Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Wizard of Oz's 80th Anniversary: What Do We Want & What Can We Expect?

The Wizard of Oz (the MGM movie, that is) will be eighty years old in 2019. Warner Bros. commemorated its 70th and 75th anniversaries with home video and theatrical re-releases as well as a variety of merchandise, promotional events, and collectible offerings. Given that the 75th anniversary of the film was mostly celebrated in 2013, almost a full year before its actual anniversary, it's time to start thinking about what might be in store for the 80th anniversary. What do we want to see that we haven't seen before? What don't we want to see? And what can we expect to see come 2018 and 2019? All good questions.

Let's start with what we can expect to see from the Brothers Warner. It's pretty much a lock at this point that the next home video re-release will include 4K ("Ultra HD") Blu-ray. The format has certainly become more popular in the years since the 75th anniversary release, and we know for a fact that such a print of the film (in 8K resolution, actually) already exists. The question, though, is whether or not the 80th anniversary release will include Blu-ray 3D as well. I'm quite the advocate for the format and for 3D in general, but the reality is that I'm in the minority there. 3D TVs are no longer being made, and it's becoming less and less of a certainty that every major home video release will include Blu-ray 3D, even if it was previously available in that format. The latest home video release of Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast, for example, does not include Blu-ray 3D, even though the one prior (the "Diamond" edition) did.

I think it's also worth mentioning that the MGM film's 80th anniversary will nearly coincide (if all goes to plan) with the release of the long-awaited Wicked movie, which is currently slated for December 20, 2019. Since Wicked will likely be in public consciousness even more so than usual, I wouldn't be surprised to see the witches, especially the Wicked Witch, front and center in whatever merchandise and promotional material comes along with The Wizard of Oz's 80th anniversary. (The packaging of the 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD, for example, was clearly inspired by Wicked, which makes sense given the popularity of the musical at that time.)

Okay, so we've established that I (and at least a handful of other Oz fans that I know of) would like for the film to continue to be available in 3D. But what else do we (I) want?

On the home video front, I'd like to see the next release focus on quality over quantity, especially in terms of physical extras. The 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition included far too many unsubstantial "collectible" items, presumably to justify a high price point. Sure, the photo book is nice, but what purpose does it have when a better, more comprehensive companion book is available separately? The pins are nice, too, but their inclusion in a home video box set makes little sense. The Ruby Slipper "sparkler globe" and Wicked Witch of the East flash drive are even more out of place here and are so cheaply made that they're by no means worthy of the adjective "collectible."


The physical extras included with the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, in my opinion, were generally of higher quality than those included with the 75th, but still I question the reason for including something like a wristwatch in a home video release. It's true that a shiny, bulky box set looks nicer and more "collectible" on the shelf, but I'd like for what's inside to feel less like things you'd put in a Christmas stocking.

In terms of bonus features, I'd definitely like to see everything from the previous releases carried over to this one. I feel like Disney has been shortchanging consumers by re-releasing many of its titles with less bonus features than previous home video releases, and I'd hate for Warner Bros. to do the same here. I'm glad to see that the Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic has recently been made available on its own after being excluded from the 75th anniversary release, but yes, I think it should absolutely be included in the next release.

I'm actually pretty happy with the various featurettes and documentaries that Warner Bros. has put together over the years, but I wouldn't mind seeing a new one that delves a bit deeper into Oz outside of the 1939 film (spanning the books, other adaptations, the Oz community, etc.). I think a Judy Garland-centric documentary of some sort could be interesting and would appeal to a lot of people, too.


Essentially all previous releases of the film have included "Outtakes and Deleted Scenes," but I think these are worth taking another stab at for the next release. The "Over the Rainbow" reprise and the "Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead" reprise have been paired with stills and behind-the-scenes photos, but the images are of very poor quality, and they even suffer from some bizarre digital distortion that's difficult to describe but results in portions of the image being duplicated in random places. (See here and here.) I'm fairly sure that I've seen those images elsewhere without that problem, so I don't think it would be too difficult to correct.

The famously deleted musical sequence "The Jitterbug" was incorporated into the direct-to-video animated film Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, which has brought out curiosity among fans about the possibility of recreating some of the many deleted scenes from the original film with animation or, at the very least, storyboards/animatics. It's definitely not something that we need to have, but it would be fun to see what these scenes could have looked like. Maybe each one could have a brief introduction (by someone like John Fricke or TCM's Ben Mankiewicz) to provide a little context?

Ted Esbaugh's Wizard of Oz cartoon has been included in every home video release of the 1939 film since at least 2005, but since the 75th anniversary release, it has been restored in high-definition and released in a collection of similar animated short films by a company called Thunderbean Animation, dubbed Technicolor Dreams and Black and White Nightmares. I personally do not own this collection, but from what I've seen and heard of it from people who do, it's a pretty substantial upgrade in terms of quality. (You can check out Jared's review of that here, which includes some screenshots for comparison.) I don't think it's necessary to do, but I think it would be nice to see the restored version of that cartoon on the 80th anniversary release. It's just a matter of whether or not Warner Bros. is willing to spend a little extra money to make that happen.

I'll admit that I personally don't watch the DVD discs since I can watch the movie either on Blu-ray or digitally, but it would be nice if Warner Bros. put in a little extra effort and created new DVD menus, which have not changed since the 2005 release. They don't have to be anything too special, but they should at least reflect the packaging and overall branding for the 80th anniversary.

On the subject of branding, a complaint that I and many other Oz fans have had in recent years is the lack of quality in the artwork used for the film's merchandise, packaging, and promotional material. This isn't exactly a new problem with Warner Bros. in my opinion, but I do think it's gotten worse as of late, and I really would like to see improvement in this area come the 80th anniversary. I'd be happy as a clam at high tide if I never had to see these stiff, garish, and overused digital recreations of the cast again. Eeesh. (Ever heard about The Uncanny Valley? Yeah, this 2017 calendar is exemplary of that.)

The film is still aired on television several times each year as it has been for decades, but how nice would it be for this to be approached more as a "television event" than it has been in recent years? Warner Bros. could strike a deal with a major network like NBC or CBS to air the film, perhaps accompanied by some sort of special, exclusive content along the lines of what TCM often does, serving up some legitimate trivia and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Regardless, I think we can all agree that the film deserves more respect than the ridiculous ad campaign that TBS delivered when it aired the film last year...


At the end of the day, I think what we all want is for Warner Bros. to treat the film, and its fans, with respect (which isn't to say that they've necessarily failed to do so in the past). Most of us will continue to shell out the money for new collectibles and home video releases, but that loyalty shouldn't be taken for granted. Quality over quantity, always. (I'm looking at you, too, Hallmark...)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Oz News

It's been awhile since I blogged here about something besides the podcast... But I have some updates.

First is a sad one as late last month, we learned that Robin Olderman had passed away. I heard later that she had her family nearby and knew it was coming. I'm sure she also knew the good wishes of her friends in the Oz community were with her.

Robin was a lifelong Oz fan and longtime member of the International Wizard of Oz Club, who told me when I interviewed her for the podcast that when she first saw the MGM Wizard of Oz, she said aloud "That's not right!" in the theater when Glinda introduced herself as the Good Witch of the North. She wrote many pieces for The Baum Bugle and served as editor for Oziana for several years, even writing a few pieces for it.

But Robin made a lot of friends, particularly at Oz events and conventions. During my years at Winkie Con/Oz Con International, she attended every year. I've heard how she would "adopt" some friends and become very close with them. Her friendship with Oz artist Rob Roy MacVeigh was legendary enough that the two were immortalized as a caveman and his wife by Dick Martin in his Ozmapolitan of Oz.

At OzCon 2015, she happened to attend a video screening room I had provided a DVD of short Oz subjects to be shown. Part of them was my color tinting of the 1910 Wonderful Wizard of Oz film, and she later told me she enjoyed my treatment of the film. During our live commentary of Return to Oz with a handful of the cast and crew, Robin whispered her own commentary to me. It was this that led me to ask her to appear on the podcast, which I'm glad I did as it preserved her voice for other fans to hear. My title "Robin Olderman Spills The Beans" came directly from the candid nature of her conversation. She'll be missed.

We also have some home video news. If you recall, we noted that 2013's home video editions of MGM's The Wizard of Oz dropped the classic documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, hosted by Angela Lansbury. It had been replaced with a new documentary, and seemingly, producer Jack Haley Jr. even sued about it as the new documentary seemed to derive content from the old one, plus with it dropped, no royalties were being paid any further, and with it no longer being a bonus feature, there were not many other avenues for it to be released.

Well, Warner Brothers seems to have rectified this with a solo release of the documentary on DVD in the Warner Archive collection, the manufacture on demand branch of Warner Home Video for titles with limited market appeal. It complements the special features very well, even with some repetition. Anyone with a DVD or Blu-Ray of MGM's The Wizard of Oz from 1999, 2005 or 2009 (with the exception of some DVD editions) already has it, though I'm sure that there are collectors who will pick up this release regardless.

Discotek—a home video producer specializing in anime and other Japan-originated properties—will finally be releasing the complete Wonderful Wizard of Oz anime series from PanMedia, using Cinar's English version to home video on August 29. No preorders are live. I am curious of the disc count of the DVD edition, as there are 52 episodes. However, they will also release it on SDBD: Standard Definition Blu-Ray, a Blu-Ray disc that uses DVD quality video (usually because no higher quality version can be made), but can take advantage of the large capacity of a Blu-Ray to hold a lot more content, which could easily fit all 52 episodes on a single dual-layer disc with a good amount of space left for some modest bonuses, which haven't been announced either.

The series has a lot of fans, so I know many people will be glad to hear that the English version is available on physical home video at last.

Diskotek has also released the first episode of the series in Japanese with English subtitles to YouTube, reportedly to "gauge interest." Whether this affects the home video edition or if they're considering somehow also releasing a Japanese language version with English subtitles, I'd suggest fans give it a watch or two, drop a like on YouTube, and share it with their friends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz celebrates L. Frank Baum's birthday!

The Royal Podcast of Oz presents two installments for L. Frank Baum's birthday this year.

Jay tells us of the life of L. Frank Baum, with some commentary from Sam. Afterward, they discuss their sources. Then the Royal Podcast of Oz finishes presenting tales from Little Wizard Stories of Oz with "Ozma and the Little Wizard" to celebrate L. Frank Baum's birthday. When Ozma discovers some troublesome imps in Oz, the Wizard puts his magic to work to stop them.

Make sure to listen all the way to the end!

The cast includes Mike Conway, Doug Wall, Kim McFarland, Severino Milazzo and Sam Milazzo.

You can listen and download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the players and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services that mirror these.



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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Off to Oz!

As I'm sure many of our readers already know, I'm really passionate about writing and filmmaking, and I'm currently studying film in college. One of my favorite things about being here is being able to collaborate with my brother Andrew Thomas, a super talented animator and illustrator.

Late last year, I edited and created the visual effects for his short film Chasing Christmas, which was an official selection of the 2017 Columbus International Film & Video Festival. (You can check that out by clicking here.)

I'm now excited to share our latest collaborative effort, Off to Oz, directed and animated by my brother and written and edited by yours truly. The animated short film is, of course, inspired by Oz and is actually based on one of my favorite moments in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Jonathan Walter, who composed the music for Chasing Christmas as well as for my short film adaptation of The Night Before Christmas, provided the original music for the film. 

We're very proud of and happy with how it turned out, and I hope everyone enjoys watching it as much we enjoyed making it!

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Movies of Oz - The Oz Kids: The Return of Mombi

Jay and Sam discuss the finale of the Oz Kids series: Mombi the witch regains her power and sets to take over Oz! How can the Oz Kids defeat her without their parents? What is the Oz Kids chronology? All this, plus a capsule review of The Wizard of Oz on Ice.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services that mirror these. 



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Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Oz Kids - The Monkey Prince

Jay and Sam reach the penultimate Oz Kids episode in which the kids go to China to assist a Monkey Prince learn an important lesson. ... We think...

Check out the Extra Butter Podcast and Sam's DeviantArt.
You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player and links below. Or subscribe with Stitcher or iTunes. You can also support the podcast on Patreon.



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Monday, March 13, 2017

The Best & Worst of Oz Villains on Screen

I've been thinking a lot recently about The Wizard of Oz and what makes the film so iconic and so memorable, and one of the (rather obvious) conclusions I've come to is that for a lot of people, the Wicked Witch is as responsible - and in some cases, even more responsible - for their love and appreciation of the film as Dorothy is. This got me thinking, what makes a good Oz villain? What makes a bad one? And so, I've come up with of who I find to be definitively the best and the worst villains of the many film & TV adaptations of Oz...  

The Best



1. The Wicked Witch, The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch isn't just the best on-screen Oz villain, she's one of the greatest and most iconic villains of film period. While I was never terrified by her as a child as many other children are, there's no denying this witch's wickedness. This incarnation of the Witch of the West is quite different than Baum's, but I think the liberties that were taken with the character make for a much stronger and more memorable villain. Hamilton's performance as the Wicked Witch and her Kansas equivalent Ms. Gulch is both campy and sinister, making what could have easily been a somewhat one-dimensional antagonist one that is just as interesting as the story's protagonist. And, of course, if it weren't for this Wicked Witch, I think it's safe to say that we would never have gotten Wicked, which, aside from the MGM film, is probably the most popular and most successful adaptation of Baum's work to date.


2. The Nome King, Return to Oz (1985) - Like the Wicked Witch in the MGM film, Return to Oz's Nome King isn't exactly like his literary counterpart, and as was the case with the Wicked Witch, I think I actually prefer this iteration of the character over Baum's. The most interesting aspect of Nicol William's Nome King is that as the viewer, we're never really sure whether or not he's actually "the bad guy." Sure, he's holding the Scarecrow captive and turned everyone into stone, but the reasons he gives for what he's done makes him and the overall story more complex... which is basically what all good villains should do.


3. Azkadelia, Tin Man (2007) - I don't think I've seen Katleen Robertson in anything outside of her role in Tin Man, but I think her performance is one of the things that truly elevated the production to being something greater and more cinematic than typical Syfy Channel fare. Where the protagonist might leave something to be desired in terms of charisma and dimensionality, Azkadelia compensates by being one of the best developed and most compelling antagonists of any Oz adaptation I've seen. There's a definite deviation from the source material happening with this Witch of the West-inspired character and with the series as a whole, but it's executed so well that I really don't mind it.


4. Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985) - You can pretty much thank Princess Mombi for all the times you've heard someone talk about how scary Return to Oz is. The character is mostly based on Baum's character Princess Langwidere, one of the antagonists of Ozma of Oz, but is also derived from the character Mombi, who first appeared as the main antagonist of The Marvelous Land of Oz. The visual effects involved in the memorably haunting scenes in which Princess Mombi changes heads aren't exactly convincing by contemporary standards, but one can see how children of the 1980s would find this character downright terrifying. Of the several actresses who portray the character in the film, Jean Marsh has the most screen time and is the most memorable. She isn't as complex or as interesting as the film's other, previously mentioned "big bad," nor does she hold a candle to the Wicked Witch of the West, but I think I would be remiss not to include Princess Mombi on this list.


The Worst



1. Evilene, The Wiz (1978) - If there's anything Mabel King's Evilene has over Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch, it's that Mabel King's did scare me as a child and still sort of does now. There are a lot of things to dislike about this film, but chief among those for me is this character. I'm not really sure what the intent or inspiration was for this take on the Witch of the West, but it's just bad all around. I guess maybe Joel Schumacher really took the "only bad witches are ugly" line from the MGM film to heart? Eeesh. Basically, anyone who thinks Return to Oz is the scariest Oz movie ever made should revisit The Wiz. (Did I really just recommend re-watching The Wiz? Oy.)


2. The Nome King, The Witches of Oz (2011) - If you saw The Witches of Oz but don't remember the Nome King being in it, it's probably because a) he has about five minutes of screen time in the nearly three-hour film and b) there's nothing about the character's actions or appearance that reflect the character as we know him from the books and previous film adaptations like Return to Oz. I was lucky enough to attend a premiere screening of the film when it was released theatrically (as Dorothy and the Witches of Oz), and I got to meet and talk to Al Snow, the actor who plays the character. He's very nice and charismatic on a personal level, and believe it or not, he's actually read all the Oz books himself and knows quite a bit about them. It's a real shame then that he wasn't given a better role to play and that the character wasn't better realized. The Nome King appears out of nowhere in the third act of the film and does little more than fight the Tin Man. If it weren't for "No one beats the Nome King," the character's only line in the film, we would have no idea who this guy is supposed to be.


3. West, Emerald City (2016) - Remember how I said that I liked how the writers of the MGM film put their own spin on Baum's Witch of the West? Yeah, well, that doesn't always work out so well, and Emerald City's take on the character (and most other characters, but I digress) is proof of that. Because the Witch of the West has always been one of my favorite characters and was probably my favorite part of the MGM film from an early age, I feel especially let down by this incarnation of the character. She has so little in common with previous incarnations of the character that I'm left wondering why even bother calling her West? But I guess the same could be said for pretty much every aspect of Emerald City. (Did you know, for instance, that the actual "Beast Forever" was supposed to be the Nome King? Yeah, me neither.)


4. Theodora, Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - In complete contrast to the rather feminist and progressive characterization of the Witch of the West in Wicked, Oz the Great and Powerful imagines the character as a woman scorned, motivated primarily by jealousy and rejection. I see the film itself as a sort of mixed bag overall, but I feel like it totally misses the mark here, which is a little ironic given that the Witch of the West was so prevalent in the film's merchandise and marketing campaign. Unfortunately, the character fails on virtually every level, from the script and casting to the final make-up and costume design. I don't think it's fair to put too much blame on Mila Kunis, who I am generally a fan of and who I think has proven her acting chops elsewhere, but I do think that she was miscast (and likely misdirected) here, which is a shame because this is a role that she was very excited about and really gave her all to.

But what say you, readers? Is there a particular villain you feel really deserved a spot on either of these lists? Is there one that didn't? Chime in in the comments below with your own opinions!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: NBC's Emerald City Part 2

Jay reunites with Rachel Anderson and Angelo Thomas for another unedited and unfiltered episode to discuss the back half of NBC's season of Emerald City. How did it go? Will there be a season 2? Why are our hosts talking about the next Oz TV show coming already?

You can listen, download and subscribe at the Podcast site, or subscribe with Stitcher or iTunes. You can also support the podcast on Patreon.



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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Oz Kids - Underground Adventure

Jay and Sam realize they goofed in trying to figure out the Oz Kids chronology and talk about what they feel must be the third story in the series: Underground Adventure. When Frank and some new friends from America are caught in an earthquake, they have to find their way to Oz, and the other Oz Kids begin their own search.

You can listen and download at the podcast site or use the player and links below. You can also subscribe to the podcast through iTunes, Stitcher or the podcast RSS feed.



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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Where is Oz?

To welcome people who are new to Oz, I thought I'd do a new series of blogs about basic Oz concepts. I generally haven't done a lot of this because someone already did do a great Oz 101: Eric Gjovaag's Oz FAQ, which I recommend to any Oz fan or just the curious. Still, my own take can be fun.

It's far, far away, beyond the moon, beyond the rain...
Halfway to yesterday and back!
Somewhere is Oz, magic land far away, beyond mountains, emerald seas...
It's just beyond the rainbow!

Where is the Land of Oz located? Just up above are lines Dorothy says from several adaptations of the Oz stories. But none of those descriptions are very specific...

The works of L. Frank Baum give us some idea of where it is. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz doesn't tell us much, but it seems to suggest a Kansas tornado can get you there. However, looking at tornadoes, that doesn't add up. Baum suggests the tornado Dorothy is in lasts for hours, when tornadoes can last about ten minutes and can move at speeds more than 300 miles per hour. A ten minute 300 mph tornado would be only 50 miles. Now, it's possible that it was a series of tornadoes, but for Dorothy's house to be smoothly carried from one to the next is a stretch. All we can assume is that the tornado was magical in origin, and who was behind it? They're not telling...

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz informs us that Oz is surrounded by a desert, and later books show magical borderlands beyond the desert and magical island kingdoms. The Marvelous Land of Oz has an episode in which the Gump flies over the desert and they assume they are in Dorothy's outside world, but infortmation from later books indicates that the Gump flew into one of the Borderlands.

In his later years, Baum wrote a comedy play that was never produced titled The Girl from Oz. A girl from "Oz" arrives on a US army base where all the men fall in love with her. However, the script calls her home "Delcapan," an island kingdom in the South Pacific ruled by an exiled Russian princess. So, while the "Oz" of that story wasn't actually Oz, is putting it in the South Pacific accurate?

In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy is on a trip to Australia. Dorothy lives in the middle of the US in Kansas, and given that she visits California in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, we can assume that she and Uncle Henry traveled to the Pacific Ocean and are sailing that way. (It's also a far more direct route than traveling to the Atlantic, unless for some reason, it was cheaper to sail past Europe, Africa and Asia by means of the Atlantic, which I doubt.) When Dorothy is washed overboard in a chicken coop, she washes up on the shore of the Land of Ev, which is revealed to be a borderland of Oz.

So, that seems to add up. If Oz is actually on Earth, it would be in the South Pacific.

That hasn't kept other interpretations, such as it being somewhere else in outer space (promotional material for Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz suggest that, though that series is rarely taken as an actual piece of Ozian history). After other "other world" fantasy series popped up—such as The Chronicles of Narnia—fans began to read Oz as an alternate world, reality, dimension, etc. But that doesn't seem to match up with Baum's writings. Easy to explain, however, yes.

In The Emerald City of Oz, to keep Oz from being invaded by the outside world again, Glinda puts a barrier around the land that renders it invisible from the outside. This was intended by Baum as a device to close the series, but as he revived it and it was carried on by other writers, the barrier really did not seem to have much effectiveness. Ruth Plumly Thompson's Pirates in Oz even features pirate ships flying over the desert directly into Oz.

What follows next is my own theory and my own ideas which I will be working into future works.

As the series progressed, it was clear that there was no point to closing the Land of Oz off from other magical countries. They knew it was there. In stories such as Rinkitink in Oz, Captain Salt in Oz and The Shaggy Man of Oz, characters from Oz interact directly with other countries outside of the borders of Oz. Thus, the problem of keeping Oz isolated shouldn't mean isolating it from its closest neighbors, but from countries further than that who did not know of magic.

Baum titled the ocean around Oz as the Nonestic Ocean (following on that, some fans—including myself—call the continent that Oz lies on "Nonestica," though Thompson called it "The Continent of Imagination"), so we may assume all the lands inside the ocean are magical.

But, of course, if this ocean is supposed to be on earth (aside from its usually believed fictional status), why hasn't it been seen? After all, we have satellites and space stations that can view and photograph our planet from space and they've never spotted it. The place where the Nonestic should be isn't invisible as that would look far more suspicious to satellite photos than uncharted waters and lands.

So, is it possible that Glinda joined with other magic users (Queen Lulea, Queen Zurline, Queen Zixi, Jinnicky, etc.) and put a new barrier around the entire Nonestic Ocean and all it contains? Now, how would this barrier work? My theory is that as the risk of being discovered by the outside world grows, these lands (collectively "fairyland") get more and more shunted into an alternate plane of reality.

Sure would be a shame if someone... undid that enchantment...

Well, that's my thoughts on where Oz is or was. If you're wanting a look at the development of the layout of Oz, David Maxine has done a series of blogs on his Oz blog titled "Map of Oz Monday," so check that out!

Friday, February 03, 2017

Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1 - Angelo's Review

Captive Hearts of Oz is a new manga series from Seven Seas Entertainment, who also published a beautifully illustrated collection of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz last year. The series is inspired by Wonderful Wizard (and, based on the first volume, is a loose adaptation of that story) written by Ryo Maruya, a New York Times best-selling manga writer, with art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru.

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts here, I've been let down by this sort of adaptation before. I read the first two books of the Dorothy of Oz manga series and couldn't get into it enough to read the rest of them. The story was all over the place and had less and less in common with the source material as it went on. I'm happy to report, though, that Captive Hearts of Oz is much better.

I wasn't really sure what to expect in terms of story going into it, so I was surprised to find that it doesn't veer very far from the Wonderful Wizard story, especially not at first. It begins much like you'd expect it to: we're introduced to our protagonist, Dorothy, who lives on a farm in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (and Toto, too!) and finds herself separated from her family and in the Land of Oz after a tornado. She learns from the Good Witch of the North that she (or her house) is responsible for the death of the Wicked Witch of the East, is given the Silver Shoes, and sent on her way to see a wizard named Oz in hopes that he might be able to send her home.

Things start to get interesting when Dorothy encounters Hayward, this story's version of the Scarecrow character. He considers himself to be a scarecrow and Dorothy accepts that, but he looks human. There's some fun dialogue between the two in their first interaction, and I really enjoyed their chemistry throughout the book. It's not totally clear yet if he's intended to be a love interest for Dorothy, but there are definitely some sparks there. I found Dorothy's other companions to be not nearly as interesting or likeable, however, especially the Lion, who, like Hayward, is drawn as a human but for some reason says he's a lion. We are given some backstory for the Tin Woodman character (which is pretty much the same as the one we've come to expect), but I'm hoping these characters are fleshed out more and grow on me in the next books.

I appreciate that this adaptation takes almost no cues from the MGM movie and pretty much uses only Baum's book as its jumping off point. For example, Dorothy's shoes are silver and are never referred to as slippers, and the Good Witches of the North and South are two different characters. There's even a character named Ku-Klip in here, who's the Tin Man's tinsmith and has an interesting dynamic with that character.

My only real problem with the first volume of Captive Hearts of Oz is that it's a little hard to follow at times. There's a subplot happening throughout the book that's intentionally mysterious and removed from the main story, and it's not always clear what we're looking at or who's speaking in these scenes. I feel kind of indifferent about the art overall, but I do wish that there was more creativity in the way that the world and the characters are drawn.

I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book, and I'll definitely be picking up Volume 2 to see where the story goes from here. The first volume is essentially a retelling of Wonderful Wizard up to the point where the Fab Four are together and on their way to the Emerald City, but I suspect the story will continue to evolve from that as it goes on.

You can buy Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1 in paperback or e-book format on Amazon here. Volume 2 is set to be released on June 6 and is already available for pre-order (here).

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: NBC's Emerald City

Jay and guests Rachel Anderson and Angelo Thomas discuss the first five episodes of NBC's Emerald City. Is it a good show? How respectful is it of Oz lore? Should you be watching it? Who should be watching it? For the first time, this episode is presented uncensored and mostly unedited.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player and links below.



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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Guardians of Oz - Angelo's Review

I think it's difficult to review Guardians of Oz fairly. The film is produced by Anima Estudios, a Mexican animation studio, and was released theatrically in Mexico and a handful of other countries before being picked up for distribution by Lionsgate and dubbed in English for release in the United States. Lionsgate's release does not include the original Spanish language track, which I think is a disservice to the film because I don't think much effort was put into translating the film to English. I can't say for sure that all or most of my problems with the film are a result of the translation, but being from Mexico and somewhat fluent in Spanish, I am disappointed that the only version of the film presently available to me is this one.

Much of the dialogue is awkward and poorly written, and it doesn't help that the voice cast isn't particularly strong. Instead of casting more "real" voice actors, someone (presumably at Lionsgate) opted to cast YouTube personalities Mikey Bolts and Jenn McAllister as the lead characters, Ozzy and Gabby, respectively. While I've certainly seen animated films with worse voice acting (I'm looking at you, The Patchwork Girl of Oz), I think having better voice talent would have gone a long way here. I actually don't mind the voices of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, but I really feel like Ambyr Childers was miscast as Eveline. Granted, she didn't have much to work with given how bland and repetitive the dialogue is, but her voice just doesn't suit the character well. 

The characters are designed by Jorge Gutierrez and his wife, Sandra Equihua, who also conceived the story for the film. Guiterrez is best known for directing the animated film The Book of Life, which I haven't seen, but there are obvious similarities visually between that film and this one. I think it's sort of an acquired taste, so I can see why some people are turned off by the look of the film, but I think it works, and I'm personally all for getting away from the traditional, typically MGM-inspired, depictions of Oz. As for the quality of the animation itself, it's not the best, but it's also not the worst I've seen (still looking at you, Patchwork Girl). Considering the film's very low budget, reportedly $4.5 million, I think the animation is fine and that it would be unfair to dismiss it based on its animation (which I know happens pretty often with lower-budget animated fare).

The general plot of the film isn't very original, but the film is short enough and paced well enough for that not to be a big problem. It is interesting to have flying monkeys, who we're used to seeing as just "background" characters, at the center of an Oz story, but I think the story would benefit from having a villain other than a resurrected Witch of the West. I noticed some similarities between this and Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, both in story and in design, but I'm sure that's just a result of working from the same source material and making a film for the same demographic.

Dorothy herself has only a very brief appearance in the film, and there are a handful of nods to the books and to the MGM film in there, which I didn't expect to see - mostly just "name-dropping" characters that Oz fans will recognize, but there's a cameo by a character from the MGM film that caught me off-guard and that I enjoyed so much that I won't spoil it here.

At the end of the day, I'm disappointed with this release, but I do think that it's worth seeing. If I'm ever able to see the Spanish language version of the film, I'll come back and review it separately, but I don't regret the purchase and I'm glad to have the movie in my collection. I'm not sure how to gauge the film's success in Mexico or internationally, but if the filmmakers were to revisit this world either in a sequel or a television series, I enjoyed this film enough overall to be up for that.

You can buy Guardians of Oz on DVD on Amazon here. It's also available on most streaming services to own or rent digitally in HD.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

First Look at 'Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz' Animated Series

In my last post here, I mentioned something called Dorothy, Princess of Oz, an animated television series that's been in the works at Warner Bros. for a couple of years now that's expected to debut sometime this year. Well, we now have our first official (albeit brief) look at the show thanks to a video that surfaced online yesterday showcasing Boomerang's lineup for the year for European, Middle Eastern, and African markets. (Regular Capital, a Cartoon Network fan site, was the first to pick up on this.)

The show, produced by Warner Bros. Animation for Cartoon Network, has had a couple of different titles associated with it, but it looks like they've settled on simply Dorothy of Oz, which certainly has a better ring to it than Dorothy, Princess of Oz or Dorothy and the Wonders of Oz. We still don't have official word on exactly when or where the show will air, but it's exciting to know that it is happening, especially because I feel like Warner Bros. hasn't done enough with Oz in recent years (which I wrote about here).

While the show will build on the MGM film and will be an extension of sorts of that property, it looks like it will draw more from the original Oz books than something like the DIC cartoon, as Ozma, Billina, and the Nome King will all appear in some capacity. I appreciate that the character designs and animation style are unique and stylized, and I think it's pretty interesting that Dorothy appears to be someone of color. If that is the case and my eyes aren't deceiving me, then I commend Warner Bros. for embracing diversity and going for it. The character also looks considerably younger than Judy Garland's Dorothy, which is certainly more in line with the books.

I'll definitely continue to keep an eye out for this, and I'm curious to know what everyone thinks based on the little we know and have seen from the show. Check out the video below, and feel free to leave your first impressions of Dorothy of Oz in the comments!



Update: The video discussed above has been removed, but since then, Turner and Warner Bros. have announced the launch of a new streaming service that will be the exclusive home to the series, which is being billed in the trades not as Dorothy of Oz or Dorothy, Princess of Oz but as Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, a title that definitely aligns better with Turner's existing Wizard of Oz "brand." I'm personally disappointed that the show will be exclusive to a relatively small-scale streaming service rather than airing on TV, especially because I'm not thrilled about the idea of paying $5 every month just to watch this show, but we'll see. You can read more about it here, and you can sign up to be notified when the service launches (sometime in the spring) here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Six of the weirdest versions of Oz

So, what are the weirdest versions of Oz? Besides Emerald City, that is. Well, there's a lot, really. And it depends on what you mean by weird. In this blog, here's six versions of Oz that just went weird. This means they did something very unusual with their adaptation. Low budget doesn't count as "weird" here, so The Turkish Wizard of Oz is off the hook tonight.

Also, I'm not saying any of these versions of Oz are bad or are to be avoided. By all means, if the weirdness about them interests you, go ahead and seek them out!

Oz: A Rock 'n' Road Musical - So, what if the Wizard was the lead singer of a band? What if Dorothy was a groupie? And what if Oz was Australia? This film reimagines the story (generally the MGM break down) as a groupie of a band waking up outside a strange little town after an accident with the band's van. She gets a pair of red sequin-studded pumps from a gay shopkeeper called Glen, threatened by an imposing truck driver, and meets a dimwitted surfer, an uptight mechanic and a timid biker on her way to the City to see the Wizard's retirement concert.

Basically, before Emerald City, here's an Oz with sex, drugs and profanities, and also absolutely no fantasy trappings.

Oz/Dark Oz/The Land of Oz comic series - This long-running comic series began with a rather traditional version of Oz that is suddenly attacked by the Nome King with help from Mombi. The series features Oz characters and new friends from the Outside World forming a resistance and after a long, hard fight, they finally take back Oz.

What's weird?

The fact that characters suddenly start using not quite old English words that give the dialogue more of a European feel.

Just... No...

The Wiz (1978) - How on earth do you take the Tony Award-winning best musical of 1975 and then throw out the script and utterly change it? That in itself is strange as the original play was more or less an African-American update of the original L. Frank Baum book. However, when Diana Ross was cast as Dorothy, the original concept of a young girl lost in a fairyland had to be changed. Now it's not enough for Dorothy to get home, but to also get the courage to get a better teaching position and take new risks in her personal life. An interesting angle, but one that is easily forgotten as you watch the rather lengthy film.

The weirdest thing was to create Oz as a fantasy version of New York City. However, instead of crowded or bustling streets, the Oz we see in the film is remarkably empty. Even more disturbingly, it's not a clean empty. There are signs that people used to be there, such as a shot where Dorothy and her friends dance past a pile of trash bags.

When you see the Emerald City, it is entirely sealed off from the outdoor environment. Is it a giant bomb shelter and this is a post-apocalyptic world? The Munchkins, the Poppy Girls and Evilene's slaves are seemingly just few remaining groups of people. Maybe Dorothy's very lucky that the taxi cabs refuse her.

The Wizard of Oz (1925) - Aside from some illusions made by the Wizard, again, we have a version of Oz with absolutely no fantasy trappings. This Wizard features Dorothy as the lost princess of Oz, who Prime Minister Kruel tries to keep from returning. Most of the movie is a series of slapstick jokes involving the farmhands, particularly writer/director/star Larry Semon. Also lots of racist stereotypes and jokes aimed at actor Spencer Bell, billed as G. Howe Black.

Os Trapalhões e o Mágico de Oróz/The Tramps and the Wizard of Oroz -Three tramps pack up their house on a wagon and along their way to the town of Oroz, are joined by a Scarecrow and Vat the Tin Can Man. In Oroz, they are arrested by Sheriff Lion for stealing bread for hungry children, but they are offered freedom if Didi, Scarecrow and Vat led by Sheriff Lion can find a new source of water for the town. After fighting a rancher's men in the desert, the four ride a giant bone to Rio de Janeiro, where they take a giant faucet back to Oroz riding in a car shaped like a giant red sneaker.

Also, this is one of the few foreign Oz films to have English subtitles available.

The film was a parody of the MGM Wizard of Oz (and possibly The Wiz as well), intended to help keep spirits up for people suffering from drought in the Northeast region of Brazil as well as to raise awareness for them as the government looked for ways to help the people. But even with that noble cause, a house being put on a wagon, a giant bone and a shoe-shaped car for transport and Didi's method of fighting Sheriff Lion by biting his posterior gets it a spot on this list.

Return to Oz in Japan - "But wait, you love Return to Oz!" you might say, and yes, I do. However, considering it's one of few adaptations that tried to hew very close to the world of L. Frank Baum's books, that might make it weird. But that's not the reason. Mixing The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, maybe kind of weird. Using shock treatment for Dorothy? Well, yeah, I do have to admit that was weird.

But it's not Return to Oz itself that makes the list. It's because the version showed in theaters in Japan was a little different from the one we've seen today. It was the same right up until the end credits. The version we know has a beautiful score by David Shire playing. In Japan, they instead used a pop song titled "Keep on Dreamin'" by Yukihide Takekawa, which is a rather stark contrast to the rest of the music in the film. Now that is weird!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ozzy Things to do in 2017

Join or renew your membership to the International Wizard of Oz Club!
The International Wizard of Oz Club has been running since 1957 and has been the flagship for research into the life, world and works of L. Frank Baum and the other creators of the Oz series, as well as digging up information on MGM's The Wizard of Oz and many other Oz productions. Members receive three issues of The Baum Bugle a year, the journal that serves as a regular issue of research into the Oz phenomenon and communication from Club leaders about ways to get involved in the Oz community.

You can join online at http://ozclub.org. The Oz Club cannot guarantee you'll get all three 2017 issues of the Baum Bugle if you don't register before the first 2017 issue gets printed.

Attend an Oz event! 
There are many Oz events happening through the year. To hear about smaller events and exhibits, keep an eye on the Daily Ozmapolitan, which is in our blog roll to the right of the screen.

Oz-Stravaganza: Chittenango, New York June 2-4, 2017
Oz-Stravaganza is a festival that celebrates Oz with a parade, costumes, games, and presentations. What makes it special? Chittenango is L. Frank Baum's birth place. Information on how to attend may be found at their website.

Wizard of Oz Festival: Ionia Michigan June 16-17, 2017
I'm unfamiliar with this particular festival, but it seems there are several events had as well as a screening of the MGM film The Wizard of Oz. Information can be found on the event's Facebook page.

Oz Con International: Portland, Oregon, June 30-July 2
Okay, as I'm co-chairing this one, you know it's got my vote. We're celebrating the centennial of The Lost Princess of Oz and anniversaries of Ozma of Oz and The Gnome King of Oz with panels and presentations, plus several fans will be presenting on animated versions of Oz, including the 1987 PanMedia/Cinar anime series and the 1933 Ted Eshbaugh cartoon, as well as Doug Aberle talking about his Claymation work on Disney's Return to Oz. Saturday night will see a classic Jell-O Wizard of Oz radio script staged with a live cast for all to enjoy. Plus, we have our costume contest, auction, dealer's room, and a good number of free souvenirs for all attendees. Register (and our registration fees go up at the end of the month, so the sooner, the better!) at our website.

IWOC Annual Convention: Chicago August 3-7, 2017
And oh, I wish I could also attend this one! There will be several things to do not far from Chicago, Illinois, where L. Frank Baum originally came up with the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and where the original Oz books were published. More details and how to register can be found on the event's Facebook page.

Midwest Oz Festival: Tinley Park, Illinois – August 4-6, 2017
This more general audience Oz-themed festival runs alongside the IWOC Convention, which will allow for time to visit the final day of this Festival. More information can be found at the website.

Wizard of Oz Festival:
Mapleton, Illinois – August 12, 2017
Looks like this festival had a rough start, but attendees say it rapidly improved into a great time! More information can be found on Facebook.

Day in Oz Festival: Clarksville, MO – August 27, 2017
Another Oz festival, and once again, its main source of information seems to be Facebook.

Autumn at Oz: Beech Mountain, North Carolina – September 2017

Dates are yet to be set for Autumn at Oz, the weekend event in which the famous Land of Oz park re-opens and allows visitors to tour its yellow brick trails once again, but keep an eye on the official website.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

8 Ozzy Things to Look Forward to in 2017!

Hey, it's 2017! I hope everyone's year is off to a good start and that you're ready for another year of Oz content not just here and on the podcast but on the page, stage, and screen, too. We have at least eight things to look forward to this year in terms of Oz, so without further ado, let's run through them!

1. Emerald City - Fridays, January 6 - March 3

This Friday, NBC will debut its "dark and edgy" revisionist take on Oz, a ten episode series helmed by Immortals and Mirror Mirror director Tarsem Singh and starring Adria Arjona as Dorothy and Vincent D'Onofrio, who had a supporting role in Jurassic World and plays Wilson Fisk in Netflix's Daredevil series, as the Wizard of Oz. Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of this one. I'll be watching for sure, but I can't say that I'm really jazzed to see it. But, who knows? Maybe it's the next Tin Man.



2. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, illustrated by Eric Shanower - January 17

I'm not sure why this wasn't released earlier (or later) to coincide with Christmas, but nevertheless, it looks like IDW will release the Eric Shanower illustrated Life and Adventures of Santa Claus on January 17. According to IDW's website, the release will also include the short story A Kidnapped Santa Claus. I've actually never ventured into L. Frank Baum's work outside of the Oz books, but I am planning on getting this and finally reading it. You can pre-order it on Amazon here.



3. Guardians of Oz - January 24

On January 24, the English dubbed version of the Mexican/Indian CG-animated film Guardianes de Oz will be available in the U.S. on DVD and digital HD (but, frustratingly, not on Blu-ray). I've been curious to see this since it was released in Mexico a year or so ago, so I'm glad that it is being released here, even if to little fanfare. You can read more about the film and its release here, and if you feel so inclined, pre-order the DVD on Amazon here.



4. Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1 - January 31

In 2016, Seven Seas Entertainment brought us a beautifully illustrated collection of the first two books of the Oz series realized in a unique, whimsical manga style. I would guess that that book sold pretty well, because in 2017, Seven Seas bring us something called Captive Hearts of Oz, which is described as "an all-new story of adventure and romance based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!" I've been let down by Oz-centric manga series in the past (see Son Hee-joon's Dorothy of Oz), but I have relatively high hopes for this one and will definitely pick up the first volume. You can pre-order it Amazon here.



5. The End of Oz - March 14

If you haven't read Dorothy Must Die or aren't caught up on its sequels yet, stop what you're doing and get on it. Danielle Paige's books are so much more and so much better than your typical YA fare. The books connect to and divulge from the source material in really surprising and interesting ways, and coming from someone who isn't much of a reader as of late, these books are as engaging and entertaining as anything you'll find on TV right now. I'm even more excited for this fourth and final installment in the series after chatting with Danielle on the podcast last year, and I really think it's worth checking out for any Oz fan, even if it doesn't sound like your kind of thing. You can pre-order it on Amazon here.



6. Dorothy Must Die Stories, Volume 3 - March 14

Coinciding with the release of The End of Oz is the release of the third (and, I assume, the final) volume of short stories, also written by Danielle Paige and set before the events of her novels. This volume includes three stories, Order of the Wicked, Dark Side of the Rainbow, and The Queen of Oz, which I believe are already available (or will be soon) as individual e-books. The short stories aren't something that you necessarily have to read to understand everything in the novels, but they do a nice job of exploring and expanding the world and characters of the series. Pre-order it here.



7. Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers - April 20 (Russia)

As I recently wrote about here, Урфин Джюс и его деревянные солдаты, the CG-animated film based on the second book of Alexander Volkov's Magic Land series, will be released in Russia on April 20. It actually looks pretty good, so let's hope that it gets picked up for release in the U.S. and elsewhere either sometime this year or next year!

8. Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 2 - June 6

We don't have a cover or any sort of synopsis for it yet, but it looks like Seven Seas is moving full steam ahead with the Captive Hearts of Oz series as a second volume is already pegged for a June 6 release. Obviously whether or not I get this one will depend on what I think of the first volume, but it's promising to see that its creators are confident enough in the series to go ahead and begin work on a second installment. Keep an eye out for more on this one as we get closer to its release. You can pre-order it on Amazon (or maybe just add it to your wishlist for now) by clicking here.

Aside from those things, there are a couple of other things that may or may not come our way in 2017, like more episodes of the Amazon Studios animated series Lost in Oz, the long-awaited release (and completion) of the independent film L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and an animated series by the name of Dorothy, Princess of Oz from Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. Animation (see below for a possible sneak peek at what that might look like via character designer Will Terrell's Twitter account). It's also likely that we'll hear more about the upcoming Wicked movie and maybe even what Warner Bros. is cooking up for the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.


Happy New Year, everyone!