Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Disney's Journey to Oz, part 1
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.