Monday, July 23, 2012

Depicting Oz Characters: the Cowardly Lion

Now that I've finally gotten on to editing and uploading my video for Dorothy and Lion, it's time I devoted a Blog to our favourite furry fairyland friend.

The Lion is actually the one character out of the traveling four (or five, counting Toto) who has the most traditional look and therefore usually stays the same throughout any adaptation of Frank's book/series.

Now there are two ways you can depict him:
* ANTHROPOMORPHIC - in which the animal is half human, standing and walking on his hind legs, maybe his front paws being a bit more hand-like
* TRADITIONAL - in which the lion walks and stands on all fours, respectively.

In the beginning, Stage and Silent Films, the Lion, needless to say, was performed in costume by an actor for pantomime: no lines or speech. The character was on all fours the whole time, except for that one time in the 1910 Selig film when he, Dorothy and Toto (also a pantomime costume) walk down through the forest, possibly down a road of yellow bricks. I wonder if the costume used in the silent films was one and the same?

The character was not animated in the Ted Eshbaugh cartoon, unfortunately. But if he had, he most likely would have resembled the Walt Disney cartoonish "Alice's Comedies" portrayals.

And then came along Bert Lahr, a vaudeville approach with a "Put 'em up, put 'em up!" front, and a sobbing inside, with the first thought to run (unless held back by friends). This approach, unfortunately, has often caused the character to be on his hind legs in most versions, book or actual performance.

The one time a live actor was actually on fours in colour and sound was in Disney's "Return to Oz" by John Alexander. Likewise, the only animation (I have seen thus far) to have the Lion always standing like a man is the 1991 25-minute Korean video (voiced by Jim Cumming!) with a crown on his big fluffy mane as well as the mysterious "the Magic of Oz" black-and-white cartoon.

Lion can be depicted as chubby, masculine (even in his actual animal all-four form) or skinny. It doesn't really matter, but I don't see many skinny portrayals...

While there may be two ways to show the character's posture, the colouring is not limited to yellow and golden brown: there has been brown and dark brown, dark brown and black, orange, ochre, orange and red, even blue and yellow (the 1973-4 Russian stop-motion version).

Looking at the 1987 PanMedia series (which would become the 4 Cinar movies) of Lion, you can probably get the impression that in the past he have grabbed hold of his tail and twisted it around causing it's state of lumpiness. We never see him do this action though, but not everything about a character has to be seen.

Because "the Wiz" is an African-American, slightly more up-to-date portrayal of the Oz story and its characters, Lion has a bit more freedom and liberty in his designs. If I were to make a (definitive) remake of this film approach, I would go for the more masculine approach (like what you see in "Wizard of Oz On Ice") but maybe with a bit of clothing or something. In something this upbeat and energetically fun, the possibilities of portraying Lion here and maybe endless!

In Sci-Fi's "Tin Man" (before the SyFy rename), the Cowardly Lion's reclusiveness (and brief savage front) is retained, but now the character (or rather its essence, not THE character itself) is presented as a more half-human animal (or animal-clothed human - he actually looks a bit more dog/wolf-like than lion like) with a psychic ability on an emotional level, rather than mentally. This portrayal of a human-lion is less confusing or easier to accept than MGM or Wiz.

Now while it is easy to describe a visual portrayal, it's a bit harder to describe sound and here's the next thing about the character: his Voice. While the character COULD possibly mumble and speak softly because of his shy timid nature, I have always imagined him as talking in a low, open-mouthed wide voice - such as Brad Garrett from "Everybody Loves Raymond" - and the bit of description from the books that L Frank Baum does give us is in "Emerald City" where he meets Aunt Em & Uncle Henry and says how he and Dorothy are "old chums".

Now you can't usually imagine someone saying 'chum' in a higher-pitched or nasal sort of voice (though that Nerdy vocal approach was hilarious in "Funky Fables").

One other approach, though people seem to disagree with it, is Roger S. Baum's idea of bringing the lion from our world, being put into a circus and coming along with Oscar Zoroaster for a ride in his balloon, therefore being transported to the Land of Oz. While I am indifferent to this idea (I'm not really for it and I'm not against it either, but I prefer my Oz characters being Oz-based-and-living-characters, not visitors who decided to give up and stay), I have always liked the idea of his eyes being emerald/green and I think that sets him apart from other lions (in Oz or other stories - Aslan of Narnia I have always imagined more God-like with a HUGE size,a golden glow and an echoing voice).

Lion did get his own film by having Roger S. Baum's "Lion of Oz and the Badge of Courage" book made into a animated musical TV/video movie. Jason Priestly from '90210' was the casting choice and while I never saw that series, I can't say I like that all-too-human vocal approach (some of his lines weren't properly executed, in writing or vocal direction). But as some/most people have a thing about bringing lions in a balloon (I can see their point), the film can't really be a definitive portrayal of FRANK's character. ALTHOUGH . . . this is the one that the line from Frank's first book, where he asks if the Wizard could give him courage and his new friends answer him one at a time with their own wishes, is actually followed word for word.

When Dorothy and Toto eat the last of their bread, he does offer to kill a deer for her to roast by the fire and eat for breakfast, but after the Tin Woodman begs him not to he goes off into the forest and has his own meal which "no one ever knew ... for he didn't mention it." Now being a coward could mean that food may not always be easy to come by when you're living in a forest, even a fairyland. Could Lion really bring himself to kill some other small animal just so he could eat or would he resort to being a vegetarian or just having water?

Although, with Jared's writing he could come up with a story that may possibly explain this mystery in the near future . . .

And here we have possibly my shortest summary or opinion of an Oz character's portrayal and points of depiction. Just goes to show how a Lion by any other portrayal is still a Lion.

So now, I hope you please enjoy my long-awaited video!

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