Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Free Gift to Our Readers from the Team Behind Legends of Oz World!

Our friends at Legends of Oz World, the new virtual world based on Summertime Entertainment's Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, are offering Royal Blog of Oz readers a complimentary Tin Man costume!

All you need to do is sign-up for the game if you haven't yet, and request your Tin Man Toto costume by visiting this link.

"Our goal is to get as many die-hard Oz fans into the virtual world as possible. Although the first phase of the world has a story that sticks close to the story in Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, we have plans to expand the story to other parts of L. Frank Baum's universe," says Brad Jashinsky, director of technology at Summertime.
That costume is adorable! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My first Oz book

 A long, long time ago, when I was eight or so (so, 18 years ago...), my grandpa (on my father's side) was moving. He was moving to a smaller home and couldn't take many items he'd had with him. Many things were my dad's: childhood comics, toys, books.

My dad went to pick up several boxes. I went with him (probably some other family members as well) and I can clearly remember them packing a book into the box. I could automatically recognize the title thanks to having seen a certain movie: it was The Wizard of Oz!

I recall either later that day or shortly after (I think it was night when we were packing up, so it must have been another day) I pulled it out of a box I was sitting next to in the car and looked at the pictures. Later, I fished it out of the garage and enjoyed looking at the pictures more often.

Eventually, I sat myself down and read the entire book. I was just a little kid then, so my first trip through Oz took many days. I remember finishing the book during a trip to my grandparents' house for Thanksgiving. There is actually video of me showing off the book during that time.

Eventually, the dust jacket was either destroyed or lost, so I eventually made new ones. "Ones" because those would get destroyed or lost as well, so I'd keep making new ones.

The pictures were by Evelyn Copelman. The dustjacket touts them as being based on W.W. Denslow's original pictures, but anyone who's seen Denslow's pictures can definitely tell that this was generally a new illustration job with a lot of visuals coming from the MGM movie. The Scarecrow looks like Ray Bolger, the Tin Woodman has a Denslow body but a Jack Haley head, and Dorothy's look is definitely inspired by Judy Garland, except that she really does look like a little girl and has actual braids instead of Judy's pigtails. The Lion looks like a lion, however, Toto is a terrier, but the Wizard looks like Frank Morgan. Fortunately, that's pretty much where resemblances to the MGM movie ends.

Evelyn Copelman appeared on the documentary Oz: The American Fairyland and confirmed that she had been instructed by Bobbs-Merrill to evoke the MGM movie for inspiration, likely to use it to help the new edition sell better. While many pictures had been drawn for the book, I believe this was the first time that a full new set of illustrations were commissioned. She used a scratchboard to create her excellent black and white line art and painted some lovely color plates. When the book was reissued later (I believe by Grosset and Dunlap, who published the edition at hand), Copelman created new art for it. (It is one reason why I sought out a Grosset and Dunlap edition rather than an original Bobbs-Merrill when I later wanted to get a new copy.)

Evelyn Copelman also re-illustrated The Magical Monarch of Mo for Bobbs-Merill, being one of the Baum titles that they had the rights to. Perhaps it was an effort to reissue their Baum books in a uniform style, but it seems that while Wizard sold well, Magical Monarch did not. While you can find a copy of Copelman's Monarch for less than $20, generally, they seem to be the same edition, and of course the pictures weren't used in any later reprints.

Well, for me, this edition helped cement a MGM-styled version of Oz in my head as a child. Later, my mother tossed out my entire Oz collection. My dad wasn't happy to hear of this, particularly that this book had gone with it.

When I got back into Oz, I had more knowledge than I did when I was younger and went for Denslow's pictures first.I eventually looked for a new copy of this one, but what I wound up with was new edition from about the 1990s that had all of Copelman's interior art, but a new cover picture by a new artist and no endpapers.

Finally, I lucked out in 2011 and found this edition that I currently have at the Winkie Convention Swap Shop. It is not the same as the one I had, but it's close enough. The dustjacket is the same (and protected with Brodart), but the book itself was printed on thinner (cheaper?) paper, making the book is thinner overall. (You can see some of the dustjacket spine on the front in the above image.) There's some discoloration on the back of the dustjacket and there's an inscription inside, but otherwise, it's the same design and everything. The front also indicates that this is a 1977 printing. My dad had my old copy as a child himself, and he was born in 1959 (but you didn't hear that from me), so it's certain that his copy was older.

I decided to re-read the book with this edition, but I didn't really have much of a nostalgic experience. Probably because when I was a kid I wasn't reading on the bus and consuming highly-caffeinated beverages. I did note that after reading the book with Denslow's colorful pictures so many times recently that he was much better at capturing the whimsy of Baum's text than Copelman. Not that Copelman's not worth looking at, she was amazing at her art.

Also, a couple color plates have been switched around: the color plate "I am Oz, the Great and Terrible" (showing the revealed Wizard to Dorothy and her friends) appears during the chapter "The Search For the Wicked Witch" and the color plate "Dorothy picked up the bucket of water" (wonder what she's going to do with that?) appears during the chapter "The Discovery of Oz the Terrible." In between them, in just the right spot, is a color plate of Dorothy being carried by the Winged Monkeys while wearing the Golden Cap.

When I was a kid, my favorite pieces of art were the above color plate showing the Winged Monkeys, and another with the travelers on their way to the Emerald City after the poppy field. (I guess I liked seeing Dorothy style different headgear...) Today, though, I like the below picture best. I've scanned it from the dustjacket (you can see the creases and sun damaged spine) and made sure it looks great at a size large enough for my desktop. Maybe you'd like it for yours as well?

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Movies of Oz - The Wiz

Jared and Sam are joined by guest Garrett Kilgore as they discuss the movie The Wiz from 1978, from its stage origins to its latest release on Blu-Ray, and all the EST within!

As always, you can listen and download at the podcast site or use the player below. (But it does run for over two hours...)

       

   
   
   
   
   
   

   
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Friday, March 22, 2013

Interview with 'Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return' Producer Ryan Carroll

TGIF!

This week, I got to interview Ryan Carroll, the producer of the upcoming 3-D animated musical Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, which was originally announced under the working title Dorothy of Oz, and is based on the book of the same name by Roger Stanton Baum.

You and your team have been working on this film for several years now. What do you think the biggest challenge has been?
Yes, the animation process definitely takes some time! It's been very interesting and educational for us to learn all about the detail involved in the production process for animation, under the direction of Bonne Radford, Dan St. Pierre and Will Finn, who are some of the industry's top experts in this medium. We've spent a lot of time in the story process, making sure that the story is working well before we fully animate the characters and add all the special effects.  I would say the biggest challenge with an Oz film like this is making sure we stay true to the wonderful source material of the Baum family (both L. Frank and Roger Stanton), while making sure to update the story and look of film for a modern audience. Seeing the film near completion, I think we've done a great job with that balance.
You recently signed a distribution deal with Clarius Entertainment. How many theaters do you expect the movie will be shown in?
We're thrilled about our partnership with Clarius. We don't know the exact number of theaters yet, but Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return will have a very wide release in the majority of theaters around the country, much like the other big studio animated films released each year.
Have you seen Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful or any other recent Oz-inspired films? What do you think will make Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return unique?
Oz the Great and Powerful is a great and entertaining adaptation, and we were excited to see it do so well in the box office because it proves how many people love Oz, possibly now more than ever. I think what makes our film unique is that it plays very well to a young audience, and certainly the musical component. Music has always been a strong link with Oz projects and we felt it was important that this one contained lots of great new songs too.
Can you elaborate a bit more on the music and songs? How many songs are in the film?
The songs in our film are a pivotal part of the story, as they both introduce the new characters, and help carry the characters through their adventure.  We couldn't have asked for a better musical crew, combining the extreme experience and talents of Bryan, Tift, Jim Dooley, Jim Vallance and Mike Himmelstein.  Added to that, we have some of the best vocal talents in the industry right now, such as Lea Michele (Dorothy), Megan Hilty (China Princess) and Martin Short (the Jester). All of them helped bring these already wonderful new songs to a new level. There are a total of seven brand new songs in the film, and a couple more in the end credits.
This film is based on Dorothy of Oz by Roger Stanton Baum. How has he been involved in the process?
Roger's been a great partner on the film, and we feel lucky to have him as a great resource for all things Oz. We have consulted with him throughout the process, and we had a lot of fun including him on our panel with Patrick Stewart and Megan Hilty at the 2011 Comic-Con. He and his wife Charlene are a joy to work with in every way.
Should Oz fans expect to see quite a bit of merchandise from this film?
Yes, there will be something for everyone with the licensing and merchandising. We'll be rolling out a whole program with major world-wide retailers leading up to the film's release, so watch for some great items coming to a store near you later this year and early next!
What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
There is a great, timely message in our film, which is how important it is to team together especially in times of community need. I hope that audiences young and old will understand this message and be able to relate it to a lot of the things going on in the world today. I also hope that our project will help further propel the popularity and magic of Oz to a new, younger generation. 
Is it true that there are already plans for sequels?
Roger has written a whole series of books and we do plan on turning these into films as well.  It's one of the reasons we changed the title to Legends of Oz, so that we can eventually unveil a lot of various projects, in various mediums and formats.
Is there anything you'd like to say to fans who have been supporting the film for several years now?
I would like to thank them all for their ongoing support, as we've worked hard on making the film the best it possibly can be! We know it will be worth the wait for everyone. 
Thank you to Ryan for taking the time to do this interview!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Princess of Cozytown

So, I finally read one of my Christmas presents, Ruth Plumly Thompson's The Princess of Cozytown. This was one of two books she produced for the Volland Company, the first being The Perhappsy Chaps in 1918 and this one from 1922. At least some of the stories had previously appeared in Saint Nicholas magazine.

While Thompson was quite the storyteller, she was definitely aimed at children, while her Ozian predecessor L. Frank Baum wrote in a style for all ages. However, this is no slight as children should find Thompson's writing engaging and adults will find it whimsical.

The Princess of Cozytown collects six of Thompson's fairy tales about princesses, princes, kingdoms and kings. The first is the titular story, "The Princess of Cozytown." The people of Cozytown all love their princess, how they play all the time and have such fun, but they hear a disaster will befall the Princess, and it begins with the letter G. As it turns out, the disaster is the unseen arrival of the Giant Grownupness. Instead of writing a standard fairy tale, Thompson turned it into a story about growing up: Cozytown is the girl's childhood, the people there are her toys. It also has one of the saddest endings of all of Thompson's work: the girl finds her toys on the floor, and when she calls them "toys," they suddenly lose their life. But it's not so bleak: Thompson writes that one day some other child may adopt them and Cozytown will live again.

The next story is "The Prince With A Cold In His Heart," about a young prince who has, as Thompson puts it, a cold in his heart. An old wise man cures it by making another little boy that only the Prince can see. The boy encourages the prince to do things with him, go swimming and play all sorts of lively games and activities. Finally, one day, the Prince finds a different boy and realizes when he looks into a mirror that the first boy and himself have changed places. The newly energized and cured Prince then lets his newfound energy spread through the palace.

Next up is "The Bald-Headed Kingdom," in which a bald king feels too sensitive about his baldness and orders everyone to shave their heads. When the Prince (who has been away) hears of this, he looks for a solution.

"The Tailor of Nevermindwhere" follows the adventures of newly arrived Tailor Jerry in the kingdom of Nevermindwhere. When he tells the king that "a Tailor makes a man," the king defies him and refuses his services. As a result, the common people end up being so richly dressed by Jerry that the court hardly looks so elegant in comparison. Where will it all end?

The story "The Last Giant" tells of the final giant that wasn't killed by Jack the Giant Killer or his descendants who falls in love with a princess. When the king (who wants to keep her at home) says that whoever can manage her fortune (literally all the money she has to her name in cash in a big chest) can have her as a wife, the giant makes short work of this and goes to the Last Witch to get a potion to shrink him to a regular human size. The witch obliges, but warns him that if he loses his temper, he'll turn back into a giant. How will things go for the couple?

The final story, "The Princess Who Could Not Dance," was actually one of my first experiences with Thompson. It subsequently appeared in a collection of short American fantasies titled American Fairy Tales, edited by Neil Philip (not to be confused with the Baum book, but it does contain Baum's "The Glass Dog"). I discovered it while looking at audio books at the library and spotted what looked like a Baum title, and discovered that while it wasn't Baum's book, it did contain a story by him and one by Thompson.

The story tells of the princess Dianidra, who cannot find it in herself to dance. After getting fed up with dancing masters and leaving the palace, she meets a good fairy who teaches her the secret of dancing. It is one of Thompson's more beautiful tales.

Altogether, The Princess of Cozytown sometimes makes me wish that Thompson's non-Oz work had escaped the shadow of Oz. I'm very fortunate to have a copy, but the book is generally unavailable to upcoming generations. I think she needs a comeback.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Was L. Frank Baum racist?

With the success of Oz the Great and Powerful, people's eyes turn again to L. Frank Baum, as ultimately the film is based on his work. However, some have instead gone for shock value to paint Baum up as a racist. Some go so far as to read racist interpretations into some very small details. (An article claimed the Awgwas in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus were supposed to be Native Americans. They did not include any reasoning as to this interpretation.)

Racism is a sensitive topic, and so it has been one I've tried to avoid tackling. To me, variations in gender, skin color, ethnicity, disabilities, orientation of any type do not make one less of a person but only create a beautiful diversity.

Baum did not shy away from depicting an ethnically diverse world, though his world of Oz and many of the surrounding countries tend not to show any human people who he specifically says are not Caucasian. (There is an exception, but we'll get to that later.) However, as projects like The Wiz, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz and Oz the Great and Powerful show, there's no reason why some of these people couldn't look like people of ethnicity. (Since we'll presume that the actual ethnicity of the people of Oz is Ozian.)


This is not to say that ethnic diversity doesn't creep up in Baum's fantasies. Typically, it's not exactly human. In Sugar-Loaf Mountain and Dot and Tot of Merryland, there are dark-colored candy people. Reflecting the status of his day, Sugar-Loaf Mountain mentions that the dark-colored sugar people seem to be of a lower status than those who are made of white sugar. (The story does call into question prejudice when a couple characters question their constitution and are either shamed or shunned because of it.)

Dot and Tot is a little more controversial: there is a mention that chocolate servants are not very dependable. It could be that Baum wasn't thinking of race but that an overindulgence of chocolate causes one's stomach to feel queasy. (The Candy Man does say "They are only chocolate, you know, and quite harmless when taken in moderation.") However, it could be read as an insult to African-Americans. (They are referred to as "colored servants" by the Candy Man.)

In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Baum introduces a lively group of people called the Tottenhots, who are the only explicitly black people in Oz that he mentioned. The Tottenhots are based on the Khoikhoi people of South Africa, who were once called "Hottentots." (Now considered a derogatory term.) These people are peaceful, though they are also playful: they toss around the Scarecrow and Scraps, and both admit that actually helped evenly distribute their stuffing. However, in Rinkitink in Oz, during Bilbil's restoration to Prince Bobo, he is turned into a Tottenhot, which Baum calls "a lower form of man." Now, it can be noted that perhaps Baum means that the Tottenhots weren't actually human, but humanoid, but it is rather unnerving. (Books of Wonder dropped some unflattering Tottenhot pictures from their reprints.)

Actual people of differing ethnicity appear in Baum's books: The Woggle-Bug Book containing some regrettable freely done stereotypical depictions with unflattering dialect. However, not all depictions are quite so regrettable. Nux and Bryonia in The Boy Fortune Hunters series, despite suffering from Baum's tendency to give characters unfortunate dialects, are actually fine upstanding characters, and even proud-to-be-an-American Sam Steele holds them in high respect. Aunt Hyacinth in The Daring Twins has put the Daring children's welfare in a high priority, even though she really doesn't have to.

In Mary Louise in the Country, a shopkeeper reveals some poor opinions held in Baum's day:
"I take it you're one o' them new folks at the Kenton Place," he remarked.
"Yes," said she.
"Thought ther' was plenty o' dishes in that place," continued Mr. Jerrems, in a friendly tone. "But p'r'aps ye don't want the black folks t' eat off'n the same things ye do yerselves."
Mary Louise ignored this speech and selected the dishes she wanted.
 Here, Baum implies that Mary Louise doesn't appreciate this, and in the Mary Louise series, Aunt Sally and Uncle Eben are depicted rather positively. (Until Adopts A Soldier, but I don't believe that part was actually written by Baum.)

Baum's work for adults and the Boy Fortune Hunters series also contain a variety of peoples, but they must be treated as a product of their time: they are adventure stories that happen in other lands, only a few of which Baum actually visited. There are good and bad people of all types in these stories, including white people.

Thus, when it comes to Baum's fiction, we must understand that he was a product of his time: the concepts of "racism" or "politically correct" didn't exist, and if you wanted to make fun of another ethnic group, you could do so, and most other people would laugh. Many of the popular songs in The Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza contained ethnic humor and stereotypes, and even much later in 1925, Larry Semon's Wizard of Oz silent film contains black actor Spencer Bell, billed as "G. Howe Black," playing a character named Snowball who plays up more negative African-American stereotypes than you can shake a stick at.

Being an actor and scriptwriter, it is without question that Baum was well aware of this humor and would incorporate it into his work. Thus, while his work must be seen in the context in which it was originally written, overall it gets a free pass for not being exceptionally negative. Regrettable inclusions from a bygone age. Many fans would like to believe that Baum would be for equal standing for all if the wrongs of stereotyping and making fun of other ethnic groups were made clear to him. I can't help but think that his visit in Egypt had a hand in making him more appreciative of other cultures.

The source most people cite when criticizing Baum in this regard is a couple columns for his newspaper The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. In the first, dated December 20, 1890, Baum laments the death of Sitting Bull and states his belief that with Sitting Bull, so went any nobility the Sioux possessed. While blaming white people for this, he recommends that they might as well finish the job and kill the rest so they might not further damage the storied image of the Sioux.

This reads strangely for Baum, who never before or afterward suggested genocide (except for the Wooden Gargoyles). Some fans have suggested that he didn't write it. Others believe that it was meant sarcastically. I, on the other hand, have to accept that he was serious.

In Eric Gjovaag and John Bell's tackling of this topic, they point out that Baum was under a lot of stress at this time. His time in Aberdeen was coming to an end, a time that he had anticipated with wide-eyed optimism. He'd sunk a lot of money, work and time into making a home for his family in Aberdeen and had met with failure. After the closing of his store, Baum's Bazaar, he turned to running a newspaper. But business dwindled even further with the newspaper, and now his wife was pregnant with their fourth child. He was growing particularly argumentative, and slipped into one of the darkest moments of his life.

While I have never had the same type of stress Baum suffered, I can understand why he might suggest death to the Sioux. Likely Aberdeen citizens feared that if it wasn't for the army, they could be attacked and murdered by Indians at any moment. What Baum wrote (and restated January 3rd, 1891) is inexcusable, but it served its purpose at a time of widespread bigotry and fear of the Sioux.

While Baum seemed to fall on another hard time and lost the newspaper eventually, it prompted him to leave Aberdeen, which was certainly a good move for him given the state of mind he was in. It was what led him to Chicago to other opportunities, and eventually to the World's Fair with its splendid White City that appears to have inspired the Emerald City. The earliest inspirations for Oz began to pull Baum out of the bad place he'd fallen into.

In this context, this worst of all of Baum's works reveals that Baum was a very human man. For creating the Land of Oz, a place where everyone is welcome, we often put Baum on a pedestal, envisioning him to be the embodiment of those traits. But just like all of us, Baum had his faults. Writing a suggestion to exterminate the remaining Sioux was wrong, what Baum wrote was repugnant, but we must realize that he never did the same thing again. He had his reasons for feeling that foul when he wrote, but that does not stop it from being wrong: he did not allow any such feelings (if he held them, which some of his later work like "The Enchanted Buffalo" from Animal Fairy Tales suggest was not the case) to pervade his later works.

Thus, while what Baum wrote about the Sioux under a time of great personal stress and fear is very bad, it cannot be used to completely write him off as a "racist."

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Confusing Continuity of the Early History of Oz

Jared and guest Nathan DeHoff examine the early history of Oz as revealed in the Famous Forty Oz books. With a little bit of brains and a little help from Hugh Pendexter III, they lay out a timeline.

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

       

   
   
   
   
   
   

   
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Friday, March 15, 2013

'Dorothy of Oz': New Title, New Release Date

Happy Friday!

I'm happy to report that Oz the Great and Powerful is the #1 movie in the world right now!


It's doing so well at the box office that Disney is already working on a sequel, with the entire cast signed on to return, as well as the writer Mitchell Kapner and producer Joe Roth. It is unknown at this point whether or not Sam Raimi will direct the sequel, but I suspect that the show will go on with or without him. You can read more about the plans for the sequel here.

In other news, Summertime Entertainment has announced they, in conjunction with distributor Clarius Entertainment, will release Dorothy of Oz, now re-titled Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, in theaters and in 3-D early next year. It is unclear at this point exactly how wide of a release this will be, but my fingers are crossed! You can read the press release here. 


Below is a message from Summertime Entertainment posted on the film's Facebook page...
We'd like to thank our social media community for the support of our film. When we began this journey, we knew we were working on something magical, and your support has meant the world to us.

When we began working on this film, we did so under the name of our source material Dorothy of Oz, the wonderful book by Roger Stanton Baum. As we continued to develop the film, we also began working on many other exciting avenues in Oz which you'll hear about more in the coming months. We felt that we needed to change the film title to reflect that this is only the beginning of the journey, and our new name Legends of Oz will lead us forward for years to come. Our film Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return will be the starting point as we explore more corners of the wonderful world of Oz.

We hope you will join us on this journey, and are excited to continue sharing the road with you!

Sincerely,
Summertime Entertainment
In addition to this news, a virtual world based on the film, called Legends of Oz World, has launched... and it's pretty darn cool! Check it out here.


That's it for this week! If all goes as planned, next week, I will be able to share my interview with Legends of Oz producer Ryan Carroll.

How many times have you seen Oz the Great and Powerful and are you going to see it again this weekend? Let me know in the comments... if you want to. If not, that's cool, too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Keeping the Palace Running

As egalitarian as Ozma and her court might try to be, it is a sad fact that the palace staff is largely ignored, with the occasional exception of Ozma's personal maid Jellia Jamb. The most complete count of the staff appears in Ruth Plumly Thompson's The Lost King of Oz, which refers to "forty-nine courtiers, thirty-nine footmen, thirty-seven handmen, twenty-six serving maids, ten cooks and a flock of pages." The very next book, Hungry Tiger, mentions sixty-nine footmen working at Betsy Bobbin's birthday party, so this number might vary a bit. Also, when Glinda attends Ozma's party in Road, fifty servants wait upon her.

Few of the palace servants are ever named in the Famous Forty, although Wishing Horse does refer to two kitchen boys named Kapo and Iva. The Royal Gardener is named Lucion in a story fragment that might or might not have been written by L. Frank Baum. Other members of the palace staff are never given names but at least have official titles, like the Chief Steward who argues with Jim the Cab-Horse in Dorothy and the Wizard and the High Chamberlain who announces the guests in Road.

One apocryphal book that gives us a good look at the inner workings of the palace is Bill Campbell and Irwin Terry's Masquerade. Here, the Royal Cook is named Nonperril, and his assistants are Whisk, Beater, and Strainer. We also meet the staff of the laundry room: the Laundress with a scrub brush and a flatiron for hands, Washer with his washboard belly, and Ringer with his clothes-wringer body. I have to wonder if the three of them were born that way or had body parts replaced in the manner of the Tin Woodman.

There's also a Palace Washer Woman in Gilbert Sprague's Nome King's Shadow, although there's no indication that this one has unusual hands. She does, however, get together with the Royal Chef.

As for the cook himself, Hugh Pendexter's Wooglet names his Stovely, and has Ozma knight him for his role in defending the palace from pirates. In Marie Richardson's short story "Ghosts in Oz," the palace cook is female and everyone just calls her "Cook." I also remember an unfinished story by Alison McBain that named the cook Gar Banzo. It's interesting how many people have their own takes on a character who's only mentioned in the main series itself.

Friday, March 08, 2013

'Oz the Great and Powerful' - Angelo's Review


It's here!

Oz the Great and Powerful!

Since I had to see it as early as possible, I went and saw Oz the Great and Powerful at a late night screening on Thursday night. Just for the record, I did see the film in 3-D, just in case the viewing experience is slightly different when watching in 2-D. I saw it at a Cinemark XD theater, which has different projectors and sound systems than regular theaters. The screen was also HUGE (wall-to-wall).

I saw it again on Friday night, of course! The theater was packed, and the audience was really into it and invested in the story.

I tried my best to leave spoilers out of my review.

THE STORY
When small-time magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) pulls one flimflam too many, he finds himself hurled into the fantastical Land of Oz where he must somehow transform himself into the great wizard—and just maybe into a better man as well.
The story, written by Mitchell Kapner and later polished up by David-Lindsay Abbaire, is much stronger than one would expect from a family-friendly fntasy film.

Oz is set up as a prequel of sorts to the original Oz books, but is largely inspired by the classic Judy Garland film. There are several nods to that film, not only in the writing but also in the look of the film.

My only concern with the writing is that some of the pacing is kind of weird at times. The earlier scenes set in Oz seemed kind of rushed over and too short. Characters literally seem to be shouting exposition at us from the moment we get there. I think some of those ideas could've been executed a little better.

Other than that, the writing was excellent. The movie has a fun sense of humor that is reminiscent of Disney's Enchanted, and has a light-hearted tone that I think really works for this movie. If it took itself too seriously and was geared more like last year's Snow White and the Huntsman, I think it would've been harder to accept some of the story twists and whatnot.
  
THE LOOK & THE SOUND

The film begins in Kansas, 1905. The first part of this film is presented in black-and-white, mono sound, and in 4:3 aspect ratio. The 3-D also has less depth to it than in the rest of the movie. 

The cinematography, done by Peter Deming, is one of the best parts of this film!

Once we're in Oz, the screen seamlessly stretches into widescreen, surround-sound, and color simultaneously. The 3-D is very effective from the moment we enter Oz, and is worth the price of admission! There are few films that I can honestly say had really good 3-D. This one did! There were definitely a couple of 'gimmicky' moments with the 3-D where it kind of feels like they're throwing things at the screen just to excite the kiddos, but it works and is fun for the older viewers, too.

Robert Stromberg was the production designer for this film, and the sets are amazing. There is, obviously, quite a bit of CGI in this film, but the majority of the sets were actually built, which kind of grounds the movie and makes it all more believable. The costumes, designed by Gary Jones, are equally impressive and detailed. The only one that I had a bit of an issue with was the iconic Wicked Witch's costume, which I think had a little too much cleavage for this kind of movie.

The score was composed by Danny Elfman, and is very original and fun. A particular piece of music played during the opening credits and also several times later in the film is one of the highlights of the score. I'm not sure if the score makes as big of an impact on the film as it did in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, but it's still some very nice music. There is one song in this film, sung by Munchkins, that I really think was a missed opportunity. It's not really funny, nor is it catchy like the songs Elfman has written for other films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is a shame, because Oz in general is a very musical place!

Sam Raimi is a brilliant director, and did a fantastic job at bringing Oz to life for a new generation. Bravo to Sam and his team!

THE CAST & CHARACTERS

The Wizard
 
When we first meet Oz, played by James Franco, he's not exactly the character you would expect for a protagonist in a movie like this. He's a magician in a traveling circus, who basically makes a living off of trickery and deceit. I think Glinda sums up his character perfectly later in the film...
"I can also tell you're weak, selfish, slightly egotistical, and a fibber."
James Franco does a fantastic job at portraying this character. He's funny and sarcastic, and really does well. I admittedly had my doubts about his performance going into it, but was pleasantly surprised here.
  
The Witches

Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, is one of my favorite characters in the film. The moment she encounters Oz, she is convinced that he is the one who will save Oz, and that she will be his queen! I really love how she sees things and reacts to people. Her performance is very charming and emulates the spirit of the characters in the Judy Garland film.
"I knew it! The king's prophecy was true."
Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, is brilliant in this film. She reminds me of classic Disney villains like Maleficent in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. She loves the fact that she's wicked, and she loves hearing people say it. She's fearless. Well, almost. She is terrified that a wicked witch will take the throne and destroy her.
"It's nice, isn't it? How clear it all is..."
Glinda, played by Michelle Williams, is such a great character here. She's not bubbly and shallow like Glinda in Wicked; instead she sees the best in Oz and everyone, and does anything to protect the people in her kingdom. In this film, Glinda is the Witch of the South, as in the original books. She channels Billie Burke's iconic performance at times, but does a great job of making her someone genuine, real, and not perfect.

Also, watch for an appearance by Michelle Williams in the Kansas sequence!
"Maybe you're capable of more than you know."
The identity of the infamous green witch that will ultimately become the Wicked Witch of the West is not revealed to viewers until the end of the second act of the film. I'm not sure her transformation is executed all that well, and the reason that the film presents for the transformation is a bit cliche. Nevertheless, the character is portrayed brilliantly, and the actress playing her does a great job!
"Soon, the yellow brick road will be red with the blood of every Tinker, every farmer, and every Munchkin in your kingdom."

The Sidekicks

The sidekicks are great in this film, even if they're not the trio that audiences loved in the Judy Garland film.

Zach Braff plays two characters. In the Kansas sequence, he plays Oz's unappreciated assistant, Frank. It's a very charming performance, and Zach Braff pulls it off well. I like how his Kansas character behaves in a similar way as his character in Oz. And when the film ends, I think it's nice how it feels like a happy ending for both characters in a way.

In Oz, Zach Braff provides the voice for Finley, a talking flying monkey that Oz and Theodora encounter on their way to the Emerald City. Oz saves Finley's life, and Finley promises to serve Oz forever as a way to thank him. Finley provides a lot of laughs in the film, and is a great character. The animation is done very well with this character, and after awhile, you don't even notice that he's animated!
"Oh, I see. I'm a monkey, so I must love bananas, right? That is a vicious stereotype!"
Like Zach Braff, Joey King also plays two characters in the film. In Kansas, King plays a young, paralyzed girl who believes in Oz's magic with all her heart, and asks him to make her walk. It's kind of heartbreaking to watch this scene, and even though she only has a few lines in this part of the film, Joey King is fantastic for her age!

In Oz, King provides the voice for China Girl, who is... a girl made of china. When Oz encounters her, her legs have been destroyed. Her town was destroyed by a wicked witch when they were celebrating the Wizard's arrival. This is another heartbreaking scene, and of course, it really channels King's role in the Kansas sequence. She also provides a lot of laughs, and is so adorable.
"Let's go get ourselves a witch!"

Other Characters

Other characters in the film include an elderly Tinker played by Bill Cobbs, a hilarious Munchkin named Knuck played by Tony Cox, and a young woman in Kansas in love with Oz named May played by Abigail Spencer. All are played charmingly, and my favorite of this bunch is Knuck. He's very sarcastic and fun.
"That's not my name. My name is Knuck!"

THE VERDICT

Oz the Great and Powerful may be a bit simplistic, but like the classic film, it delivers all around and there's something here for everyone. The second time I saw it, I went with an eight year old boy, and two fifteen year old girls. We all loved the movie for different reasons, which I think is a true testament to the fact this is solid entertainment worthy of its title.

Pack up your family, slip on your 3-D glasses (and ruby slippers), and you are off to see the Wizard!

★★★★ (4 out of 4 stars)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

See the Wizard!

In a couple hours, I'll be in the theater, getting ready to see Oz the Great and Powerful. There hasn't been a new Oz movie on the big screen in Springfield since 1985. (They have screened MGM's The Wizard of Oz.)

I'm excited to say the least! I've read a couple books for the film. One was the Junior Novelization, which tells the story of the movie, which had a horrible writing style and is likely skipping many details we Oz fans look for. Where's Joan D. Vinge when you need her? Basically, I'd guessed at much of the plot already, but to be honest, I did think it was a good story. Now I look forward to seeing it in its pure form. (I read it to get a head start on an article I'm writing for the Baum Bugle.)

I also bought The Art of Oz the Great and Powerful and read through it. It has a section dedicated to Baum and they mention Denslow a lot, but don't mention John R. Neill or that Baum and Denslow parted ways. It neglects mentioning that Baum wrote works under pseudonyms, and among a "sextet" of books published in 1911 and 1912 that failed to generate good sales, Our Married Life and Johnson are mentioned alongside the Trot and Daring Twins books, despite the fact that they were never published at all, and their manuscripts are lost. However, I'll give them credit for referring to the Daring Twins books and a generally factually sound biography. They must have just looked at a list of Baum's works. Sometimes, I just have to accept that not everyone knows as much about Baum as I do.

Overall, the book is basically a "making of" for the movie, focusing on the set, costume design and visual effects with some interviews, including a few of the cast. There's plenty of concept art and behind-the-scenes photos.

Some on-set photos I thought could just as easily be pictures from Oz books. Sometimes Zach Braff and Joey King (who voice CG characters in Oz and inspired the animation for them) were actually on set, so you see a guy dressed as the Wizard with two people in average modern attire. (The Wizard just isn't as old as Baum told us.)

I'd suggest picking this book up, if such things catch your fancy. I don't think we'll see many behind the scenes books for this or later Oz movies.

Typically, the two things I pick up for a movie are the soundtrack and the movie itself on home video. Intrada is selling the score for the movie on CD on their website, and I think I'll get it. I am a little concerned. Ryan Jay mentioned that the music was the weakest part of the movie in his opinion, and I was less than pleased with Mariah Carey's song to close the film called "Almost Home."

Oz has a wonderful legacy of music since 1902, including the music of Paul Tietjens and Louis F. Gottschalk, the MGM film's score and songs, the score of Disney's Return to Oz, and many wonderful songs from The Wiz and Wicked. Even Tin Man had a very distinctive score. Even low-budget projects wound up with great songs, such as Capitol Records' adaptation of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Rankin-Bass' Return to Oz, Dorothy in the Land of Oz, and many others. (Today I had "We're Off To Oz" from The Wonderful Galaxy of Oz in my head.)

To present a score that isn't distinctive for Oz after all of this great music is rather disappointing. Especially when you consider it's Danny Elfman, who's created many iconic themes. But my opinion might differ from others.

So, I'm off to see the Wizard... In half an hour.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Somewhere Over The Rainbow... There's A Problem...

As Disney releases their new movie Oz the Great and Powerful, people remember MGM's classic film The Wizard of Oz. What a wonderful movie, right? I mean, you have an amazing cast, incredible songs, production design that still holds up today. Sure, sometimes you spot a small flaw like when you suddenly see Dorothy wearing black shoes, but it doesn't break the enticing spell the movie weaves.

But you know what it doesn't have?

Completely flawless storytelling.

To be honest, a lot of movies suffer from this. Even Citizen Kane has a critical plot hole. (Who heard him say "Rosebud?") So, while we look at these issues, remember, we love the movie, but we're not so in love to completely turn a blind eye to its flaws.

WHAT WAS THE LESSON AGAIN? 

So, when Glinda tells Dorothy that she needed to learn the secret for herself, what lesson is she talking about? When Dorothy awakes in Kansas at the end of the movie, she promises never to leave again. By this, we assume she means she won't run away from home. All she needs (at the supposed age of twelve, though let's face it, Judy was definitely not twelve) is at home.

So yes, Dorothy learns not to run away from home... at the beginning of the movie. Remember when Professor Marvel tells Dorothy that Aunt Em is sick? And she hurries back home? Yeah, I'd say she got the idea back then... Speaking of which...

"POOR LITTLE KID, HOPE SHE GETS HOME ALL RIGHT"

When Dorothy leaves Professor Marvel, he notices a storm brewing. Why didn't it occur to him that Dorothy might be far away from home and might not make it to shelter in time? Of course, he just fed her a hokum story to make her go back to Aunt Em, but still, you just sent a little girl off on her own during a storm. Why not just admit you made it up, convince her to wait out the storm with you, then send her back home? After all, at the end he pops up at the Gale's farm to check on Dorothy, so it couldn't have been too much trouble to go over there.
 SURE, I'M A GOOD WITCH! JUST ASK MY PAROLE OFFICER.

The first person Dorothy meets in Oz is Glinda, who says she's the Witch of the North. However, when Dorothy says that she's never heard of a beautiful witch before, Glinda explains that only bad witches are ugly. Having previously asked Dorothy if she was a good witch or a bad witch, we might assume that Glinda is saying that she's a good witch.

Or does she? Who calls Glinda the Good Witch of the North? The impressionable Dorothy.

At the end, Glinda arrives to tell Dorothy that she can use the Ruby Slippers to get home. The Scarecrow speaks for all of us when he says "Why didn't you tell her before?"

"Because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself."

"What have you learned, Dorothy?"

Let's not go over that again...

Cracked.com has an article that goes so far as to call Glinda "The Greatest Movie Villain Ever." Angelo points out that the musical Wicked offers explanations for Glinda's actions, putting her back in a more sympathetic light, but that's an interpretation outside of the movie. And why wouldn't Dorothy believe a woman who travels around in a big pink bubble? Because after seeing that, clicking your heels three times and saying "There's no place like home" is too much of a stretch of the imagination to even try out?

And did the Ruby Slippers even work? After all, as Dorothy clicks her heels and repeats the famous line, Glinda is seen waving her wand over Dorothy's head. Why does she need to do this?

Glinda, you make no sense. You should have just told Dorothy that you were the Morally Ambiguous Witch of the North.

SHE'LL STILL GET YOUR LITTLE DOG, TOO

At the beginning of the movie, Dorothy is running away from Miss Gulch, who says Toto bit her on the leg. As such, she uses her sway with the Sheriff to get an order allowing her to take Toto away to be "destroyed." Toto of course escapes Miss Gulch, but Dorothy realizes that Miss Gulch will be back, so she runs away from home. (Worst idea ever, kiddo, sorry.)

Dorothy meets Professor Marvel who makes Dorothy realize that she loves Aunt Em more than Toto, so she goes back home, where she is knocked out by a window pane hitting her in the head. When Dorothy recovers at the end, no one says a word about Miss Gulch and Toto's still there.

Now, it's possible that the family will now try to fight to save Toto for Dorothy, or that Miss Gulch was killed during the tornado, or that Miss Gulch and the Sheriff have bigger things to worry about given a tornado just came through, but the movie offers no answer. For all we know, right after we fade to black to go to "The End," Miss Gulch could arrive with the Sheriff and it's bye-bye, Toto. (I prefer to think that the Sheriff doesn't want to deal with this now, but again, that's an interpretation.)

Monday, March 04, 2013

Looking for Oz in All the Wrong Places

Where is Oz located?

Of course, Oz isn't really anywhere, being a made-up country, but what fun is that? L. Frank Baum wrote of Oz as being just as real as the United States, or whatever other country a reader might live in or have visited. So is it on our globe, and if so, where?

Unfortunately, there isn't really a consensus on this between books. If you look at the very first book, Dorothy is blown there in a tornado, and the Wizard recounts how he was blown there in a balloon. He seems to think that the desert is the only thing separating Oz from more familiar lands, as when he tells Dorothy, "But the first thing to do is to cross the desert, and then it should be easy to find your way home."

Indeed, it's possible from what we're told in the first two books that Oz could be located somewhere on the American continent, and that is indeed where Magic Land is in Alexander Volkov's books. Within Baum, though, we soon learn of other fairy countries surrounding Oz, and Dorothy reaches the Land of Ev in Ozma of Oz while voyaging on a ship to Australia. That suggests a location in the Pacific Ocean, and indeed that probably fits with the most other references, as I mentioned here and here.

How would a tornado have been able to cross the ocean, though? In future books, there are many other ways in which characters reach Oz or its neighbors from mundane countries. Sometimes it's instantaneous magical transportation, but other times it's less clear. Here are some other examples of the less clear transportation:
  • Dorothy and the Wizard - The buggy carrying Dorothy and the balloon carrying the Wizard both descend into a fissure in the ground in California and end up in the Vegetable Kingdom, shown on the maps as below Boboland. Also, it may be relevant that the Braided Man, another resident of the surface who ended up underground, used to manufacture imported holes for American Swiss cheese.
  • Nelebel's Fairyland - After being exiled from Burzee (shown on maps as being south of Oz), Nelebel sails eastward across the ocean and ends up in California.
  • John Dough and the Cherub - A Fourth of July firework rocket takes John Dough to the Isle of Phreex.
  • Tik-Tok - The Nome King somehow abducts the Shaggy Man's brother while he's working in a mine in Colorado. Whether or not magical transportation was involved isn't specified. Betsy Bobbin and Hank are shipwrecked while sailing somewhere unspecified (Greg Hunter's "Betsy Bobbin in Oz" says England) and wash ashore in the Rose Kingdom.
  • Scarecrow - After being caught in a whirlpool in the Pacific, Cap'n Bill and Trot are rescued by mermaids and taken to a cave. From there, they travel underground to Pessim's Island, then through the air to Mo. The Ork, who is carrying them, says that the island on which Mo and Oz are located is "almost a continent," and later confirms that it's near his own home of Orkland.
  • Grampa - After coming to life, Bill the Weather-Cock flies from Illinois to Oz during a storm.
  • Gnome King - A Balloon Bird takes Peter Brown from Philadelphia to the Nonestic Ocean.
  • Giant Horse - Benny falls in a hole in Boston and ends up outside the Emerald City. This is almost certainly a case of magical transportation, since there's no other suggestion in the series that Oz is underground, but since it isn't specifically identified as such I'm including this anyway.
  • Yellow Knight - A rocket bores into the ground on Long Island and ends up in Subterranea. In order to escape there, Speedy uses the Parashuter, which bores another hole in the earth that ends in Oz.
  • Pirates - Peter blows off a yacht during a hurricane near Cape Hatteras, and floats to the Octagon Isle. Later, King Ato fears that the airborne Crescent Moon will "shoot straight out of this Imagi-Nation."
  • Speedy - After running into Loxo in the Quadling Country, Umbrella Island comes close enough to Yellowstone National Park for Speedy and Terrybubble to be blown there by a geyser.
  • Wonder City - Within four days, Jenny Jump flies from New Jersey to Oz.
  • Lucky Bucky - A boiler explosion blows Bucky Jones from a tugboat in New York Harbor to the Nonestic.
  • Hidden Valley - The Collapsible Kite takes Jam from Ohio to Oz.
  • Merry Go Round - Robin Brown and the horse he's riding are separated from the carousel and thrown through the air to Oz.
  • Yankee - Tompy Terry reaches Oz via hurricane, and Yankee via space capsule. The dog proposes that Oz is on a level between Earth and space, and it's suggested but not thoroughly confirmed that he's right. When Jinnicky's Jinrikisha takes the two home, it passes South America before getting to the States.
  • Enchanted Island - A tunnel, presumably in Pennsylvania, takes David Perry and Humpty Bumpty to Oz. They're aided by a wish on a magic button, but there's no obvious sign of instantaneous transportation. Also, the button itself somehow lands in Pennsylvania while taking Kapurta from the Nonestic to the sky above the Winkie Country, which is difficult to explain.
There are many other sorts of transportation involved in apocryphal books, but I see no need to go through all of them. One that I do find particularly interesting, however, is George Van Buren's short story "Zimbo and the Magic Amulet," in which the Pillars of Hercules provide transportation between the fairy and mundane worlds.

Another short one, Timothy Perper and Martha Cornog's "A Side View of the Nonestic Islands," has an American military expedition over the Pacific discover Oz with radar. As far as physical location goes, the Pacific does seem fairly likely, but there are other references that show transportation from the Atlantic to the Nonestic.

It's probably worth noting that many of the instances listed occur during severe weather or explosions, which could provide a cover or conduit for some sort of magic. Even weighing all the evidence, it's unlikely we'll ever find it without some sort of magical assistance.

As the Scarecrow tells his grandchildren in Royal Book, "Not on the map--Oz? Of course it's not. Do you suppose we want all the humans in creation coming there?"

Friday, March 01, 2013

One Week Until Oz the Great and Powerful!

So. Excited.

Before we get into all of the Oz the Great and Powerful news, I'd like to mention that L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is doing a weekly web-series called "Creating Kansas." New episodes will be uploaded to YouTube on Fridays, and you can check out the first one here.

The Wicked Witch of the West is gracing the cover of this week's issue of Entertainment Weekly, which hit shelves today. Read more about it here.


Some very cool set footage (called "B-roll footage") has been released, and it's definitely worth a looksie, I'd say. But, be warned, there are some potential spoilers present. You can watch the B-roll footage here.

A five-minute preview of the film with lots of new footage has been released. The only bad thing about it is... it's in German. But, there's not much dialogue here, so it's still enjoyable and the visuals are fantastic. Check that out here.

A fun new clip from the film has been released, which you can watch here!

You can watch a nice new TV spot for the movie here.

Several new hi-res stills from the film have been released, which you can check out here.

Fandango is offering some neat limited edition giftcards with Oz characters on them. Take a look at them here.

A ton of on-set interviews have been uploaded to YouTube, you can shuffle through them all at the specified links below...
Disney has added a bunch of Oz merchandise to Zazzle.com this week, including mousepads, shirts, and posters. You can take a look at what they've got right here.

The Hollywood Reporter has done a fantastic write-up on the making of the movie, which you can check out here.


Exclusive Oz the Great and Powerful merchandise will be available at Disney theme parks soon! The exclusive line of merchandise will include t-shirts, Vinylmation figures, and iPhone cases. Read more about them over at the Disney Parks blog.

Speaking of Disney theme parks, Oz-inspired art is coming to Disneyland's Downtown Disney District! Read more about the artwork and the artist here.

That's it for this week. Next week's blog will feature my review of the film! As mentioned before, I got tickets to a Thursday night screening, so I am very excited about that. Let me know in the comments section if you're planning anything special for next weekend!