Monday, July 28, 2014

The Oz Movies That Could Have Been

We've gotten some Oz movies in the past couple of years, most notably Oz the Great and Powerful and Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, but there are several projects that almost were...

In 2002, Warner Bros. announced it was developing Surrender Dorothy with Drew Barrymore set to direct from a screenplay by Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction). It was planned as a modern Earth-centric film similar to The Witches of Oz and Once Upon A Time that would have followed Dorothy's granddaughter, possibly played by Barrymore, learning to use the Ruby Slippers to defeat a new wicked witch. It was briefly revived in 2010, but never made it out of development.

In 2003, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Carribean) greenlit a film based on a video game that American McGee (Alice: The Madness Returns) was developing. The live-action film, simply titled Oz, would have been the first in a trilogy, and would serve as a prequel of sorts, focusing on a "reluctant male hero" instead of Dorothy. Kevin and Dan Hageman (The Lego Movie) wrote the first draft, which was rewritten by an unhappy McGee. The video game was never released, and the film was cancelled due to unknown "creative differences" with Disney. A couple of action figures were made, and pop up on eBay every now and then. 

In 2007, Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow announced that they were in development on Oz: The Return to Emerald City, a modern but family-friendly sequel to the 1939 film that would've focused on Dorothy's granddaughter returning to Oz to stop the witch Mombi from destroying magic. The screenplay was written in 2008 by Josh Olson (A History of Violence), and leaked online in 2010.

In 2008, Dark Oz, based on the long-running Caliber Comics series, was optioned by Pras Michel, who briefly intended to produce and star in the first in a planned trilogy. Pearry Teo (The Gene Generation) was soon attached to direct from a screenplay by Aaron Denenberg. Teo and Michel dropped out by 2009, and Denenberg adapted his screenplay into a novel titled Dark Oz: Of Courage and Witchcraft. Framelight Productions acquired the rights to the project in early 2010, but the film never made it past development. 

In late 2008, John Boorman (Zardoz) signed on to direct a CGI adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that was to be produced by French studio Action Synthese, with Ron Mita (Robots) and Jim McClain (S.WA.T.) serving as screenwriters. Though an animation test and several pieces of concept art were completed, Boorman confirmed in 2011 that the project fell apart due to lack of funding. You can see the animation test here.

In 2009, Vanguard Animation, the studio behind Happily N'Ever After and Space Chimps, snapped up the rights to Oz Wars, penned by Robert Moreland and Athena Gam. It was planned as an edgy, action-packed stop-motion/CGI hybrid film, and in late 2010, Mark Johnson (Corpse Bride) signed on to direct. The film never made it into production, but the script and some artwork were leaked online at some point.

In early 2010, Warner Bros. set Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) to pen the screenplay for Oz, a faithful live-action adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz intended to be the the first in a series of films, a la Harry Potter. The film was being developed by New Line Cinema and Wyck Godfrey at Temple Hill Entertainment, the studio behind the Twilight films. It's my understanding that the screenplay was never completed, and that the project was thrown out rather quickly.

In mid-2010, a mysterious teaser consisting of test footage for Oz, directed by brothers Michael and Mark Polish (Twin Falls Idaho), appeared online. Some media outlets reported that MGM was behind the film, while others dismissed the whole thing as a hoax. The teaser was removed from YouTube by the end of the year, and if the project was ever truly alive in the first place, it was seemingly dead at this point.

In late 2010, with Disney already in pre-production on Oz the Great and Powerful, Warner Bros. tried one last time to get an Oz project off the ground; this time, a straightforward remake of the 1939 film. The studio approached Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) to direct, but Zemeckis declined and thankfully, the studio did not approach anyone else to take on the daunting task of remaking the most beloved film of all time.

In 2011, Gigiapix Studios began developing OZ3D, a comedic animated musical from Starz Animation Toronto/Arc Productions, and the creative team behind Gnomeo and Juliet. Rob Silvestri was attached direct from a screenplay by Connor Pritchard (Workaholics). The film made it into pre-production, with concept artwork appearing around the internet over the next year. But in 2013, all work on the project came to a scandalous halt, as Gigapix was sued for $1.2 million and the producers were arrested for investment fraud.

Time will tell if Oz the Great and Powerful 2 and the Legends of Oz sequels, The Oz Odyssey and The Green Star of Oz, will one day be added to this list... 


Mark R Hunter said...

I can't help thinking Oz fans are better off that some of those never made it to production ...

Sam said...

I honestly think ALL of those proposed Oz films stink (and worse), especially the modern/dark "edgy" ones (that "Dark OZ" poster also appears to be fan-made to me, as it uses and silhouettes an Emerald City I still remember from long ago).

The BEST one is of course the John Boorman CG version . . . maybe closely followed by the Polish brothers' attempt.

But the CG fantasy would have been the BEST!
Sure there's the idea of that "faithful series" with New Line and Darren Lemke ... but why should WB think they can be in charge of the public domain Oz?

Anonymous said...

There is also this wannabe URFIN DZHUS film:

Nathan said...

I would have liked to see Drew Barrymore in an Oz film, just not THAT one. She looks so much like one of Neill's girls.

Mark R Hunter said...

Agreed, Barrymore would have fit in well.

Sam said...

There was also going to be a hand-animated, non-musical, FAITHFUL retelling of the original book that followed the Denslow designs (though Doorthy was blonde there) by the late Rob Roy MacVeigh . . . would LOVE to have seen that one, most of all, too!