Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"The Trees Are Green, The Grass Is Green!"

From the earliest days of easy-to-handle records, there have been records for children. We saw one as early as 1949 in Capitol Records' Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. These became popular items, and soon, some companies were dedicated to making children's records. And of course, when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz went into public domain, it became a favorite for companies to adapt. (One reason why there are so many of them...)

Well, one company was the Mr. Pickwick Players. They turned out many records of children's music and stories, and, of course, The Wizard of Oz was one of their titles.

This Wizard of Oz was noted by Greg Ehrbar in The Baum Bugle ("The Wonderful Records of Oz," Winter 1988) to be the version that The Wizard of Oz Returns would likely follow. I have to agree, although unlike that album, there's not a lot of songs. Unlike Returns' nine original songs, there are only four originals here, with three songs licensed from the MGM film:
  • The Cyclone Song - "The giant windy cyclone picked the house up off the ground!" A song sung by the chorus after the narrator explains how Dorothy's house was lifted by the cyclone.
  • We're Off To See The Wizard - Sung by the chorus as Dorothy leaves the Munchkins.
  • The Emerald City - A song about how everything in the Emerald City is green, also sung by the chorus.
  • Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead! - Sung at the death of the Wicked Witch of the West.
  • Thank You Song - Sung by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion when they are presented with their gifts from the Wizard.
  • Humbug - A song sung by the chorus when Dorothy discovers that the Wizard is just an ordinary man.
  • Over the Rainbow - Sung by Dorothy when she returns home. This change also calls for a slight revision of the lyrics.
I don't think I need to go over the story, but there are some changes worth pointing out:
  • It is mentioned that Dorothy takes a school bus to school every day, which means the story has been brought forward in time a bit.
  • A more happy home life for Dorothy is indicated as it is told that in the evenings, Dorothy, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry read stories or play a piano and sing songs. (You hear them singing the opening of "Long, Long Ago" which doesn't count as its own song.)
  • One change that puts this version in line with The Wizard of Oz Returns is the wordy way in which the Scarecrow speaks. For a guy with no brains, he does an awful lot of talking! (As I'd listened to that one first, and reviewed it before hearing this one, I'd assumed they'd done it there to make him sound brainy, but if this is the forerunner, then it was a sign he was smart all along.) I should also note that I don't believe the voice actors are the same. There may have been some crossover, but the Tin Woodman has a decidedly different voice.
  • Instead of kalidahs, we are told they are attacked by "croco-bears," bears with crocodile heads. The Lion leaps on them and kills them immediately. No other adventures are mentioned on the way to the Emerald City.
  • The friends all see the Wizard at one time.
  • The Winkies are mentioned to be smaller than the Munchkins, and it is they who capture Dorothy and her friends. No other attacks on Dorothy and her friends are made by the Wicked Witch. There are also springing noises after the Wicked Witch sends them away, suggesting they travel by jumping or use pogo sticks.
  • Dorothy's elimination of the Wicked Witch is very quickly done. No restoration of Dorothy's friends are needed.
  • The Wizard has gifts awaiting Dorothy's friends: a blue beanie/thinking cap for the Scarecrow, a heart-shaped box of chocolate for the Tin Woodman ("a heart I can share with everyone!"), and a sweater with a C on it for the Lion. (In the art for The Wizard of Oz Returns, the Lion wears a military jacket, perhaps the sweater is underneath.)
  • The Wizard exposes his humbuggery to Dorothy alone, and tells her how to use the Silver Shoes, and he travels back to Kansas with her. (His logic: the Silver Shoes can carry a person around the world, but since Kansas is only halfway across the world from Oz, it should work for two, and dogs ride free.) He then heads to Wichita, where he presumably rejoins the circus. This is exactly in line with The Wizard of Oz Returns.
  • Not exactly a change, but it is mentioned that Dorothy wants to go back to Oz at the end.
  • In addition, there are various little added details, but you'll have to listen for yourself.
Overall, it's a fun, whimsical adaptation. I can't say the changes make the story any better. The songs are pretty fun, except I find the "Thank You Song" pretty cringe-worthy.

Now, I did buy the record, but there is another way you can get this album: it has been released on Amazon MP3 and iTunes. I got the Amazon version, since it's less than $2. (Note: I can only confirm these services for the US. Due to international licensing, it may not be available from those links outside of the US, but you may want to check digital music services in your country.) And considering all the albums I've reviewed, this is really a breath of fresh air that one of them is available on a digital music service! I can only hope that whoever sits on the rights of other wonderful otherwise unavailable recordings tries to get them out there again.

According to that Baum Bugle, this one was released many different times. I can't seem to find many other records with the same recording, but you never know. The specific one I got also had much of the text (but not all of it) of the story on the back cover, as well as a little biography of Baum, which even mentioned his non-Oz and pseudonymous work. Pretty nice!

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