Monday, December 30, 2013

The Characters of Oz — The Shaggy Man

Dorothy was home in Kansas once more. By now, she was becoming very used to disappearing off to the Land of Oz for a week or two to visit her friends before returning to Kansas.

As she stepped downstairs this morning after breakfast, she noticed Toto pawing near the front door. Smiling at her little dog, she let him out and stepped into the fresh, morning sun, smelling the warm August breeze.

"Please, miss," said a voice from the road, "can you tell me the road to Butterfield?"

Dorothy looked over and saw a strange man by the road, looking at her. He had a shaggy beard and hair, and his clothes were a little tattered and hung from his body loosely, looking very shaggy. His boots had definitely seen better days. He chewed slowly on a piece of oat straw. He smiled warmly and his eyes looked very kind. And looking at him, Dorothy had to smile herself. Surely he would do her no harm.

"Oh yes," she replied; "I can tell you. But it isn't this road at all."

And that was how Dorothy began her fourth visit to Oz, as related by Baum in The Road to Oz. She attempted to help a new character that Baum only ever called the Shaggy Man find the way to Butterfield, only to get lost herself, and soon wound up journeying to Oz with a trio of new friends.

The Shaggy Man makes major appearances in three of the Famous Forty: The Road to Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, and The Shaggy Man of Oz. He plays important secondary roles in The Patchwork Girl of Oz and to a lesser extent in The Emerald City of Oz and The Lost Princess of Oz.

As with many of Baum's characters, we know little of the Shaggy Man's backstory, but we do get a number of clues. Tik-Tok of Oz tells us that he has a brother who was a miner in Denver, Colorado. Perhaps this is their home town. Perhaps they were orphaned children who always lived on the street, but The Patchwork Girl of Oz says the Shaggy Man "knew how to telegraph a wireless reply," so it seems he's had some learned some leading technology. For whatever reason, he decided to live as a tramp. Baum depicts him as being quite well-traveled in the continental US.

Perhaps the reason for the Shaggy Man's tramping may be found in a line from The Road to Oz: "I don't want money, my dear... Money makes people proud and haughty. I don't want to be proud and haughty. All I want is to have people love me..."

Before we try to paint the Shaggy Man as a romancer, it is more likely Baum simply means that he wants to be friends with people. Unfortunately for the Shaggy Man, given that he seems to travel with only the clothes on his back and we don't know how often he got to bathe, he was probably not widely welcomed.

However, his fortune changed when he visited the town of Butterfield (possibly the one in Missouri) and discovered there a young woman who many men were attracted to. The Shaggy Man liked her as well, but thought it was odd that everyone was falling for the same woman. Somehow, he discovered her long line of suitors was due to a magical talisman called the Love Magnet, and realizing that this might help him make more friends, he stole it. After this, he noted that only one man was still attracted to the young woman and they seemed to be happy, so he moved on. He invented a story about how he got it from an eskimo in the Sandwich Islands who was eaten by a grizzly bear afterwards.

Sometime after this, he met Dorothy, asking her the road to Butterfield not to visit it, but to avoid it. He told her that a man there owed him fifteen cents, a debt he did not want repaid. Perhaps this was a lie and he was afraid of being asked about the Love Magnet.

Somehow, he and Dorothy wound up on a road in the southern borderlands of Oz, near a strange crossroads that branched off in seven directions. The Shaggy Man told Dorothy to pick the seventh one from which Dorothy began to count, and they were off on the road to Oz.

Along the way, they met Button-Bright and Polychrome, the Rainbow's daughter. During the trip to Oz, Shaggy was given a donkey's head by King Kik-a-bray of Dunkiton. Later, it was his cunning that let them escape the Scoodlers, and he used the Love Magnet to summon Johnny Dooit (who probably helped him in the past) to help them cross the Deadly Desert. In the Winkie Country, Dorothy and her friends found the Truth Pond, and after bathing in it, the Shaggy Man's head was restored.

However, the Shaggy Man realized a downside to the Truth Pond's magic: he could no longer lie. Thus, when Ozma asked him about the Love Magnet, he had to reveal his theft. However, Ozma decided to let him stay in Oz, and he let her hang the Love Magnet over the gates of the Emerald City. Shaggy was given a room at Ozma's palace, and a new wardrobe which was stylishly shaggy.

Perhaps it really shouldn't be counted as Oz canon, but Baum dedicated The Road to Oz to his first grandson, Joslyn Stanton Baum, and in the copy of the book he gave to the parents for his grandson, he wrote a tiny story about how Joslyn had been blessed by the people of Oz, including the Shaggy Man pressing the Love Magnet on the baby's brow.

The Shaggy Man joins Dorothy, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and the other people on the grand tour of Oz in The Emerald City of Oz, but offers little except sneezing in the land of the Cuttenclips and offering some comments her and there. (In Walt Spouse's comics adaptation of the book, the Shaggy Man was removed entirely, the sneezing reassigned to Uncle Henry and no other harm to the story done.)

The Shaggy Man returns again in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, having become an experienced traveler in Oz. He rescues Ojo and his friends from the man-eating plants by the side of the road, and then leads them through other obstacles to the Emerald City. He gets to sing a song about the Land of Oz, but in the Emerald City, the story leaves him behind.

He features more prominently in Tik-Tok of Oz in which he discovers that the Nome King kidnapped his brother, Ozma sending him to Ev to ask the Nome King for his freedom, later sending Tik-Tok to assist him. They both wind up befriending Betsy Bobbin and Hank the Mule, and later accompany Queen Ann's army of conquest. After a number of difficulties (including a fall through a tube to the other side of the world and the Nome King turning the Shaggy Man into a bird briefly), Shaggy finally recovers his brother.

In The Lost Princess of Oz, these two set out in a search party to find Ozma, but their adventures remain—to my knowledge—unchronicled.

The Shaggy Man vanishes from the Oz books during Thompson's run. (Aside from the Wizard, Thompson used few of Baum's regular human male characters.) Jack Snow finally brought him back with his own book, The Shaggy Man of Oz. The Shaggy Man goes to Conjo's Island to get the Love Magnet fixed when it breaks. That night, after the Magnet is fixed, Conjo steals the Shaggy Man's means of returning home, leaving him to find his own way back to Oz with the clown Twiffle, and the captured twins Tom and Twink. Through the group's efforts (and help from their friend the King of the Fairy Beavers), they manage to reach Oz before Conjo can do any serious harm.

To me, the Shaggy Man was a little similar to the Wizard. Yes, he came from a rough American background, but there was much more to him than meets the eye. I had the idea that the Shaggy Man was actually a very smart man and once had the idea of writing him as a detective. I actually tried this in the "Ruby Ring of Oz" round robin tale, but a good idea ran into poor execution.

What I particularly like about the Shaggy Man is that he isn't a clearly good guy. Despite his somewhat shady start in The Road to Oz (leading a girl of 10 or 11 away from her home without her guardians), he turned out to have a heart of a gold. Even his theft of the Love Magnet turned out to be a good thing in helping the young woman finally find someone who truly loved her, not just someone attracted by the Love Magnet.

Speaking of which, was Baum on a Shakespeare kick with The Road to Oz? The Love Magnet is akin to the love flower of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and—like Bottom—Shaggy is given a donkey's head.

I think there's quite a bit more to the Shaggy Man than we know. Maybe some other Historians will tell us more. (And yes, I know about Queen Ann in Oz by my friends Eric Gjovaag and Karyl Carlson, but I won't spoil that one for you.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Writing Oz: Making Sense Of It All

I must note that this blog—discussing writing further Oz stories—is based solely on my own experience writing a few Oz stories. Other writers and authors have likely had different experiences and view points. They are welcome to mention their own through the comments or their own mediums.
There's an old saying "Scratch an Oz fan, you get an Oz book." This is very accurate as most if not all Oz fans have come up with new stories about the Land of Oz.

But when someone creates a new short story or book about the Land of Oz or its characters, they have to figure out what rules to set for how they approach Baum's beloved world.

Baum rarely set up rules for how his world worked. In the first book, it became clear that animals could talk and just about anything could live in the Land of Oz. In The Emerald City of Oz, Baum establishes that no one dies in Oz and they have a communal economy. It wasn't until The Tin Woodman of Oz that Baum gave us a bit of backstory about the country's origin.

Thus, there is quite a lot of room open for interpretation.

Later books in the Famous Forty generally create new adventures, but on occasion, Ruth Plumly Thompson and Jack Snow either set a few new rules or attempted to clarify some backstory. However, as Thompson's work is mostly still protected by copyright, the modern writer of Oz stories generally ignores it so as to avoid any legal issues or decides that it hardly matters if Thompson's work doesn't quite match up with their own. (This is not to say that Thompson's work has been ignored: writers such as Paul Dana, Chris Dulabone, Nathan DeHoff and Marcus Mebes have liberally used characters appearing in Thompson's public domain books.)

In sorting out what is and isn't important to them, the issue of "canon" arises in the writer's mind. What, from the Oz books, is definitely history? Early on, it became clear to me that there was no reason why Little Wizard Stories of Oz and Baum's Oz-related fantasies (Queen Zixi of Ix, The Sea Fairies, Sky Island, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, Dot and Tot of Merryland, etc.) should not be considered canonical alongside Baum's fourteen novels. The messier issue is Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz and The Woggle-Bug Book. While these visits from Oz to America could have happened, Dorothy meeting her friends on her farm in Kansas and then Aunt Em and Uncle Henry being skeptical of her tales of Oz in The Emerald City of Oz proves problematic (not to mention that the first Queer Visitors story dates the entire series). Thus, although the writer might enjoy these tales and even take concepts from them (the Woggle-Bug's four arms and wings), they may decide not to count these canonical.

Recently, though, I have decided that there is no reason why all of Baum's works of fiction—fantasy, non-fantasy, pseudonymous, anonymous—could not all take place in the same world. However, unless there's a good excuse for a crossover, it's not really going to make much of a difference.

Sometimes, you might run into a continuity inconsistency. But don't let that get in the way of a good story! Maybe you can sort it or just decide which version you want to go with.

As seen in some of my blogs, I came up with a timeline for Baum's first several Oz books. The reign of the Wizard in my canon wound up being a brief ten years (versus the 20 or more other writers sometimes use). This was that if people in Oz were aging during the Wizard's reign, why was Ozma still rather young? Dorothy's first four visits to Oz occur within about three years, with her first trip to Oz being when she was eight and her moving to Oz at age eleven.

The writer also has to decide other elements: in The Chronicles of Narnia, trips to Narnia take up no time in "our world," but this is never inferred in the Oz books. One could interpret that Oz time runs longer or faster than the Great Outside World, but Baum's concept seems to be that the two run at the same time. (This is made clear when Ozma promises to look in on Dorothy at a certain time on a certain day, though one could say that Ozma is keeping track of Dorothy's time.) To me, anything other than what Baum indicated unnecessarily complicates Oz lore.

Another point is where is Oz located? Like Narnia, some like to have it so that it's in an entirely different world somehow unreachable by us except through rare, magical occurrences. Others say it's on another plane of existence or an alternate reality. I, myself, go with Baum's concept of a hidden country, likely in the South Pacific. (How people get there, I addressed in an earlier blog.) While this is my idea, I find it to be less cumbersome if this idea is not addressed in the text, though making up your mind about it may help in creating Oz stories.

Finally, there's backstories for the characters. Baum wasn't big on character development, but rather defined his characters. (There are some exceptions.)This has proved a boon for Oz writers as since the characters generally stay the same, they can set their story whenever they wish. However, it may be helpful to decide the backstory for certain Oz characters. Fortunately, Baum tells us the stories of the Wizard, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and Ozma. However, when deciding further details about these and other characters, that is when your imagination comes in. I'd figured out a backstory for the Cowardly Lion that I hadn't planned to write, but I eventually did anyway, and it became the award-winning "The Way of A Lion," now available in Oziana 2013. So sometimes figuring out the backstory of a character isn't just deciding your approach to a character, it can also sometimes lead to a good story!

All I'm saying here is that when you set out to write an Oz story, it's very helpful to have a complete vision of Oz in mind.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Adventures of Young Santa

Typically, every December, in some form or another, I write about L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, but after running the Royal Blog of Oz for so long, I have trouble finding anything new to say about it. (Especially after 2009, when I examined the book, Baum's further Santa Claus stories, the adaptations, and any other Santa Claus tales by the Royal Historians, though I was unaware of Jack Snow's "The Animal's Christmas Tree" at the time.)

However, this year, I can finally look at one of the other adaptations I couldn't look at before: the 24-episode anime series 少年サンタの大冒険 (pronounced Shounen Santa no daibôken), translated to English as The Adventures of Young Santa. Some other Oz bloggers and fans and I were finally able to locate a very good copy of the anime in its original Japanese. It seems an English dub was made, but it's taken us long enough to find any version of the series at all!
Left to right: Necile, unidentified snow leopard and owl, reindeer
(Flossie or Glossie), bear, chipmunk, Claus, Blinkie, Shiegra, unidentified
rabbit and squirrel, other reindeer, Peter Knook
The version we managed to obtain appears to possibly be from the original masters. As the series aired in 1994, one would expect that it had been preserved on VHS and then transferred to DVD (which we got it on), but this shows no sign of being transferred from VHS, the picture quality being very clear and sharp. In addition, these are the complete episodes, with full opening and end titles on each episode, "next time" trailers, even tiny spots that were shown during commercial breaks to remind you what show you're watching.

Although my knowledge of Japanese is limited (like... nonexistent), I've still been able to pick up on what's going on. The plot is a highly expanded adaptation of what's in Baum's book, rather akin to Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit. Ak, Zurline, Necile, Shiegra, Peter Knook, Flossie, Glossie and especially Blinkie are all present, but so are many new characters. An owl, bear, leopard, squirrels and rabbits join the Burzee cast, and a character named Mary is a close friend of Claus. I can't tell if she's a fairy, a Ryl, or another wood-nymph, though.

The difference between Claus and the Immortals of Burzee are actually made pretty clear in the opening credits: the Immortals can all fly, while Claus can only get around on his feet. A difference is made in the anime from Baum's text: the animals of Burzee can speak, and the Immortals can be seen by humans. (It is implied that Claus is an exception to that rule in Baum's book.)

As of right now, I've watched the first 14 episodes. Having heard about there being a battle over the Mantle of Immortality, I was under the impression that the Immortals and the Awgwas would figure very heavily in this series. However, it has mainly focused on Claus. Surprisingly early in the series, he leaves Burzee to build his own home closer to humanity, and a little girl named May becomes a frequent visitor. I was also very glad that shortly after this, there are less plots in which Claus' life is put in definite peril.

However, the presence of evil beings hasn't been absent. In the second episode, Mary is tending to flowers, but when Claus accidentally messes up her work, a being that is likely a Gadgol comes in. The Mantle of Immortality is glimpsed briefly in the first episode, so the writers of the series definitely had things all plotted out, even if plots are sometimes created from a sentence or two in the book.

In its expanded form, though, Baum's story is definitely still there, even if we have side stories where Claus meets a man who might be his father and a tale of a rich lad wanting to buy Blinkie from Claus.

Although one of the other bloggers is looking into a creation of a fan dub or an English subtitle, it is fun to watch these without any knowledge of what's being said and invent new dialogue on the spot. Last we knew, the opening and ending titles were uploaded to YouTube, but were later taken down due to a copyright claim from the owner, so if anything comes of this attempt to create a fan dub or subtitled version, it probably won't be there unfortunately.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 4

Far back in the 1930s, Walt Disney dreamed of adapting The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was not until 2005 that the Disney Company actually produced a film version of the story. However, they mixed one of Walt's fondest wishes with one of their newest acquisitions: Jim Henson's Muppets. The result was the TV movie The Muppets Wizard of Oz.

Jim Henson was also an Oz fan, and Oz references had popped up with the Muppets before: an Alice in Wonderland-inspired sketch with Brooke Shields on The Muppet Show went awry and ended with everyone singing "We're Off To See The Wizard!" A Wizard of Oz medley featured in The Muppets Go to the Movies, and the Muppet Babies episode "By The Book" featured an Oz segment. But that was before the Muppets had become owned by Walt Disney Pictures.

The Muppets had done literary adaptations before, with the heartfelt The Muppets Christmas Carol and the wacky Muppet Treasure Island. They were not a major property at the time, and Disney wanted to revitalize the brand, so Oz would become the new testing ground.

The TV movie opens in modern-day Kansas, where Dorothy (Ashanti) dreams of becoming a superstar, but currently, she's stuck working with Aunt Em (Queen Latifah) and Uncle Henry (David Alan Grier) in their diner. She misses an audition to work with the Muppets, but is able to give Kermit a CD. A tornado strikes the trailer park, and sends Dorothy and her pet prawn Toto to the Land of Oz, where Toto becomes a giant anthropomorphic prawn (Pepe the Prawn). Stepping out into Munchkinland, they meet the Munchkins (Rizzo the Rat and the other rats) and the Good Witch of the North, Tattypoo (Miss Piggy), who tells Dorothy that she landed on the Wicked Witch of the East (Miss Piggy).

Clad in the Witch of the East's silver Monolos, Dorothy and Pepe head down the Yellow Brick Road to meet the Wizard of Oz, who can help Dorothy become a star. Along the way, they meet the Scarecrow (Kermit the Frog), the Tin Thing (Gonzo), and the Cowardly Comedian Lion (Fozzie Bear). Facing the Kalidah critics (Statler and Waldorf) and the drowsy club Poppy Fields (where Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem play), Dorothy and her friends reach the Emerald City at last, where the Wizard sees them one by one in different forms. (Yes, he uses the ball of fire, a lovely lady, a dragon and a giant head, but he appears in these forms to the Scarecrow, Tin Thing, Lion and Dorothy in that order.) He tells them that he needs to bring them the Magic Eye of the Wicked Witch of the West (Miss Piggy).

The Wicked Witch, a diva herself, attacks Dorothy with the Flying Monkeys (a flying biker gang), and plans to televise Dorothy's execution on her reality show. Dorothy manages to kick her into a tub of water, which turns out to have non-purified water in it. (This version clarifies that the Witch only has a reaction to non-purified water.) She melts (though she claims she's getting skinnier at first, shrieking "I win! I win!"), and Dorothy takes the Magic Eye back to the Wizard, who she discovers is a fraud, an ex-tour bus driver from Hollywood (Jeffrey Tambor).

The Wizard uses his control over the media to give Dorothy's friends their gifts and have her sing on TV, but Dorothy realizes that this isn't what she wants after all, so she decides she wants to go home to Kansas. The Wizard instructs her to go see Glinda (Miss Piggy) in Munchkinland. Glinda tells her how to use the Silver Shoes to get home, which Dorothy does, Pepe electing to stay behind. Aunt Em tells Dorothy that she would be all right if Dorothy did become a star as long as her heart's in the right place, and Kermit arrives at the diner to ask Dorothy to join their tour, which she accepts.

The TV movie was not considered a success. Rather than reintroduce the Muppets for a new audience, the movie tried to update them with pop culture references and a little bit of risque humor, which, to this viewer, felt out of place for the Muppets and Oz in 2005. Luckily for the Muppets, a much better revival for them was finally pulled off in 2011.

Still, that Disney had made an Oz movie showed that the yellow brick road was yet beckoning to the company, even in the twenty-first century.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return' Gets a New Trailer (Updated)

Aaaand Lea Michele's name is spelled wrong...
It looks like Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (formerly titled Dorothy of Oz) is finally on track, as it is still set to hit theaters on May 9, 2014. And we've got a brand new 'theatrical trailer' for the animated musical, via Yahoo! Movies...

Whoa, this is an underwhelming trailer! Is it an Oz movie? Yes. Does it look cute? Sure. Does it look like it can compete with theatrically-released animated movies today? No.

I can't imagine that an average moviegoer would be interested in seeing this movie after watching a trailer like this.

While I'm still rooting for the movie, I'm really disappointed with this trailer and it sort of blows my mind that $70 million was spent making this. The quality of the animation is subpar even when compared to modern Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon content, so much so that I was expecting to see an "Own it on DVD" title card at the end!

The trailer feels sloppy, rushed, and thrown together. There's an even an aspect ratio inconsistency in several different places (most noticeable at the 0:39 mark). At least Lea Michele's name is spelled correctly in the title card and credit block!

After seeing Disney's Oz The Great and Powerful and then the animated musical Frozen, I don't think that the general public will find this trailer appealing enough to watch the movie in theaters.

UPDATE: A producer has informed me that another, longer trailer for the film will be released in February. I'm hoping that I can say more positive things about the movie then!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The 2013 Christmas Special podcast and other matters

As has been traditional, for the 2013 Royal Podcast of Oz Christmas episode, I present my own reading of "The Animals' Christmas Tree" by Jack Snow. You can also find the text here. You can listen and download at the podcast site or use the below player.

You may have noticed that the podcast slowed down during the second half of 2013. I will admit, this was because of some personal reasons that I don't wish to discuss here.

What I do want to discuss is the future of the podcast. Don't worry, I don't plan on ending it, but we had an obstacle.

The podcast has been hosted by Podbean since it began in 2009 and every month since, I paid a monthly fee of about $5 as part of the service plan. Right away, no, I'm not saying that this is a burden nor am I asking for donations (though if you ever want to, I wouldn't turn it down). In 2009, this plan allowed me to store 300MB of data a month, plenty and then some for our podcast's needs.

This has changed. A few months ago, Podbean changed their service plans and pricing. Their similarly priced plan now allows me only 100MB of data a month. (It was particularly frustrating that I was not notified of this change, only that my regularly scheduled payments weren't going through and they almost closed the podcast site because of it.) We export the podcasts at 128kbps. This is a little less than 1MB per minute. (A 53 minute podcast came in at 48.5MB.)

I have already discussed it with Sam, and future episodes of the "Movies of Oz" podcasts will be much shorter. We never were trying to create the definitive article on each film in those podcasts.

However, rather than think we have to end things, I'm a little more interested in revising the podcast format. I have considered that we could do a single, monthly podcast: report on a few bits of Oz news, have an interview, and briefly discuss an Oz movie. We'd still, of course, work in the Christmas and L. Frank Baum birthday specials and Winkie Con reports as separate episodes. The hopeful result would be a faster paced podcast. Perhaps working a little leaner could produce a better podcast.

The alternative would be to continue doing the episodes as we have been, just keeping our time and data usage constraints in mind.

Please let me know your thoughts in a comment or however else you'd like to contact me. I plan to relaunch the podcast in its shorter format (whether as abbreviated versions of its former style or the above "digest" version) in 2014.

Meantime, if you need a little more Christmas, over at my other blog, I've written up a number of blogs about adaptations of Babes in Toyland, and each one mentions how it has an Oz connection. These will be posted every other day through the 13th, and between each one is a vintage Toyland audio treasure. The first one is up right now!

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Royal Podcast of Oz: A Chat With Tim Tucker

Jared chats with fellow Oz fan and collector Tim Tucker and we hear his thoughts on Oz fandom, conventions, and some of the more popular Oz films.

This interview was "phoned in" and the sound quality is not pristine. Headphones are recommended.

As always, you can listen and download at the podcast site or use the player below.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Oziana 2013 is out!

Well, the 2013 issue of Oziana is finally available from Lulu.com! And this is one lovely issue!

The theme of the issue is "Traditional Oz," meaning that these stories are meant to fit with the Oz you know from the tales of Baum, Thompson and the rest. Not that the imagination of the writers and artists felt trapped!

First up is "Foiled by the Iffin" by Phyllis Ann Karr, illustrated by Dennis Anfuso. The Computer Wizard is back with another scheme to cause trouble in Oz! How far will he go in his plan and when will our friends in Oz catch onto it?

Next is "The Harvest Ball" by Gina Wickwar, illustrated by Luciano Vecchio and Marcus Mebes. When the Scarecrow has a Harvest Ball, he has an idea to amuse everyone! It'll just require a little help from Glinda. But she's away... Will an overly helpful maid at Glinda's palace help the Scarecrow or make things go horribly wrong?

Then, to fit the time this issue finally came out, "Jinnicky Saves Christmas" by Nathan DeHoff, illustrated by Shawn Maldonado. One chilly Christmas Eve, Jinnicky helps to foil yet another plot to kidnap Santa Claus!

And in "The Love Bug of Oz" by newcomer Ed McCray, Mombi and Ruggedo raid the Wicked Witch of the West's old palace to see what they can find. What they do find is a lot of trouble for our friends in the Emerald City!

Next up is "The Way of a Lion" by Jared Davis (yours truly), illustrated by Sam Milazzo. Well, this story won the International Wizard of Oz Club's first place for fiction this year at the Winkie Convention Research Table. It is my own backstory for the Cowardly Lion, explaining why he believes he is a coward. Look carefully and you'll see a few things from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz explained, and maybe a couple cameos.

I wrote the story with the intent that the reader could read it and then begin re-reading Baum's Wizard and my story would complement the Lion's story in the original classic. Aside from mentions of Lurline, I decided to focus mainly on what we knew about Oz from the first book.

And Sam's pictures for the story are gorgeous. I'd asked him to illustrate almost as soon as I began writing the story, since I knew he enjoyed drawing lions. He showed me sketches at the 2012 Winkie Convention and then near finished pictures at this year's convention. He didn't always draw exactly what I'd written, but I didn't mind. It looked very cool. I suggested I alter the text to match the pictures, he told me not to. In the end, I'm very pleased with the finished version you can see in Oziana.

(Yes, I did just give three paragraphs to my story when I only gave everyone else a blurb. I wasn't in their creative process.)

Finally is "Witches of the West" by newcomer Darrell Spradlyn and Marcus Mebes. Set to tell more about Gloma, Thompson's Good Witch of the West, the story tells of days before the Wicked Witch of the West was destroyed, and not only reveals more about Gloma, but the Wicked Witch and Mombi, including a little bit of witch lore yours truly suggested to the writers. (It will be used again in an upcoming story.)

Art by Luciano Vecchio graces the front cover, while an excellent portrait of Gloma by Alejandro Garcia.

And Oziana is only $10 at Lulu. Everyone turned out some amazing work for this issue! If you ask me, that's well worth the price!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Return to Oz: the computer game

So, when Return to Oz was released, it received a flurry of merchandise. Among it was a computer game by U.S. Gold, available for the Commodore 64, the Amstrad CPC and the ZX Spectrum. The game was rather obscure, as are most games for such systems these days. I've managed to play and win the Commodore 64 version.

Aunt Em in the barnyard
The game's mechanics are a little odd. You would see a list of commands at the bottom of the screen. Selecting one, you choose from an item on the screen.

"Look" provides a description of the item you select. Sometimes there are clues to what to do in the game are hidden therein.

"Talk" allows you to talk to a character, or, in the Nome King's palace, guess at which object is the Scarecrow. If you already know what you're doing, you're not going to use this much, but it is required in some parts to advance in the game.

"Search" is a catchall for "open" or "examine," allowing you to find more items by looking at items on the screen. Yes, this is needed quite a few times to advance in the game.

"Get" allows you to add whatever items you find to your inventory, which is accessed by "List," but more on that later.

"Leave" lets you move on to another location.

Accessing "List," we see that Dorothy can sure hold quite a lot! (Not seen here: a ladder and a large mirror.) In this one and only submenu, you can select an item to drop (it won't always let you), use (another catchall term), and actually quit (or rather restart) the game.

The problem with this submenu is that every emulator I've played the game in (I don't have a real C64) uses a different key to exit the submenu. (Which is also how to cancel selecting an item from the picture on the screen.) CCS64 uses "shift," and Frodo for Android (which I used to take these screencaps with) uses the emulated F2 key. On the Java emulator I set up on my Oz website, you have to use the Caps Lock key. Basically, experiment until you find the proper key. (Shifting between options uses the space bar, while confirming them is, of course, the Enter key.) A similar issue has prevented me from trying the Spectrum version, which has wholly different graphics.

EDIT: I have since tried both the Amstrad and Spectrum versions. Bafflingly, in these versions "Quit" in the inventory submenu actually lets you leave the submenu rather than quit the game. I managed to finish the Amstrad version, but had problems with the Spectrum version.

The plot adaptation is rather faithful to the movie, but has some additions. In Dr. Worley's clinic, you have to find a tinder box before going to the operating table. (Like a lamb to slaughter...) This is used when everything goes dark so you can talk to the girl who whisks you to Oz. You actually don't go to Oz, but you use a sandboat to cross the Deadly Desert to Oz.

After recovering Tik-Tok, you have to go underground because the bridge to Mombi's palace is broken. Along the way, you face off against a nose on two legs (you use dust to make it go away), a flame-spurting carrot (somehow Billina destroys it) and a pit of lava. (You have to close the floor.)

An addition to Mombi's palace is that when you go to get Mombi's ruby key, you must drop your shoes either in the tower room or in that room before searching Mombi's bed.

On the Nome King's mountain, there's an optional quest to connect a tunnel leading to it to the one under Mombi's palace. (So perhaps it actually does have a connection to the movie.) Along the way, you run into a crab who can turn people to stone with the way it looks. (It simply blocks your path. It's defeated by showing it a mirror down the tunnel.)

The Nome King will not transform your friends, but says that if they fail all three attempts at freeing the Scarecrow, he'll send them to Mombi's palace. (The quest to connect the tunnels is to simplify returning to the Mountain.)

The ornament rooms are nothing like the movie, looking more like a junk room. The only objects that you can select from are a bottle, a bomb(!), a book, a brick, a baseball bat, and a vase. Which one's the Scarecrow? Well, one of these things is not like the other...

And, of course, those Ruby Slippers look stunning in those VIC-II graphics!
I was being sarcastic. They look just like your regular shoes with a dark grey interior instead of a light grey one.

And of course, at the end, you set Ozma free. Not by using "Search" on the mirror, you have to add it to your inventory and "Use" it to free Ozma. To get the ending, you drop the Ruby Slippers and leave the Emerald City. And look at that ending screen!
As I said, I made the game available on my Oz website through a Java-powered emulator. Right here!

Other sites have the Amstrad and Spectrum versions available for online play and download.

Here's some more screencaps.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 3

In 1980, Walt Disney Pictures production chief Tom Wilhite brainstormed with sound designer Walter Murch about the latter stepping into the director's chair for a Disney production. Murch mentioned that he'd like to make an Oz film, and Wilhite remembered that the Disney company was still sitting on the rights of the Oz books, the earliest of which was going to be slipping into the public domain soon, making any remaining rights the company had worthless. And thus, the movie that became Return to Oz began development.

Murch decided to do a markedly different take on Oz than the classic 1939 film that audiences knew so well. Instead of going back to MGM's 1939 Kansas, Dorothy would live in 1899. And instead of a Judy Garland lookalike (she was 16 when she filmed her famous role), nine year old Fairuza Balk would play Dorothy. The production itself took visual inspiration from John R. Neill's illustrations.

The story would be a sequel to L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz rather than the MGM film, but so as not to completely lose the audiences familiar with Garland's Dorothy, Disney obtained a license to use the Ruby Slippers in the film. Also, the film played with Noel Langley's motif of having characters and objects in Kansas suggest characters in Oz.

The movie was based on The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. Dorothy, suffering from insomnia due to no one believing her stories about her trip to Oz, would be taken to be subjected to a new electrical therapy. (What we now call electroshock therapy.) She is rescued from Dr. Worley's clinic by a mysterious blonde girl. Being chased by Nurse Wilson to a river, Dorothy and the girl jump right in, Dorothy finding refuge in a chicken coop.

Dorothy awakens in the coop joined by her pet hen Billina (who has trouble laying an egg), finding themselves just outside of the Land of Oz in the Deadly Desert. Using rocks, Dorothy carefully makes her way to Oz. She finds a lunchpail tree for food, but soon wonders why she hasn't encountered anyone. Finding her old house, she spots a torn up yellow brick road, which she follows to a broken down Emerald City where everyone has been turned to stone.

The only remaining inhabitants are the maniacal Wheelers who force her to find Tik-Tok, the clockwork Royal Army of Oz. He forces a Wheeler to take them to Princess Mombi, who seems to be the only other person alive in Oz. She reveals that the Nome King took the Scarecrow to his mountain, took all the emerald of the Emerald City and turned everyone into stone. She also reveals that she can swap her heads (Dorothy had previously noted stone headless dancing girls) due to a large collection.

Dorothy defies Mombi when she takes an interest in her head and is thrown into the tower, where she meets Jack Pumpkinhead, who tells her of Mombi's Powder of Life. Dorothy sneaks out to steal it to build the Gump, a conglomerate flying machine. Finding it with Mombi's original head, Dorothy accidentally wakes the headless Mombi and her heads. Being led back to the tower room by a mysterious shape in a mirror, Dorothy brings the Gump to life (which Tik-Tok and Jack assembled) and they make their escape to the Nome King's mountain.

The Gump falls apart midflight, but luckily everyone manages to land somewhat safely on the mountain, where the Nome King offers them to take part in his guessing game to free the Scarecrow, who has been turned into an ornament. The Gump, Jack and Tik-Tok take their turns before Dorothy and fail. Before she goes to make her guesses, the Nome King reveals that he was able to capture the Scarecrow and wreak havoc on Oz with the Ruby Slippers that fell off of Dorothy's feet on her way back to Kansas on her first visit to Oz. He had justified his actions by claiming that the gems used in the Emerald City were really his and that the Scarecrow was a thief. He also offers to send Dorothy home with the Ruby Slippers and make her forget about Oz.

Dorothy goes to make her guesses anyway as Mombi arrives in the Nome Kingdom, fearing that Dorothy might guess correctly and find out about Ozma. The Nome King is sure that Dorothy will fail, until with her final guess, Dorothy selects an emerald that proves to be the transformation of the Scarecrow. Realizing that the people from Oz must be green ornaments, Dorothy frees the rest of her friends, except Tik-Tok.

The Nome King has sunk into a rage and become little more than a rock face (the failure of each of Dorothy's friends allowed him to take a more humanoid form). He attempts to eat Dorothy's friends, taking the Gump's body, but when he tries to eat Jack, Billina (who was hiding in Jack's head) finally lays her egg, which falls into his mouth. The Nomes cry "poison!" as the Nome King dies, his last words revealing that eggs are poison to Nomes, which was why he had previously been wary about chickens.

Dorothy reclaims the Ruby Slippers and uses them to return to and restore Oz. After arriving safely just outside the Emerald City, they find a green badge on the Gump's antler and it proves to be Tik-Tok's transformation.

In the Emerald City, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are welcomed back by a joyous celebration (consisting of many characters from later Oz books), and the people cry for Dorothy to become their new ruler. But Dorothy decides she needs to go back to Kansas. Wishing she could be in both places at once, Ozma, the true ruler of Oz, appears behind Dorothy in the mirror, and Dorothy recognizes her as the blonde girl from Kansas. Setting her free, Dorothy gives Ozma the Ruby Slippers, which she uses to send Dorothy home, promising to look in on Dorothy from time to time, and allowing Dorothy to return to Oz whenever she wants.

Awakening in Kansas, Dorothy is found by the river by Toto and Uncle Henry, who were leading a search party for her. Aunt Em tells her that the clinic was struck by lightning and burned down. Everyone (including damaged patients in the cellar) escaped, except Dr. Worley. At home, Dorothy wonders if her trips to Oz might not have been dreams after all, until she makes the Oz symbol on her mirror, making Ozma and Billina (who stayed in Oz) appear in it. Dorothy calls Aunt Em, but Ozma shushes her gently and vanishes. Aunt Em encourages Dorothy to play outside with Toto as the credits begin to roll.

There was certainly a lot to like about Return to Oz. Its script showed quite a bit of ingenuity in combining two of the Oz books into one narrative. Fairuza Balk made an effective Dorothy and Nicol Williamson gave a wonderfully wicked performance as the Nome King. The visual effects, such as Will Vinton's Claymation and wonderful animatronics and creature effects, are successful in selling the odder creatures of Oz as actual characters. David Shire's music is beautiful and very evocative. On the other hand, its dark tone was off-putting to audiences and critics who had expected another light-hearted Oz adventure in the spirit of the MGM film.

The production itself suffered many cutbacks and many plot elements (such as additional members of the Army of Oz and the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion appearing at the Nome King's mountain) were cut as the production tried to stay within the already inflated budget. At one point, Walter Murch was almost fired from the production, until a number of famous directors intervened on his behalf.

Return to Oz was not a box office success by any means when it was released in 1985, not even making back half of its $28 million budget in the US. Apparently the film was quite popular in the UK and Japan, but that was not enough to make Disney think of turning the film into a franchise as was originally planned.

On home video, however, the film has found a second life as a cult classic, though the most attention it received was Anchor Bay's VHS and DVD releases in 2000. Disney released their own DVD edition, carrying over the Anchor Bay special features. Today, fans hope for a Blu-Ray release and Disney has a rather unimpressive yet definitely HD version available through iTunes, Vudu and Amazon Instant Video.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oz apps vol. 1

So, as I mentioned, I recently actually got a smart phone. So, with it there was a variety of apps to try and play with, and yes, there are a number of apps based on Oz in some form. Here's the first two I tried and enjoyed. (I also tried a couple apps called "The Complete Oz Vol. 1" and "The Complete Oz Vol. 2" which were the Baum books in an ebook format. However, I find accessing Project Gutenberg much more worthwhile, particularly as the pages appear to be static and I couldn't read the tiny type on my phone. Maybe if I had a tablet or a bigger phone, it would be worth it. They were free.)

Please note that these particular apps are for the Android platform and were used on a phone running version 4.1: Jellybean. They are available on the Google Play store. They also seem to be available on Apple products.



The Wizard of Oz by Boluga is an abridgement of Baum's first Oz book as an interactive picture book using Denslow's original illustrations. Some are simply animated (Dorothy melting the Wicked Witch) while a good many others let the user actually interact with the illustrations. Set the Scarecrow free, oil the Tin Woodman, and even fill the poppy field with more poppies!

I thought the interactive pages were fun, and they can be reset with an icon in the corner, but there seemed to be too few. Still, for only 99 cents, you can't complain too much.



Temple Run: Oz is the only digital game released for Oz the Great and Powerful. (Sometime I should tell you about the only Return to Oz video game.) It's a variant of the Temple Run game series, in which a player runs through a course, jumping over obstacles, sliding under them, running to the side of them, or making a very sharp turn.

Jumping is done by swiping your finger (or a stylus) on your screen up, sliding is done by swiping down, turning is done by swiping to the side you want to run to. Going to the side is done by tilting your device to the side.

By default, you control Oscar from the film, running without his coat or hat down the yellow brick road, pursued by the winged baboons. You have to stay one step ahead of them, so they don't catch you and carry you off to who knows where! But on the other hand, don't run into a rock or tree root or fall into a ditch because that would be quite... counterproductive. Also, there are plants that will try to snatch at you that you can run by, but running through them will slow you down and possibly let you get caught by a baboon. Along the way, you can pick up coins or (very rarely) a gem.

The game costs 99 cents to get, but the reason why it's so cheap is that you can buy more coins or gems (which will let you continue if you tap the screen quickly if you fail). The coins will let you purchase costume changes for Oscar adding a hat, or letting you run as "The Great Oz" (Oscar's stage persona at the beginning of the movie). Also, you can purchase an alternate character and run as China Girl instead. You can go ahead and spend more money to get coins to purchase these, or just keep playing the game and slowly build up your coins.

The game is actually pretty fun and the challenge actually makes for a lot of repeat playings. In addition, you can upgrade the game by downloading (for free) additional stages you can run to. I'm not sure if you unlock these when you get there, but the other stages are the Dark Forest, the Emerald City, and the Winkie Country.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New comics!

 I got the latest comics again last Friday, but didn't read them right away because I was getting ready to load my new Android phone with apps. But I did take some time out on Saturday and read them.

First up is The Emerald City of Oz #4. It's the penultimate issue of this Oz book adaptation and perhaps the line of Marvel Oz comics. The teaser image for the final issue looks quite appropriate if what we fear comes to pass.

Dorothy goes to Bunnybury before rejoining her companions at last and they visit the Flutterbudgers and Rigamaroles before arriving at the castle of the Tin Woodman, who delivers the bad news about the Nome King. Looking forward to the next issue, and hoping beyond hope that we may yet see a teaser for The Patchwork Girl of Oz at the end.

Second is The Steam Engines of Oz #3 (which is really #4 as the Free Comic Book Day issue should really be counted, though the comics industry is not above labeling an issue #0). Victoria and her friends seek the one person who can stop the war between the Tin Man and the Lion's resistance: the Scarecrow.

This issue wraps up this storyline, but the back promises a new series soon. I will be following it! Although not my preferred Oz, I have been enjoying this particular take.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion

And the celebration of the 75th anniversary of MGM's The Wizard of Oz has brought another book from Jay Scarfone and William Stillman. And covering the production of the movie in The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History and the production design in The Wizardry of Oz, what's left to cover?

Surprisingly, The Official 75th Anniversary Companion still manages to bring new material to readers. The three books form a rather comprehensive trilogy about the making of the film, and there are still other aspects that Stillman and Scarfone haven't touched on. (Aljean Harmetz's The Making of the Wizard of Oz—yet to be covered on the blog—covered a lot of the studio head's work, and John Fricke's book for the Rhino soundtrack album covered the music. Both of these aspects are not highly covered in the Scarfone/Stillman books.)

The book endeavors to bring a number of previously unseen or rarely seen images from the production of the film. There are several that I haven't seen before, while there are still some pictures that will be familiar to those who have read up on the film.

The book is broken into several segments. First and foremost is Baum, then Samuel Goldwyn's attempts to bring Oz to screen before he sold the property to MGM. Stillman and Scarfone tell of a rarely known friendship between Walt Disney and Mervyn LeRoy. (Including that during the many rewrites of the script, Disney loaned MGM a print of Snow White for them to get a better idea of what kind of a story they were going for.)

Sections cover each of the main cast, then the peculiar peoples of Oz, using rarely seen photos to show some of the development of the character's look. Then a summary of the production of the film, how Thorpe began (including the only color photo of Judy Garland in her blonde "Lolita Gale" wig) and Fleming took over after Cukor did some revisions. What exactly the cast did in between shots is also covered, turning up new material.

Then special effects and the design of the film are covered, including some revisions to what we'd thought we'd known about how they created the cyclone and the Horse of A Different Color. Then, the release of the film and its re-releases, and debut on television and legacy. On each topic, the authors dig up some new information.

In the back of the book, there's a silver-colored envelope containing a number of paper memorabilia, some newly designed, some recreated from 1939 items. There's a bookmark, a lobby card, two posters, a booklet of reduced size lobby cards, the death certificate of the Wicked Witch of the East, certificates from the Wizard for Dorothy's friends, a cardboard frame that shows your choice of several paper photos of the Oz characters, and a large mock newspaper clipping from the fictional Oz Herald. It almost feels like the recent Collector's Box set of the film intentionally left any 1939 replicas out just for this book. (Which, remember, it does have two advertisements for.)

Overall, though, the book doesn't really need the bonus memorabilia. The rare photos and new information in the book are worth the price of the book alone. Well done to Stillman and Scarfone!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Comic update!

Well, I'm all caught up on Oz comics so far. At least the ones I follow. Well, the next issues of The Steam Engines of Oz and Marvel's The Emerald City of Oz will be shipped to me next week, so... Uh... Anyway, let's get to these three.

First up is The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #11—12. As you can see from the covers, the winged gorillas are the focus of these two issues. The Tin Man, Jack, Tip, Scarecrow and the Lion are at Mombi's ranch, while we get to meet the new Witch of the East and West. (Who's exactly who I thought she was.) Why doesn't she have any control over the four gorillas at Mombi's ranch? And who's the mysterious prisoner trapped in emerald that Jinjur's found? The story is continuing, and I admit that I'm looking forward to #13!

In Grimm's Fairy Tales: Oz #3,  Dorothy finds a few new friends as they continue to the Mage, fighting hordes of baddies and finding the mysterious Grafft who gives them some vital information for their quest. And someone doesn't survive to the end.

And still, I say the focus is too much on the violence and such rather than creating a really unique story. I'm sticking around to the end (only three more episodes), but if it gets picked up as an ongoing series, I may not be continuing.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Copyright 2012 S.P. Maldonado
Happy Halloween! Oz and Halloween go together hand in hand, with the Scarecrow and the Wicked Witches of past, present and perhaps future, and of course Jack Pumpkinhead, who has a Halloween icon—a jack o'lantern—as a head.

Jack Pumpkinhead wound up being part of the main cast of my book Outsiders from Oz which I released last year. Jack remained himself, but I wound up changing one little thing about him from what Baum had established. It wasn't a major plot point, so for the holiday, I'm going to share a little excerpt from my book in which Ozma helps Jack fashion a new head before they go on an adventure.
"How wonderful!" replied Jack, "But I better get a new head. This one is getting a little old, and if I'm away for too long, it could spoil, and that would not be very pleasant."

"Oh, let me help you," said Ozma. "I don't get to work in the Emerald City, and it would give me pleasure."

"All right," said Jack, leading her to the pumpkin patch.

Ozma selected a large, round, firm pumpkin, that was just ripening. She and Jack carried it inside. Very carefully, Ozma removed some of the insides (but not too many, as Jack fancied these to be brains), and then carved a nose, two eyes, and a smiling mouth. Then, she carved a hole in the bottom for Jack's neck to fit through.

Jack gingerly lifted off his head and put on the new one. The old head watched as Jack adjusted the new head to its correct setting. It did its best to smile at its old owner before the life faded away from it. Jack had seen this process many times and was used to it, but for Ozma, it was very sad.

Jack picked up the old head in one arm and carried it out, Ozma following solemnly. He set the head down and picked up a spade and began digging. After the hole was deep enough (which didn't take long, as the spade had been enchanted to dig quickly), the old head was placed inside and quickly covered.

"Didn't you mark where you buried your old heads?" asked Ozma, noting there were no such markers or monuments around.

"Yes," replied Jack, "but then they started getting covered with pumpkin vines. The seeds in my old heads started sprouting and growing more pumpkins. So, instead of finding places where I buried old pumpkins, I kept finding new ones."

Ozma smiled at this. It was reassuring to know that Jack's heads didn't really die.

You can get your own copy of Outsiders from Oz from Lulu or Amazon through the links below.
 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 2

Walt Disney always had Oz in mind for a future film project, and he kept his eyes open about the rights of the books. After Maud Baum's death, he inquired about the rights again and this time was able to pick up the film rights to eleven of the Baum books: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz was optioned by another studio (for almost the same cost of the 11 books, he later got it) and the first two Oz books would soon be slipping into the public domain.

In 1957, it was announced that Walt planned to produce a live action musical Oz feature film featuring the Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club. On September 11, 1957, the Disneyland TV show had its "Fourth Anniversary" episode, which finished with the Mouseketeers "convincing" Walt to let them make The Rainbow Road to Oz with two musical numbers. Walt finally agrees, and they finish with the grand number "The Rainbow Road to Oz." It must be remembered that these were not film clips.

The late Annette Funicello was set to play Ozma, and I wrote about her death with more information on her and her brief time as Ozma, including showing the entire Oz segment. That blog can be found here. Darlene Gillespie played Dorothy, Tim Considine as Zeb, Kevin Corcoran was Button-Bright, Jimmie Dodd was the Cowardly Lion, Bobby Burgess was the Scarecrow, Doreen Tracy was the Patchwork Girl, and Karen Pendelton was Polychrome. Tommy Kirk was set to play the villain of the story, but appears only on the Disneyland episode as himself and is silent throughout the Oz segment.

The most famous thing about The Rainbow Road to Oz is that it was shelved. The reason was never made exactly clear. Some blame the songs or the appeal of the Mousekeeters not carrying over to film. Some believe the studio was put off by fearing comparison with the MGM film of The Wizard of Oz. While I do admit that most of the songs featured on the Disneyland episode were not up to the same standards of the Harold/Arlen score of MGM, a couple of songs were actually quite good: "The Rainbow Road to Oz" and "Why Don't They Believe?" It is more likely that the songs were works in progress and would have appeared quite revised and re-arranged for the finished film. Also, if Disney was concerned about the legacy of MGM, why on earth had they sunk so much money into acquiring the Oz books? It is not as if that could have been an afterthought.

My personal favorite explanation for the shelving is that the story and script (being constantly revised) were just not gelling, and Walt decided that if he was going to produce an Oz movie, it needed to have a story worthy of being an Oz story, and he shelved it deciding that this would not be a good time to produce such an Oz film.

This also answers why so few Oz films were produced for so long, aside from many adaptations of Wizard and an occasional version of Land: the Disney company was sitting on the rights. By the time the later Oz books were going into the public domain, Oz wasn't such a hot property, aside from the MGM film.

From what I've heard from numerous sources, Dorothy and her cousin Zeb would ride a tractor over the Rainbow to Oz (presumably meeting Polychrome on the way), where the Patchwork Girl would emerge from a patchwork quilt. The villain (possibly based on Ugu the Shoemaker) casts a spell on the Cowardly Lion, the current King of Oz, that makes him cruel and conceited, and Dorothy and her friends try to break the spell. And also, Ozma, the true heir to the throne of Oz, would be recovered. (As Disney hadn't optioned The Marvelous Land of Oz, I would not be surprised if this part was based on The Lost Princess of Oz.)

What remains of The Rainbow Road to Oz eventually found its way to commercial items. In 1965 and 1969, Disneyland Records produced four "story and songs" albums featuring Oz stories. Three were adaptations of Baum's Oz books, but one, The Cowardly Lion of Oz, was a completely original story, with songs. Many of the songs were actually originally intended for The Rainbow Road to Oz, particularly "Living a Lovely Life" and "If You Believe." ("If You Believe" was originally "Why Don't They Believe?") The book Disney's Lost Chords printed sheet music for "The Rainbow Road to Oz," "Patches," "Why Don't They Believe?" and "The Lost Princess Waltz." Finally, the entire Fourth Anniversary Show episode was released on Your Host, Walt Disney, part of the now-defunct Walt Disney Treasures line of DVDs.

As part of the publicity of Oz the Great and Powerful, D23 magazine featured The Rainbow Road to Oz in its Spring issue of 2013. The DVD and Blu-Ray releases of that film have the special feature "Walt Disney and the Road to Oz," which discusses the aborted project, including interviews with the Mouseketeers.

I have thought that perhaps The Rainbow Road to Oz could eventually be revived as a Pixar project, but it seems Disney will not be pursuing such a project for a long time, focusing on sequels to Oz the Great and Powerful instead.

The Disney company didn't give up on Oz. Over the years, an Oz animated television show or TV special was suggested. Theme park attractions were also conceptualized, but not realized. Some hints of Oz still turn up at Disney's parks, however. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, MGM's The Wizard of Oz is part of "The Great Movie Ride," and the Emerald City is part of the "Les Pays des Contes de Fées" attraction (a Fantasyland boat ride) at Disneyland Paris.

Still, even with these concepts, it would be some time before there would be a major Oz production by Disney.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated Hisory of the American Classic

So, it was announced that John Fricke's name would appear on a new Oz book this year: The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic. John Fricke's name has appeared on quite a number of worthwhile Oz books, but when I saw the description of this, I was highly reminded of another book Fricke penned: 100 Years of Oz. After the book arrived, the copyright page confirmed it: "... an expanded, revised, and redesigned republication of the edition titled 100 Years of Oz published in 1999..."

100 Years of Oz paired Fricke's text with some lovely (and collector-drooling) photos of items from the collection of Willard Carroll, a film producer widely considered to have one of the largest collections of Oz memorabilia. The text offered a decade-by-decade look at the beginning of the Oz phenomenon and how it evolved from 1900 to 1999. While Fricke was brief, the book was still quite informative.

100 Years of Oz also holds a very special place in my heart. It was THE FIRST book about Oz I ever got for my collection that wasn't an actual Oz book. And after my first reading of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, I needed a reminder of everything that Oz is and can be, and it offered it and then some.

So, how do we treat a new, expanded edition? I mean, since 100 Years, Wicked has become a musical, and we've had Tin Man, The Muppets Wizard of Oz, and Oz the Great and Powerful.

This expanded edition drops the decade by decade focus of 100 Years, and adds a wholly new foreword and a lengthy introduction. In addition, there is a new chapter focusing on the latest 14 years. I noted that it doesn't mention how Oz has caught on with the internet age, ignoring some excellent projects, such as the Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man short film. Also missing are projects such as The Witches of Oz/Dorothy and the Witches of Oz and others, but then, 100 Years also missed quite a number of Oz films, so their exclusion was almost expected. This still isn't a thorough look at the Oz phenomenon, but just a beginning.

Most of the same photographs from 100 Years reappear, supplemented by a number of new photographs, which also feature items from the collection of Tom Wilhite. The expansions of the first 10 chapters feel rather light, the most new material shows up in the new front matter and the new last chapter. The text seems to have been revised, though I haven't fully compared both of them.

So, would I recommend this? Yes, I would. Though 100 Years' layout is still very pleasing to the eye and contains some photos not reproduced here, I did find that the updated material here is worth the price (particularly that with the preorder's price and Amazon Prime free shipping, it was only $18). However, other owners of 100 Years of Oz might understandably not want to shill out for an updated version of a book that is only 14 years old. In my own opinion, the differences between the two editions is enough to justify owning both, but others might differ on this point.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Royal Podcast of Oz — The Movies of Oz: Anime Oz

The Royal Podcast of Oz is back as Jared and Sam look at six short anime adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. What makes them different? Will Jared snap after looking at so many versions of the yellow brick road? We'll see!

As  always, you can listen and download at the podcast site or use the player below!


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Characters of Oz — Eureka


Jumping out of the buggy he put Dorothy's suit-case under the seat and her bird-cage on the floor in front.
"Canary-birds?" he asked.
"Oh no; it's just Eureka, my kitten. I thought that was the best way to carry her."
The boy nodded.
"Eureka's a funny name for a cat," he remarked.
"I named my kitten that because I found it," she explained. "Uncle Henry says 'Eureka' means 'I have found it.'" 
 So, Dorothy picked up another pet on her vacation: a white kitten she called Eureka. Baum never tells us, though, if Dorothy found Eureka in Australia or San Francisco. Personally, I find the idea of Dorothy bringing a cat from another country to be a little implausible and lean towards the idea that she adopted Eureka shortly before Uncle Henry went on to Hugson's Ranch alone.

It is curious, though, that Dorothy arrives with an animal companion each time she visits Oz: she first arrives with Toto in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, then with Billina in Ozma of Oz, and then Eureka in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Toto accompanies her again (Baum notes in the introduction of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz that readers wanted him to bring the little dog back) in the next two books.

Eureka doesn't really appear properly until Dorothy, Zeb and Jim arrive in the Land of the Mangaboos. Zeb notes right away that she is pink. Dorothy notes that the colored suns of the Land of the Mangaboos must be to blame because Eureka is a white cat. (Neill depicts Eureka as such consistently in his illustrations for the book.)

Eureka, admittedly, is only instrumental a couple of times before the group reaches the Land of Oz. She is able to warn the Wizard that Jim is being forced into the Black Pit by escaping and fighting off the Mangaboos herself. In the Land of Naught, after the travelers are captured, Eureka is able to use her claws and stealth to observe how the Gargoyles use their wings. Both times, her actions lead to the travelers moving on to the next stage of their journey.

But most memorably of all, Eureka craves to eat one of the Wizard's tiny piglets throughout the book. She is repeatedly warned that she will not be allowed to do so, Jim even threatening to eat her if she does so. Baum finally gives her desire a payoff late in the book. The Wizard presented Ozma with one of the piglets as a gift, and she gave it an emerald collar and kept it in her bedroom. But one day when she asked Jellia to bring it to her, Jellia couldn't find it, but she saw Eureka leave.

Everyone believes that Eureka has eaten the piglet, but she refuses to confess. So Ozma has Eureka put on trial, defended by the Tin Woodman. Knowing that Eureka will likely be found guilty which will make Dorothy unhappy, the Wizard decides to offer another piglet to be revealed as the missing piglet. All goes exactly as he expected in a comic courtroom scene, and the Tin Woodman offers the new piglet after Eureka is deemed guilty.

Eureka, however, has proved sulky and seems to not want to be proven innocent, even acting up to contradict the Tin Woodman's defense. She is, in fact, the one that points out that the piglet is not the missing one, noting the telltale lack of an emerald collar. She then reveals that she did not eat the piglet, though she meant to, but only scared it into a vase. The piglet is recovered.
Then the crowd cheered lustily and Dorothy hugged the kitten in her arms and told her how delighted she was to know that she was innocent.
"But why didn't you tell us at first?" she asked.
"It would have spoiled the fun," replied the kitten, yawning.
 However, for attempting the crime, Eureka is not held in the best graces of the people of Oz and is confined to Dorothy's room. She prompts Dorothy to think about going back home to Kansas.

Baum doesn't mention Eureka again until The Patchwork Girl of Oz. The Shaggy Man says that Dorothy has a pink kitten with blue eyes named Eureka. (Eric Shanower had Eureka mention that she came to Oz along with the rest of Dorothy's family in his The Secret Island of Oz, while his comic book adaptation of The Emerald City of Oz has Toto and Eureka both accompany Dorothy to her bedroom when she signs for Ozma to bring her to Oz.) The curious thing is that he says that she's a favorite at the palace and that if Bungle the Glass Cat becomes Eureka's friend, she has no fear of being broken.

Curiously, in Glinda of Oz, Dorothy refers to Eureka as her purple kitten. Most fans ignore this, and there are a number of fan-written tales that explain how Eureka went from white—a fairly normal color for cats—to pink, a fairly unusual color for cats. A few tackle the purple issue as well, but generally when Eureka does turn up in new tales, she is pink.

Perhaps Baum vividly remembered Zeb's first glimpse of Eureka, or a fan who remembered it well asked what became of Eureka and mistakenly called her the pink kitten. And so, Baum threw in the few lines of the Shaggy Man's dialogue in The Patchwork Girl of Oz to reassure readers that Dorothy's cat was in Oz with her as well as her more famous dog Toto. It is rather disappointing that little documentation of the creation of the Oz series survives and so we have no idea if some of these were simply Baum mis-remembering his own work (and considering Baum's extensive output, you can't exactly expect him to keep everything on his mind) or if he was trying to please his reader's specific requests.

Eureka is loyal to her owner and the friends she does make, but at the end of the day, she's a cat. While her desire to eat a piglet in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz is a rather nasty part of her character, she is simply responding to her natural instinct of hunting. She is smug, observant and self-centered, personalities many cat owners imagine in their pets. It is a fact that the Baum family had at least one cat: one of Baum's sons was punished by Maud for dunking a cat in a rain barrel by being treated in the same manner. Baum mentioned on an anniversary card that one of the few times Maud was in tears was because the cat died. Finally, in a photograph of his Chicago home, one of Baum's sons is seen holding a cat.

While Eureka may have been mentioned in later books in the Famous Forty, she never plays an important role again in them.

Eureka is another example of Baum using the characteristics of an animal and working it into a character. It wasn't enough to say that a cat was speaking or doing things, readers had to believe that Eureka actually was a cat, and when it came to this one, Baum really excelled.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 1

Walt Disney, the man who people thought should adapt
the Oz stories, with Shirley Temple, the girl who people
thought should play Dorothy. This was at the 11th
Academy Awards, the award being for Snow White in
an honorary move: "a significant screen innovation which
has charmed millions and pioneered a great new
entertainment field."
Today is the 90th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company, which started as a tiny cartoon studio and is now a multimedia empire.

Earlier this year, Disney released a movie titled Oz the Great and Powerful, but that was far from Disney's first trip down the yellow brick road. It is actually Disney's third Oz movie and just the latest of a handful of completed projects.

Walt Disney made several strides for animation: the Disney studio created the first cartoon with synchronized sound, the first color cartoon, and pioneered many animation techniques. The animated shorts eventually led Disney to create the first feature-length fully animated film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released in 1937. (A silent film with cutout animation was completed in 1926, but was scarcely seen: The Adventures of Prince Achmed.)

Disney had been one of the major animation studios at the time, and many Oz fans began to realize that perhaps animation would be a great way to visually depict the wonders and magic of Oz. Even before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered, some fans thought Disney would find Oz a good match for his skill. Afterward, the studio noted that they received more suggestions to tackle the Oz stories in animation than anything else.

According to The Wizardry of Oz, the studio drew up a synopsis for each of the fourteen Baum books, and even dreamed up a cartoon concept in which Mickey Mouse would be blown to Oz instead of Dorothy.

However, it was not to be. Maud Gage Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson had already been entertaining the idea of Oz cartoons, but were interested in animator Ken McLellan's pitch. While McLellan eventually got permission from Maud, he could not secure funding. Walt Disney did approach Maud, but she refused his request. She was not a fan of his animation. (I hate to presume, but did she completely miss seeing Snow White?)

Anyway, after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hollywood studios began looking for fantasy properties to bring to the big screen. 1939 would see the second fully animated cartoon feature: Gulliver's Travels from Max Fleischer's Studios, and 1940 would see The Thief of Bagdad as a full color fantasy epic.

However, the push for fantasy led Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to try to equal the animated spectacle of Snow White with live action. They purchased the rights to a certain famous children's book from Samuel Goldwyn (who had sold his old studio of Goldwyn Pictures and had begun again as Samuel Goldwyn Productions) and also picked up the film rights to any of its previous adaptations to avoid competition. I scarcely need to tell you that this book was, in fact, The Wizard of Oz.

So, with a big studio already making a movie based on the first Oz book and the executor of L. Frank Baum's estate refusing to work with him, it became clear that Walt would have to wait before he could attempt to step down the yellow brick road.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Wizardry of Oz

The wonderful thing about films is that so much work goes into them from so many angles. Often we focus on the script, the directing, the music and the cast and sometimes forget the massive amount of work it can take to make the film look just right.

The Wizardry of Oz, by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman, was assembled to highlight the creation of the sets, props, costumes and makeup of MGM's The Wizard of Oz.

Like fantasy epics of today (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Harry Potter), most of what was seen onscreen in The Wizard of Oz had to be created specifically for that picture. The costumes and set pieces and props to depict the Land of Oz had to be made for the picture: they were depicting another world. Yes, they made it a dream world so they were a little free from adding a level of complete reality to it. But still, the fantastic look of Oz couldn't be found in a store.

The book starts with a look at where the MGM film owes its origins: the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other adaptations of it and also Disney's groundbreaking fantasy film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It makes it clear that when MGM set out to make The Wizard of Oz into a movie, they were trying for a new spectacle that audiences had not seen before. Today, these films are such classics in our collective psyche that we forget that what they were doing was breaking new ground. Like Snow White, Oz would draw in audiences with an engaging story, lovely music and songs, and spectacular visuals that had never been seen before.

The book is, of course, highly illustrated with sketches, art, stills, on-set photographs, test photographs, but very rarely actual frames from the film. These are beautifully put together and the book is as much fun to look through as it is to read.

We then move straight into the makeup. Highlighted is Jack Dawn's challenge to take the faces of the stars of The Wizard of Oz and turn them into the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch and yet have people be able to recognize them as Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr and Margaret Hamilton. Although they were less challenging, the detail of the makeup of the citizens of Oz, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke and Judy Garland are not ignored.

Next is the costumes: surprisingly, costume designer Adrian had been drawing Oz character designs since childhood and worked with the vivid fantasy MGM was aiming for in creating costumes not just for the principal cast, but also for the Munchkins, the Winkie Guards and the people of the Emerald City.

Third is set design, how MGM's artists turned soundstages into the fantastic world of Oz and the farm in Kansas. The surprising thing about the film is that if you think about it, you can see how it's a soundstage, but it doesn't matter if you're not. The effect is sold that well.

The fourth and last section on the film's production is about the special effects from matte paintings to creating the cyclone to moving trees and flying monkeys, it's all there.

Next, the book showcases the promotion campaign for MGM's movie. Having spent $2,777,000 on the movie, they wanted to be sure people were excited and would go see it. The book discusses the lavish campaign with many, many images of surviving examples of advertising from covers of magazines to posters to cards found in packages of candy cigarettes. A surprising piece is a newspaper page drawn by artist Michelson. It very quickly brings to mind John R. Neill's Oz artwork, though the designs are clearly of the movie.

The book then talks about the impact the MGM movie had on Hollywood after its release from films that tried to mimic its format by bringing full-color fantasy to life onscreen (Shirley Temple's The Blue Bird and the 1940 production of The Thief of Baghdad) to Oz tributes in cartoons and films to re-use of props and costumes in later MGM movies. An especial favorite photo of mine is Shirley Temple at her desk, typing. Next to her is her bookshelf with all of the Oz novels on it in order, except they are in order with the oldest to the right and the latest (The Giant Horse of Oz) to the left. (Giant Horse and Land are the latest and earliest seen. As the photo is dated 1941, we can assume Shirley actually did keep up on the series, and surely she had a copy of The Wizard of Oz.)

The book was originally released in 1999 for the movie's 60th anniversary. My edition was released in 2004 for the otherwise generally ignored 65th anniversary. (The special edition DVD came out in October 2005.) The new edition is listed as "Revised and Expanded" with a number of new material. I haven't seen the 1999 edition. There is a section that gives a brief biography of Terry, the little dog that played Toto, as well as her filmography. The back cover lists the filmography as a new feature.

The Terry section is preceded by a section of never-before printed photos of filming of the movie by Peter Stackpole. It's followed by a complete credit listing for everyone they could identify who worked on the movie.

Overall, The Wizardry of Oz gives a nice look at the creation of the visuals of one of the most important fantasy films of all time. Definitely recommended.