Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Thundertoad's Patchwork Girl of Oz

Jay and Sam start the 2018 episodes with a discussion of Thundertoad Animation's 2005 CGI animated adaptation of The Patchwork Girl of Oz. How faithful is it? How's the visuals? Where can you get a copy? All shall be answered!

 You can listen, 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 and aggregators that mirror these.

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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Wizard of Oz

Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage production of the MGM Wizard of Oz finally made its debut in Australia at the beginning of 2018 (Capitol Theatre in Sydney until February 4, before moving onto Adelaide for April 3 and Melbourne May 15).

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Glinda's dress was WONDERFULLY Sparkling from afar!

This is the version of the 1939 take where Andrew Llyod Webber and Tim Rice added new extra songs to the story and a few other changes or revisions (possible SPOILERS):

* Dorothy sings "Nobody Understands Me" first,
* Miss Gulch arrives and leaves before Dorothy sings"Over the Rainbow",
* Professor Marvel sings "Wonders of the World" before the storm hits - it is at this moment Dorothy says she'll give Toto to Hunk to protect him from Miss Gulch
* During the Cyclone (an impressive, loud and thrilling scene) with the family and neighbours looking for Dorothy but also taking shelter from the storm (which was projected onto a screen on stage in front of the characters), the audience "rode" alongside Dorothy (who is not seen getting knocked unconscious by her window) as the house was lifted up into the funnel, up through the clouds with the Wicked Witch of the East flying past the window, as the house ascended into the atmosphere, before slowly heading back down "to earth" before falling into Munchkinland - Dorothy had apparently fallen out of her room and bed, landing on the ground outside her damaged house, with darkness surrounding her until Glinda appeared revealing a bright and colourful landscape ... and the sparkling footwear beside her.
* the Munchkins do wear Blue (and their clothing patterns do look like the blue willow dish), although they are not as funny or dolly or silly as the actual film's look, so characters like the Mayor, the Coroner the Lullaby League (three mothers each with a baby wrapped up) and the Lollipop Guild do not stand out from the crowd until their own musical cues
* in the Emerald City:
 - Dorothy blue-and-white gingham literally changes to GREEN-and-white on stage,
 - the Wicked Witch of the West does not appear to threaten the friends after the Tin man's rescue, nor does she skywrite "Surrender Dorothy" but does stand on a side balcony and uses a loudspeaker to warn the Citizens to spare themselves by surrendering Dorothy to her,
* the Wizard sings "Bring Me the Broomstick", which closes Act 1 (there is no "If I Were King of the Forest" number).

View from my seat

* Act 2 has the WWWitch's "Red Shoes Blues" open in the Haunted Forest
* While searching for the Witch, the signs are not seen, but Lion mentions them; and the "Jitterbug" number is not sung but it is referenced when the Friends feel stings and jolts of dancing before being attacked and (Dorothy is) captured by the flying Monkeys,
* "If We Only Had a Plan" is sung by the three guys in trying to save Dorothy,
* Dorothy reprises "Over the Rainbow" while being held captive, but says more than once "I will not cry",
* A funny scene has Toto find the Scarecrow, Tin (wood)man and Lion after escaping the Witch's castle:  Lion asks Toto where Dorothy is, but Tin man says Toto "can't talk, he's an animal!" to which Lion points to himself (an animal who CAN talk).
* Naturally, "Ding-Dong! Emerald City" is included here as a Triumphant number, although it is only the Winkie Soldiers to dance and sing alongside the friends ("Now she won't hit us with the broom any more!")
* After the Wizard's departure, Glinda reappears and sings "Already Home" to and with Dorothy (and others);  upon saying Good-byes, Dorothy says WHY she'll miss Scarecrow most of all, to console a distraught Tin man and Lion
* just like the tornado scene, the no-place-like-home scene has a moment of animation projected on to the stage screen, taking the audience through a swirling cloud funnel (though not as intense or stormy) and falling back into the Kansas landscape,
* Back in Kansas, reunited with her family (plus Professor Marvel) and left alone to rest - because she has been in a coma for the last few days and Miss Gulch has dropped the charge, a breeze reveals the Ruby Slippers in her closet, before a colourful bright Rainbow appears over her farm house's bedroom.

It was an Impressive Show:  there were screens and lights - both BRIGHT FLASHES and spotlights, use of darkness and even fog effects - projection, as well as animation, but most of all was the use of a revolving section on the stage, to allow for scene changes a rotation of views to help move the story along on a static platform.

In Kansas, the Lion's role was foreshadowed by having Zeke's jacket have a dangling cord on his back.  The farmhands also have a mischievous streak where they once shot Miss Gulch with a hose; when she mentioned this "nearly caught my death" to Em and Henry, Dorothy mutters "I wish you did".  Henry and Em also discuss how they took her in and brought her up.

One of the most interesting things I found while watching this version of the "Famous" adaptation is that, while it doesn't fully imply if it's a dream or really happening (so it very much resembles Disney's "Return to Oz" with the ending and storytelling), I did get the feeling that this had a slight psychological layer, as if Dorothy holding onto the Ruby Slippers against the Wicked Witch was an attempt of her subconscious trying to regain her confidence and become a better more reliant person for herself.  Even so, there is still the moment where Dorothy hears Aunt Em and Uncle Henry trying to call out to her when she is imprisoned by the Witch - that is a somewhat more clearer view of her guardians making contact with her unconscious, possibly comatose, self.

If I had a problem with the show, it was only that Glinda tendered to sound a bit like Karen Walker from "Will & Grace" (or the "Wicked" portrayal of 'Galinda').

Whatever view you choose to take while watching this Musical it is definitely worth a look!  And, on a personal note, much more preferable than "Wicked".
While there are many other stage versions of mGM's the Wizard of Oz, this one in particular is most interesting and refreshing, by adding in extra elements of the play and including a few details from the L Frank Baum book.

Having waited years and YEARS for this performance to finally come to Australia, it was worth the wait and I really enjoyed it!
So much so I wish I could see it again and again!  However, until the day this gets released onto DVD, I will just have to contend with the Program and songs and Youtube videos to relive these memories.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Oz: Broken Kingdom

 Since switching to a more capable smartphone, I decided to install some of the recent Oz mobile games.

One of the more interesting ones is Oz: Broken Kingdom. At first glance, it looks like a standard fighting RPG with some dark Oz theme.



It is.

But, it's a book-based dark Oz theme!

The game's story follows a young woman named Ophelia who washes up on the shores of Oz with her cat, who unfortunately died during the trip, but is revived when she's transformed into a crystal cat by Ozma. Ophelia becomes a freedom fighter for Oz, joining with the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and Lion.

A strange darkness has fallen over the Land of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the East has been revived and many creatures and folks have become aggressive, some even reversing their personalities. Dorothy and the Wizard are missing. Ozma has put the magic of Oz into gems to help protect it. It's up to the freedom fighters to travel through Oz and set it free once again.

There are a lot of characters from the books you'll run into during play: Tik-Tok, "Lady" Ann of Oogaboo, Professor Woggle-Bug, Kalidahs, Polychrome, Mrs. Yoop, the three Adepts, the First and Foremost of the Phanfasms, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Nome King. The big bad seems to be an original villain.

The game is played through a series of battles you enter by selecting "nodes" from a map screen. You pick one of the fighters and before you enter, you can choose what abilities you can use during the fight.

Each node enters a battle that could be one to five waves of no more than three bad guys per wave. You can choose from four abilities. One of these is free to use at all times. The others use mana, which if you've played other RPG video games, is your points for special moves. These can be offensive abilities, healing abilities, or abilities that will prepare you for a major attack on your next turn. Each turn gives you two mana to work with, and defeating a bad guy earns you an extra one.

And being an RPG, you also have a health meter that is drained as the bad guys attack you. You can use healing abilities or defense boosts to try to keep it from reaching 0. If it empties, you can use a life potion to continue your fight, but you can only do this once per battle.

Leveling up and "evolving" your heroes are of course included to encourage repeated play. The team levels up together, and experience points are earned by winning battles, completing tasks, opening chests won in the arena and upgrading abilities and companions. To "evolve" your heroes, you have to collect pearls. To upgrade your abilities, you collect cards and use essence to level them up once you have enough. Essence is earned all throughout the game with each battle, redeeming coins at the Well of Wonders, in chests won in the arena, and it's often given freely as a daily gift.

The game gives you free items every day. When you start the game, there's a screen that gives you a free gift each day, and signing in every day eventually gives you an extra one. The Great Tree of Oz gives you 25 free Emeralds every 24 hours, but the countdown to the next one begins when you collect them. Coins for the Well of Wonders in the Emerald City (which serves as the main base for the game) are given freely: a bronze coin is given once every 4 hours, and a silver coin is given once every 24 hours. The countdown to the next free coin begins when you redeem the last one. You can also purchase more coins with emeralds. Also, keep an eye on the mailbox in the Emerald City as it sometimes contains important messages that include free gifts.

The game also features an "arena," where you can fight other players throughout the world live. You pick two companions (who can be leveled up just like your abilities) to fight a randomly selected other player from anywhere in the world. Winning a match earns you trophies, losing a match costs you trophies. The more trophies you have, the higher your league, but if you lose enough matches, you can go back to a previous league. Defeating an opponent or their companion earns you a star, and when you earn 15, you can open a Star Chest which has more free items inside. Defeating your opponent instantly wins the match and earns you three stars and a chest of wood, silver or gold. Wooden chests take two hours to unlock, silver takes four, and gold takes eight, but you can use emeralds to open them right away or watch an advertisement to take an hour off of your wait time, but you can only do this once an hour. Chests contain essence, cards to upgrade your companions, and a few random items depending on what level chest you got: it could be a gem, a pearl or a coin for the Well of Wonders.

It's also possible to bolster your fighters with gems you can craft. Crafting takes essence and either ore or gems that are not equipped. You can craft ore into a common gem, then craft two common gems into an uncommon gem, and you get the idea. The higher evolved your heroes, the more gems can be equipped to them, and the more you're leveled up, the better the gems you can craft.

To encourage you to play every day, the game gives you daily tasks: upgrade three abilities, craft three gems, redeem five coins, win three battles with each fighter (you can go back and replay battles you're now overpowered for and it'll still count) and also purchasing emeralds (which I don't do). You are rewarded with experience points, essence and keys used to unlock certain nodes that'll lead you to special battles and treasures.

There is also a Rainbow Road event where you earn crystals. In Rainbow Road, you fight through increasingly difficult waves of baddies with handicaps: you only recover health after so many fights. (In regular battles, you instantly go back to full health once the battle's done.) There are also other status effects.

This being a mobile game, there's of course an item shop where you can use emeralds, crystals, essence or actual money to make purchases. Among these are pearls, gems, more emeralds and essence, cards and even adding Jack Pumpkinhead to your team of fighters. So far, I've only bought an occasional number of life potions, which are four for $.99, which seems pretty fair considering it's an item in a digital game. Money might not exist in Baum's Oz, but micro transactions keep the development of the game going. So while I'm not a fan of sinking a lot of money into a digital game, consider making an occasional purchase as a tip to the developers.

Playing through battles costs energy, which is replenished one unit every five minutes. The amount of energy you have increases by one unit every time you level up. You can also replenish your energy with an energy potion. Each series of stages generally use progressively more energy, tapping out at 10 per battle.

Leveling up tip: if you perform really well in a battle, it's marked with three stars. You can replay any battle, but if you earned three stars, you can "raid" it instead for the same amount of energy it would take to play it. Raiding gives you all the rewards you would have gotten for playing through. It's a good way to earn more essence and experience points if you have extra energy and aren't ready to progress further into the game's battles. Note that raiding is not counted towards winning a battle with a character for your daily tasks.

For being this type of RPG, the story is fairly well-done and the graphics are quite beautiful and detailed, although some depictions of the Oz characters are rather unique. The sound is also rather immersive, although it can be turned off. The Android version uses your Google login to record your progress, so presumably (but I haven't tested this) you can continue playing if you switch to another device.

If you're a gamer who enjoys Oz, Oz: Broken Kingdom might prove quite a bit of fun. It's available for iOS and Android mobile platforms.