head. That is how the heart was lost.

Now that's the main thing: one of the legs was cut by an axe and replaced with tin. This means that the metal limb has to match with the body: not too Thin - like how Evelyn Copelman depicted it in 1944, as it would be too light and skinny to lean on support for - and not too Thick either - as then it would be heavier to lift and walk with, not to mention rather heavily-bulked and out of sorts compared to the body. The "hinges" or whatever tool is used to link the flesh+blood+bone body to metal-replacement likewise cannot be to small (lest it would show a discomforting mass of 'remains/left-overs') or too big (too distracting for the eye or won't fit with two different body types). The same would have to be said for the arms too. The head of course needs eyes to see, mouth to speak, ears to hear, the nose . . . doesn't really smell and would be deemed useless, but then again a face without a noise would seem distracting and odd, so including a nose wouldn't be so bad after all. The head could be Can shaped, domed shaped or maybe more sculptured/articulated - depending on what looks best. Sometimes the tin head may include a moustache or some form of hair (the Toho anime and CG movie have interestingly given him a beard treatment), either for decoration or an attempt to be closer to human form. Many times (but not counting The Wiz versions, 1976 Australian Rock'n'Roll, Polish series, Sci-Fi "Tin Man", CG movie and "Heartless") the funnel hat is retained.

Sometimes the origin story is illustrated and sometimes it isn't. Those who DO the origin story can show their process of coming up with how Nick looks (Lisbeth Zwerger and now Robert Ingpen to name the FEW) and that makes the character's portrayal a bit more Believable. When there are editions that don't show the Tin-Limb-Replacement story, the look of the Tin Woodman can still work well (Paul Granger) and other times it doesn't (Evelyn Copelman).

Other times the origin story is revised to have the Wicked Witch of the East (sometimes the WEST Witch for whatever reason, which doesn't make sense) actually put a spell on HIM, TRANSFORMING the human into a tin 'humanoid' (?) - this has happened in the Cinar/Pan Media 1987 series, the Korean cartoon, the 'Beautiful Fables' anime series (though it could be suggested) and Muppets. Now, my belief is that if the Wicked Witch, East or West (but it should be EAST), really did magically Transform Nick into a Tin Woodman, then when she was killed by Dorothy her magic would likewise have died too and the spell would be broken, hence restoring Nick to his proper self and breaking himself free from the vines that grew over him in the past year. This is a case when an adaptation is too close to the knowledge of the story for its own good revised-points*. Most people don't think about this and it gets irritating (to me, at least). Remember, if you're revising a point in the story, DOES it still match the rest of the story?

Throughout the years, the depictions of the 'Tin Man' (while it is easier and faster to say, 'Woodman' explains the axe and location in the forest) could be organized into the following categories:
* Man in tin/metal Suit (Fred Stone 1902 Broadway Musical, 1908 Fairylogue & Radio plays, 1910 Selig short, 1914 Oz Film Manufacturing Co., Oliver Hardy 1925 Chadwick, Jack Haley MGM, Tiger Haines/Nipsey Russell 1975-8 WIZ, Heartless - Understandable, certainly in the early decades of the 20th century as puppetry or stop-motion would have been difficult, time-consuming and disconnecting from the story and other characters, while a costume would have been the only way to show the actor playing the character and keeping the chemistry)
* Tin (trash) Can with Skinny Arms & Legs + Feet & Hands (Evelyn Copelman is a prime example)
* Practical yet Believable Fantasy Man of Tin (1973-4 Russian stop-motion, Mauro Evangelista, Paul Granger)
* Robot, Cyborg or something Futuristic-like (Funky Fables, Oz: the Manga, maybe Maraja, Space Adventures/Wonderful Galaxy)

I do tend to forgot how a tin man was a NEW thing for fantasy back in 1900 and when coupled or compared with today's possibilities of animatronics (which could be the perfect tool in a definitive adaptation), how almost impractical the likes of which Neill and Denslow came up with; with Dick Martin, Dale Ulrey, Frank Kramer and such following suite. For the time, when he was introduced, the skinny-limbed look of the Tin woodman works better in the early century than it does now (but then again I could be wrong).
They have done great work illustrating the character for the book, but that approach cannot work as well on film, although some independent guys are showing some pretty impressive work that is well passable and truly acceptable in CG + live action (yep, you know who you are). In a definitive series treatment, an animatronic could visually follow the look of Denslow/Neill but could also be well capable of adding some more depth to the look and function, such as adding some thickness to the center of the legs in the transition stages of Nick Chopper from human to metalman. Maybe the upper body/torso doesn't necessarily have to be a simple round rectangular shape either, maybe a bit "body shaped"?

* In some versions of adaptations based on "Alice in Wonderland", Alice would meet the Duchess and the Cheshire Cat in SEPARATE scenes (1985 2-Part All-Star American TV Musical, Goodtimes video and Russian animation). Now the one big problem here is Alice knows that the Cat is a Cheshire Cat, but without the Duchess' introduction how could Alice know what it was, dream or no dream? Especially if there was NO Duchess in the Goodtimes version.

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