Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jay binged Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz

Well, I think the title told you what I did this morning...

Animation and Oz seem well suited to each other, as both seem to be limited only by imagination. There's only been a handful of Oz animated series, though, with Tales of the Wizard of Oz in the early 1960s, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz anime series in 1986-87, the DIC animated series based on the MGM movie in 1991, The Oz Kids and The Galaxy Adventures of Oz in the mid-90s, and nothing since. Well, this summer, it turned out we're getting not one but two animated series that would be exclusive to video streaming services, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz for the new Boomerang service out now, and Lost in Oz on Amazon Prime coming in August.

Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz takes the familiarity of MGM's The Wizard of Oz as its springboard. However, Dorothy is depicted as an actual little girl instead of trying to actively copy Judy Garland. She has the brown hair in pigtails, white blouse and blue gingham pinafore with Ruby Slippers, but otherwise, they let this Dorothy (Kari Wahlgren) be herself instead of copying Judy's voice or mannerisms. I appreciated that her skin tone is darker than other human (or human-appearing) characters such as Ozma. Whether this Dorothy is supposed to be a person of color or we presume she has tanned skin from being a farmgirl, that's up for debate.

The series regularly features the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion (Bill Fagerbakke, JP Karliak and Jess Harnell), who are cartoon versions of their MGM counterparts and the voice actors channel Bolger, Hayley and Lahr well enough while not being overbearing. Also regularly featured are Ozma (also Kari Wahlgren), identified as the Queen of Oz, who wears a green gown, carries her Oz scepter, and wears a circlet with the Oz logo as in John R. Neill's illustrations, just without the poppies. Wilhelmina (Jessica DiCicco) also regularly appears and is the niece of the Wicked Witch of the West, who appears in a crystal ball, egging her niece on to get the Ruby Slippers. She's assisted by a comical pair of Winged Monkeys, Frank and Lyman (Steven Blum and Jess Harnell).

The premise of the series is that Dorothy and Toto live in Oz, Dorothy being made a princess by Ozma, and with friends old and new, Dorothy and Toto have adventures. Many of these are original, though quite a few are inspired by and based on episodes and elements from the Baum books. The episode you can watch without a subscription or free trial, "Beware the Woozy," features Ozma accidentally being turned to stone by a magic potion, as happens to Unc Nunkie and Margolotte in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, although the circumstances are highly altered. Dorothy and her friends hurry to get together ingredients for an antidote, the major one being three hairs from a Woozy's tail. The Woozy is sadly not the blocky creature described in Patchwork Girl, but can still shoot fire when provoked and is otherwise an agreeable character. The Nome King notices the problems this creates for Oz and uses it to step in as the new ruler.

Many other characters from the Oz series turn up in new incarnations as well, such as Billina, Dr. Pipt, the Wheelers, Ojo, the Hungry Tiger, the Woggle-Bug, the Patchwork Girl, the Orks, and there's even a purple dragon. Whether or not he's inspired by the one in The Magical Monarch of Mo is up for anyone to guess, but when a character later mentions the Valley of the Clowns from Dot and Tot of Merryland, perhaps the writers really read up on their Baum.

There's certainly a big disconnect here between the series and MGM's The Wizard of Oz. Why is Dorothy living in Oz? Where are Aunt Em and Uncle Henry? Dorothy mentions Zeke, one of the farmhands from the classic movie. How did Ozma become Queen of Oz in this version? The opening of the DIC series basically gave you a sum-up of what had happened between the movie and the events of the episodes you'd see. This one starts with Dorothy using the Ruby Slippers to leave Kansas with Toto, then a cavalcade of Oz characters, but I doubt we're supposed to see this as a narrative. I'm not knocking the show, I just want to know what happened in this version. Perhaps if this does well enough, Warner Brothers might even do a direct to video spinoff linking the series' narrative to the classic film a bit more.

The show is clearly meant for children, but I found it to be highly entertaining. I'm glad they're using elements from the books as children might turn to the books after watching the show. The animation is nothing to write home about, but it's rather pleasing.

There are currently 13 11 minute and 18 second stories on Boomerang.com. Here's a list with a brief description of each plot:
  • "Beware the Woozy" - When Ozma becomes petrified, Dorothy and her friend search for the ingredients of an antidote.
  • "Magical Mandolin" - Wilhelmina sets her eyes on a mandolin Dorothy gets her hands on that has magic properties.
  • "Toto Unleashed" - Wilhelmina tries to claim Toto for her own after Dorothy neglects him.
  • "Official Ozian Exam" - Dorothy is informed that if she doesn't take an exam about Oz, she will have to leave. Just she can't help but take care of Indigo City's problem with a purple dragon first...
  • "Locket Locket In My Pocket" - Wilhelmina uses a magic locket to disguise herself as Dorothy to ruin the princess' reputation.
  • "Mixed-Up Mixer" - When Dorothy tries to teach Ozma to cook without using magic, a mixer becomes enchanted and begins mixing up everything it comes across.
  • "Ojo the Unlucky" - Noting an unfortunate Munchkin boy, Dorothy and her friends try to help him change his fate.
  • "The Lion's Share" - The Cowardly Lion is off to a feast with his friends to celebrate his ruling of the forest. Just they have to get through the dark, dark forest first...
  • "Rules of Attraction" - When Dorothy is given the Love Magnet, everyone can't help but do whatever she wants.
  • "Brain Power of Love" - The Scarecrow meets the Patchwork Girl and becomes smitten. Wilhelmina isn't convinced that the Patchwork Girl is simply what she appears to be.
  • "Jinxed" - Dorothy and Ozma become mute when they pull off a jinx and Dorothy and her friends scramble to find a way to break the jinx.
  • "Rise of the Nome King" - When the Nome King gets a hold of a magic magnifying glass Dorothy was using to help people, he makes himself grow giant size (not quite Kabumpo in Oz-scale, however).
  • "One-Winged Wally" - Dorothy and her friends try to help a young flying monkey with only one wing get another one.
 The series is also being aired on television in other countries with ten half hour timeslot episodes that use two of these stories each. Wikipedia lists the presumed remaining 7 stories of Season 1, which it's presumed Boomerang will release on their website at a later date, and reportedly, Season 2 is already underway.
  • "Wand-erful"
  • "No Sleep Sleepover"
  • "Lion Catches a Bug"
  • "Tik Tok and Tin Man"
  • "If I Only Had Some Brawn"
  • "The Beast Royales"
  • "Time After Time"
A DVD of presumably the first 13 stories will be released in November, and likely somewhere around that time, the series will be available for digital sale as well. At the moment, in the US, it can only be seen on Boomerang, making it one of the exclusives you'll have to sign up for their service to see.

And that brings me to my biggest negative. The site could use some fixing up. I tried to use Chrome to stream the episodes (and also cast them to my TV), but sometimes the stream wouldn't start, or else it would severely lag. Surprisingly, I had better luck in Firefox, even though sometimes the video would freeze for some seconds while the audio played. My big frustration is that it's not like DRM protected video streaming is some arcane technology. It works flawlessly on YouTube on most browsers as well as other sites like Vudu and Netflix.

It seems the mobile version of Boomerang allows for Chromecast support, but for me, my phone is outdated and can't install the app, which I guess isn't their fault. For anyone else hoping to use a Roku, Apple TV, PS4, etc. to watch the show on their TV, check the website's FAQ first.

So, with everything I said in mind, I'd recommend Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, just before you sign up for a subscription, use their offer of a free to watch episode to figure out the best way for you to watch it.

2 comments:

Sam Milazzo said...

In that case, I believe I've actually already seen all the Season 1 episodes.
Yes, they showed here on Boomerang in Australia ... but I find the episodes a bit silly and a bit too quick.

Anonymous said...

Just to add, there was also a Polish animated Oz TV serial that ran in the 1980s.