Thursday, May 29, 2014

Oz writing... Just not here...

You may have noticed a lack of blogging, and so have I... Well, the fact is, I actually conceived, pitched and wrote two drafts of an article for a periodical. I don't want to say what the article is or where I sent it because although I believe it was accepted, nothing's in stone until the issue is off to press.

Also, heavily at work on a couple Oz stories.

One is a novella about Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, Gayelette, Mombi, and one of old kings of Oz long before the Wizard arrived in Oz.

Surprisingly, the other story evolved quite a bit. It was going to center around Ozma pointing out some of the people in her life. Now it's titled "Tommy Kwikstep and the Magpie." Ozma will still appear, but in a much more minor role.

Stories can change quite a lot from initial concept to finished story...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Nathan's "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" Review

Based on the book Dorothy of Oz by Roger Stanton Baum, that was also its working title. I can only figure they changed it in hopes of launching a franchise, but since the film isn't doing all that well at the box office this probably won't happen. I have to wonder if a sequel would adapt another Roger Baum book or something totally different.

In general, I think Roger's books get more attention than others simply because he's L. Frank Baum's great-grandson, even though there are much better authors writing unofficial Oz sequels. Melody Grandy's Seven Blue Mountains of Oz trilogy, for instance, would likely have made a much better movie. Still, I think the creators had a much better grasp on Oz than did those for Oz the Great and Powerful, particularly when it came to the humor.

It got off to a rocky start due to some weird decisions. Why, for instance, were the Kansas parts set in the modern day? And why did the people look like characters from The Sims? Once it got into more surreal landscapes, it worked better, something I've often thought about computer-animated films. Besides, I realize it didn't have the budget of big studios, and I would imagine most of the money they did have was spent on the voice cast. There were songs, but none of them were at all memorable, at least to me.

As an adaptation of the book, it was pretty loose, using characters and situations in quite different ways than those in which Roger wrote them. The Candy Country with a marshmallow person as a prominent resident, Wiser the Owl, the China Princess, the talking boat Tugg, and an evil jester who had harnessed the power of the Wicked Witch of the West all appeared in Dorothy; but were altered for the film in ways, usually in ways that were at least supposed to make them more comical. Dorothy in the book does encounter Wiser outside the Candy Country with his body covered in molasses, but his being overweight was new, as was his habit of talking incessantly.

And while the original Jester was a hapless individual who had been corrupted by the Wicked Witch's wand, the film made him the Witch's brother and more irredeemably nasty. His over-the-top persona made him a more interesting and entertaining character than he was in the book, as well as a more believable threat. The China Princess was pretty true to character, and while her romance with Marshall Mallow seemed a bit tacked on, it worked all right. It did seem like her size wasn't always consistent, though. There wasn't much to the plot, and the defeat of the Jester essentially just came down to all the other characters in the movie distracting him while Dorothy took and broke his scepter. Still, despite its flaws, it was mostly a fun experience.

As might be expected, there were several nods to MGM. I recall seeing early descriptions of the movie that blatantly incorporated elements like the farmhands from the famous film, but the creators apparently got into legal trouble and had to tone down this kind of thing. Still, there were characters in Kansas who had counterparts in Oz, and a specific reference to the apple trees in the 1939 movie. The familiar characters were often about as close as they could get to MGM without legal issues. Glinda in Legends wore an outfit like Billie Burke, but her bright red hair was likely a nod to the books. I'm not sure why the Tin Woodman had what appeared to be a furnace in his chest, but the film was pretty creative in its uses of the character's body. And apparently they can't have an Oz film without Winged Monkeys appearing in it, even though they were rather superfluous and there was no indication as to how the Jester got them to work for him.

I appreciated that the Queen of the Field-Mice put in an appearance, accompanied by a makeshift version of the Sawhorse. I entertained the notion that the bearded beavers who showed up in the same scene were Fairy Beavers, but that's probably too much of a stretch. I am interested in knowing whether anyone caught the names of the characters that the Jester had transformed into puppets. I think one of them was the Munchkin Mayor from the 1939 film, but I swear one of them was labeled as the Grand Bozzywoz of Samandra, a pretty obscure character from the books. If so, he didn't look much like his book counterpart, but I still give them credit for the reference.

The Characters of Oz — The Woozy

"Three hairs from a Woozy's tail" was one of the curious ingredients needed to restore Unc Nunkie and Margolotte, and Ojo was determined to find it somehow. Perhaps Ojo should have realized much earlier that he wasn't Ojo the Unlucky as he soon found the Woozy behind a fence with a sign on it that warned people to beware of it.

Scraps had to climb over the fence to approach the Woozy about its three hairs. What she discovered was a very curious creature, indeed!
The creature was all squares and flat surfaces and edges. Its head was an exact square, like one of the building-blocks a child plays with; therefore it had no ears, but heard sounds through two openings in the upper corners. Its nose, being in the center of a square surface, was flat, while the mouth was formed by the opening of the lower edge of the block. The body of the Woozy was much larger than its head, but was likewise block-shaped—being twice as long as it was wide and high. The tail was square and stubby and perfectly straight, and the four legs were made in the same way, each being four-sided. The animal was covered with a thick, smooth skin and had no hair at all except at the extreme end of its tail, where there grew exactly three stiff, stubby hairs. The beast was dark blue in color and his face was not fierce nor ferocious in expression, but rather good-humored and droll.
 The Woozy revealed that Munchkin farmers had placed him behind the fence due to his penchant for honeybees. Aside from this diet, the Woozy was really quite harmless. He could flash fire from his eyes, but only when he was angry, and he was usually even-tempered.

Scraps got him out by having him burn down the fence, following his suggestion to say "Krizzle Kroo!" which made him very angry because he didn't know what it meant. In exchange for this, he decided to let them have his three hairs, even though they were his only hairs and he considered them his prettiest feature. However, they were impossible to be pulled out by hand. So, Ojo had to take the Woozy along.

The Woozy was very square (fair and reasonable in demeanor). Since Ojo had a replenishing stock of bread and cheese, he gladly shared it with the Woozy, and when Ozma made him part of the curious menagerie in the Palace, Dorothy assured him that he wouldn't have to eat honeybees. The Sawhorse does consider himself superior and kick the Woozy, who claims to be a better steed and offers to burn the Sawhorse, an offer the Scarecrow refuses.

The Woozy doesn't make many notable appearances in the Famous Forty. He does join the grand expedition to find Ozma in The Lost Princess of Oz, most notably being able to walk over thistles thanks to his leathery skin.

Kim McFarland gave the Woozy an origin in A Refugee in Oz, but he doesn't seem to be very active in later Oz stories, instead just being one of the curious creatures you might find in Ozma's palace.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Further Films of Oz

So, with Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return out, it's joining a huge lineup of Oz films. Let's take a look down memory lane at the previous Oz film sequels.

Quite seemingly, the first film that served as a sequel to The Wizard of Oz is now lost. The Selig Polyscope Company produced a number of short films to accompany the short Wonderful Wizard of Oz film in 1910. Sadly, only the first one has turned up. While miraculous film finds are made all the time, my hopes are low for finding further Selig Oz films. The extant Selig film was turned up in the 1980s, and it is now 2014 and no further discoveries have been reported. Or perhaps Selig's other Oz films are so oddball that they've yet to be identified. (As The Fairylogue and Radio Plays was one presentation and not individual films, I'm not counting those here.)

Do the 1914 Oz Film Manufacturing Company films count as Oz sequels? I'd say no. They were not marketed as sequels, and it seems that each film was meant to stand as an independent piece. There is little to no continuity between the films.

Thus, the first extant Oz sequel film is the 1932 The Land of Oz by the Meglin Kiddies. The little short is very loosely based on the Baum book with the Scarecrow running the Emerald City, which Jinjur takes over with the help of Mombi who has a boy named Tip as a slave. Dorothy is also in the plot, bringing a statue of the Tin Woodman to life with the Powder of Life and later getting kidnapped and daring to escape from Mombi. It would seem to be considered a standalone piece, but the film's title says that it is a sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Sadly, there is no easy way to see the film as it has never been released on home video. Apparently, a film archive can arrange a screening. Willard Carroll rediscovered the film and it seems that it was screened at the Centennial Convention. A DVD transfer was screened at the 2012 Winkie Convention. The second half of the film's audio is missing.

So, what was the next Oz sequel? We flash forward 25 years to find Walt Disney with his abandoned Rainbow Road to Oz. We've discussed that plenty of times, so I'll link to my specific entry about that.

In 1961, Shirley Temple offered her own take on The Marvelous Land of Oz with her television show, but although it was based on the second Oz book, the production actually seems to be designed to be a standalone piece. Thus, Shirley Temple, you get a pass in our lineup of Oz sequels.

Three more years would bring us the first bit of animated Oz that was not a short: Videocraft's Return to Oz. It was a duo-sequel, following up the Tales of the Wizard of Oz cartoon series and also offering a sequel to the Wizard of Oz story. It took full advantage of the public domain status of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by reworking the plot into a sequel: the Wicked Witch is back and has robbed Dorothy's friends of their gifts from the Wizard. Another Kansas twister whips Dorothy and Toto back to Munchkinland, where she rejoins her old friends to find the Wizard again while keeping one step ahead of the Wicked Witch, who's got a few new tricks up her sleeve. (Voicing Dorothy was Susan Conway, while singing her songs was another Susan: Susan Morse, who happens to be a friend!)

Another musical sequel would follow in 1969: the kiddie matinee The Wonderful Land of Oz, based on The Marvelous Land of Oz. Live action, and with so many thrills, you'll be Ozified! Or ossified. The plot actually stays very close to Baum's original book with a few cuts. The quality of the production is pretty low, and the acting seems rather amateurish, aside from Channy Mahon who plays Tip, who really just should not have been cast as the lead character in a movie.

At all.

Finally getting released in 1972 was Journey Back to Oz by Filmation. The voices had been recorded ten years earlier and the animation begun, but when funding ran out, the project was in limbo until it was finally completed. It's generally given a good claim to being the official sequel to the MGM Wizard of Oz due to a cast member appearing in the film: Margaret Hamilton as Aunt Em. Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland's daughter, took her mother's role of Dorothy and made it her own for the film, though her voice is reminiscent of Judy's at many points.

The plot? Dorothy returns to Oz via cyclone and with help from Pumpkinhead (Paul Lynde) and Woodenhead (Herschel Bernardi), races to the Emerald City to warn the Scarecrow (Mickey Rooney) of the wicked witch Mombi (Ethel Merman) invading with her magic green elephants!

With home video and more Oz books going into the public domain in the 1980s, more Oz sequels popped up: Dorothy in the Land of Oz (the Oz cartoon of many names, including Dorothy and the Green Gobbler of Oz) featured Dorothy returning to Oz via the Wizard's turkey balloon and joining Jack Pumpkinhead, the Hungry Tiger and Tik-Tok to defeat Tyrone the Terrible Toy Tinkerer. The Children's Theater Company of Minneapolis filmed their stage version of The Marvelous Land of Oz and released it to home video, but although it references the first Oz story, it is again a separate piece. 1987 brought the direct-to-video Dorothy Meets Ozma of Oz, an adaptation of Ozma of Oz, set up to be a sequel to Wizard, though no particular version.

And of course, Disney released Return to Oz in 1985. but I've written about that here.

The Marvelous Land of Oz was adapted as part of the PanMedia/Cinar anime series, but as that series adapted several Oz books as one long storyline, it is a little less of a sequel. It follows the book's plot admirably despite adding Dorothy, but begins to take many twists, including Glinda transforming herself, which actually goes against what she says in the book.

The 1990s did not offer many Oz productions, but we did get DiC's Wizard of Oz series based on the MGM film in which Dorothy returns to Oz with faulty Ruby Slippers, a resurrected Wicked Witch, and the Wizard at the mercy of a cruel wind. Dorothy's friends have had their gifts stolen, so it's up to them to try to bring peace to Oz once again.

The 2000s finally brought more Oz spin-offs, but really no sequels until Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger

For L. Frank Baum's birthday, the Royal Podcast of Oz presents "The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger" from Little Wizard Stories of Oz.

Featuring Mike Conway as the narrator and Hungry Tiger, Peter Norman Heimsoth as the Cowardly Lion, additional voices by Jay Davis and Bria Rivera.

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Big News: 'Yellow Brick Road'

I'm so excited to share that Yellow Brick Road, a screenplay that I've been developing for more than two years now, is finally on its way to the big screen!

It'll be a sort of “old school” animated musical that tells the story of the grown-up Dorothy Gale and the former Wizard, Oscar Diggs, teaming up to defeat a new evil in Oz, Betsy Bobbin.

I think Oz fans will really enjoy this film, and though I can't say much about it now, I can't wait to share more details about the project with our readers as it progresses.

Here's your first look at Yellow Brick Road, currently in development!

UPDATE: A New Adventure Awaits You in Oz...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Once Upon A Time In Oz

This entry will discuss—in full, spoilery detail—the plot of the second half of the third season of ABC's TV show Once Upon A Time. If you are behind or haven't seen it yet and don't want it spoiled, I encourage you not to read this entry just yet.
I admittedly have never been a big fan of Once Upon A Time. I cordially dislike crossing over fairy tales, and this is basically the entire driving point of the show. The main characters are Emma Swan, a woman who discovers her parents are none other than Snow White and Prince Charming, and the woman who adopted her abandoned son Henry is Regina, the Evil Queen. In Season 1, with the help of Rumplestiltskin, Regina cast a curse that sent the people of The Enchanted Forest (such as the Seven Dwarfs, Red Riding Hood, her grandmother, Gepetto, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, etc.) into a small town in Maine called Storybrooke. Throughout Season 1, no one in Storybrooke knows who they really are. Emma had previously been sent into our world as a baby, and revealed in Season 2 to have been helped out by Pinocchio throughout her life, even when she met up with Neal, who was actually Rumplestiltskin's son and Henry's father.

At the end of Season 1, everyone in Storybrooke gets their memories returned, and much of Season 2 builds on Cora, Regina's mother, who dies during the events of the Season. At the beginning of Season 3, our heroes (Emma, Neal, Snow White, Charming, Rumpletstiltskin and Regina) go to Neverland to rescue Henry from a wicked Peter Pan who turns out to be Rumplestiltskin's father. (Noticing a trend with the baddies here?) Peter Pan follows them back to Storybrooke to re-cast the curse, forcing Rumplestiltskin to kill them both and Regina to undo the curse to return everyone to the Enchanted Forest. Emma and Henry leave Storybrooke, forgetting that it existed, and start a new life in New York.

The two halves of Season 3 felt like two smaller seasons, each telling complete storylines in 11 episodes. The teaser for the second half revealed that the Wicked Witch of the West—depicted with green skin and red hair—would be the big bad of Season 3B.

Once Upon A Time is noted for how it reveals backstory alongside the main plot. So, throughout the first nine episodes of Season 3B, we discovered more about this take on the Wicked Witch, who they named Zelena.

Zelena was the daughter of Cora and a gardener who made her believe that he was a prince. After making her pregnant, Cora almost married the man who became Snow White's father until the woman who became Snow White's mother revealed that Cora was pregnant. After Zelena was born, Cora sent her off in a cyclone, and she ended up in Oz, adopted by a poor farmer and his wife who noticed that she seemed to have magic powers.

Zelena's adoptive mother died as she grew up, and her father finally revealed that she was adopted and had magic to her, and she went to see the Wizard in the Emerald City, who gave her the Silver Shoes to take her to the Enchanted Forest, where Rumplestiltskin taught her some magic, but made clear that Regina was the better of his two students. Becoming envious of Regina, Zelena's skin began to turn green. Returning to the Emerald City, she discovered the Wizard was a man from Kansas named Walsh who used tricks. Zelena transformed him into a flying monkey.

Zelena was approached by Glinda and invited to join a sisterhood of witches who would protect the Land of Oz. Zelena accepted, but when Dorothy arrived in Oz (not killing the Witch of the East and without Toto) and is taken in by Glinda and the other witches, Zelena became envious (and green) again and found a passage in the Book of Records (which also tells the future in this version) that suggests Dorothy will kill her. After threatening Dorothy with fire, Dorothy throws a bucket of water at her, making her "melt." Glinda takes Dorothy to the Emerald City where she receives the Silver Shoes to go home (no Scarecrow, Tin Man or Lion, since the Witches were supposed to represent Wisdom, Love, Courage and Innocence). After Dorothy is gone, Zelena reveals that it was all an act to get rid of Dorothy and banishes Glinda to the Enchanted Forest, where Zelena and her flying monkey go to confront Regina.

Finding Regina and her people gone due to the first Curse, Zelena took Snow White's castle. When the curse was ended and everyone returned to the Enchanted Forest, Regina confronted Zelena, who revealed that they were sisters. Neal and Belle resurrected Rumplestiltskin, the cost being Neal's life, but Rumplestiltskin absorbed him into his body, allowing them split into two unstable people at times, or remain as one mad being. (This show gets really weird.) He later told Snow White, Charming and Regina how to find Glinda, who told them what Zelena wants to do: create a spell to go back in time and prevent Cora from abandoning her. She also suggested that Emma is only one who can defeat Zelena.

Snow White decided that the only way to get Emma back would be to cast the curse again, but as they finish the curse, Zelena makes it so they won't remember casting the curse or why they did it or remember her. However, Rumplestiltskin has Neal send memory potion to Captain Hook so he can get Emma back to Storybrooke and make her remember.

Emma had been dating a man named Walsh, but when Hook showed up, he makes her drink the memory potion. When she told Walsh that she needed to go home, he turned violent and begins fighting Emma, turning into his Flying Monkey form. He got knocked out and fell to the street, disappearing just before impact. (In later episodes, Monkeys are dealt seemingly fatal blows and they disappear, leaving their fates unknown: is this how they die or are they transported elsewhere?)

Returning to Storybrooke, Emma found her parents and began looking for who had cast the curse. Zelena, no longer green in Storybrooke, claims to be a midwife and offers to help Snow White with her baby. After they discover that citzens have been transformed into Flying Monkeys, Charming, Emma and Hook began looking for the Witch, leading to Charming's sword getting taken: the symbol of his courage. Neal reappeared, but died in the woods, allowing Rumplestiltskin to regain his sanity and he warned Emma of Zelena.

Zelena and Regina dueled, Zelena intent on getting Regina's heart for the spell, but Regina had hidden it away, and later had Robin Hood safeguard it. Zelena cursed Hook's lips so that if they come into contact with Emma, they would remove her magic powers. They eventually realized that Regina's spell needs four ingredients, the fourth being Snow White's baby for innocence. Zelena had Rumplestiltskin stole Regina's heart, while Regina reconnecting with Henry and restoring his memory (with help from the Once Upon A Time book) broke Zelena's memory spell. Emma, unfortunately, was forced to revive Hook through mouth to mouth resuscitation after Zelena had him nearly drowned, taking away her powers.

Snow White shortly had her baby and Zelena takes it to cast her spell, using Rumplestiltskin's brain, Regina's heart, Charming's sword and the baby to open up a time portal. Regina, using light magic, managed to take Zelena's pendant before she could enter the time portal, thus closing it and restoring anyone who'd been transformed into a Flying Monkey. In jail, Regina offered an offer of redemption to Zelena, who was later killed by Rumplestiltskin, thus ending any connection to Oz the plot has had so far.

The 2-episode Season 3 finale had Hook and Emma enter a re-opened time portal, which led them into interrupting the first meeting of Snow White and Charming, creating a homage to Back to the Future that ends with Emma regaining her powers, a new resident being brought to Storybrooke who makes Regina mad at Emma (again), and setting up Season 4.

(Deep breath...)

Personally, I was underwhelmed. Oz of course has a rich lore that is ripe for a TV show with a budget big enough for passable CG effects to do wonders with, but Once Upon A Time doesn't do that. They go for popular stories, particularly ones made famous by Disney, even if they take their own twists. So there was no way they'd mine from anything but The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and even then, they only took a few elements from it.

Of course, they also took a few elements from Oz the Great and Powerful, using a similar (but simpler) Emerald City exterior and the Wizard literally being a shadow of James Franco. The interior of the Emerald City looked very impressive, and the Silver Shoes in their simplicity looked great, though I wasn't sold on them being really silver.

Of course their Wicked Witch was green, and this is, of course, due to her now being so iconic with that tint thanks to MGM's The Wizard of Oz, Wicked and Oz the Great and Powerful. (Teaser images said "WICKED is coming" or "WICKED always wins." It's almost a wonder the folks on the Broadway production didn't sue for using their title so liberally in advertising a similar production.) I was definitely not a fan of how Zelena's green skin clashed with her red hair ("Mmm, girl, that is not a good look.")

The changing of people into Flying Monkeys was rather odd, but what was really disturbing was that the main characters fight and attack the Monkeys with apparent aims to kill even after they know that the Monkeys are transformed people. It's not addressed until the next episode when everyone is apparently restored. (And then it's questionable: the only people we know who survived being a Flying Monkey are Little John, Aurora and Philip. What about Walsh?)

Finally, the overall writing. Once Upon A Time is not known for making a lot of sense. Literally all of the main characters are related somehow, and often plots are resolved with points that are nearly a deus ex machina. Storylines are often repetitive, and often, viewers find themselves cheering more for Regina or Rumplestiltskin rather than Snow White and her family.

Why am I against crossing over fairy tales? Because too often the writer gives in to making the stories too interconnected. I recently praised Namesake because although it has Alice's Wonderland exist alongside Oz, it is kept separate. The Captain Carrot crossover with Oz and Wonderland surprisingly had to create few new rules to make all three properties work and maintain their individual integrity. If you make Snow White have a best friend during her time as a scullery maid who happens to be Cinderella, you have two princes for these two who are not too far off, and the presence of so many kingdoms seems off. Now if you tie many more fairy tales to that, you begin to strain credibility. Even if what you write is pure fantasy, it should still make sense in its own world.

As I say, crossovers should only be done if there's a good story to tell that can be achieved by doing that crossover. Once Upon A Time had a good story mainly built around the Snow White story that tied in a few more by giving Snow White friends. But as the show goes on and new characters are introduced, the cast begins to get to be too large to handle. (I was particularly annoyed by Season 2, in which Aurora says she knows of a way to revive Prince Philip, which sounds like a cool plot, but we never got to see it.) And then it becomes clear that bringing in Rapunzel or Oz or Peter Pan is now not cleverly making them part of this world: it's a way to get viewers excited so they keep coming back.

And to an Oz fan, to have your favorite fairyland reduced to a mere viewership grab, that gets rather disappointing.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return — Jared's Review

Well, of the three first-run theaters in my city, only two seem to be showing Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return from Summertime Entertainment. They both were having 7PM showings tonight, and I went to my old favorite, the Campbell 16. (My new favorite, the Regal College Station Stadium, bizarrely is not showing it despite having a notable standee for the movie. It's also a lot closer to home...)

Well, I wound up being the only person to show up for it, which turned out not to be a 3D showing. So... I had a private screening. Not that I wanted one...

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return has had a bit of a history. In 2004, we'd heard that Roger S. Baum's Oz books had been optioned for film, with plans to develop a franchise. In a few more years, we heard that Roger's Dorothy of Oz would be the first for film treatment. The film, being the first animated feature by Summertime Entertainment, had a bit of a troubled path with lawsuits and funding, but finally arrives in theaters as Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return this weekend, distributed by Clarius Entertainment. It is the first theatrically-released animated Oz film that uses computer generated graphics, the first animated theatrical Oz film since Journey Back to Oz.

The animation is rather good. We must remember that this is the first animated film by Summertime, so it's no surprise that the finesse and polish of recent hits such as Frozen aren't quite there. On the other hand, it is definitely better animated than Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil. The animation doesn't scream "cheap." I didn't see it in 3D, but other reviewers have noted that the 3D is used tastefully. With that in mind, there were a number of sequences where I could see where some depth illusion would have enhanced the picture nicely.

(I was a little disappointed with no 3D at my theater as I'd previously seen Oz the Great and Powerful and MGM's The Wizard of Oz in theaters in 3D.)

The story of Legends of Oz heavily reworks Roger's book into a sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with some definite MGM inspiration, but just different enough to not get sued. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Lion hurry to the Scarecrow's Rainbow Mover to get Dorothy, explaining that years have passed in Oz, while for Dorothy, she would have just come home from her first visit to Oz yesterday.

Great. A Narnia-ish rule for time between the two worlds...

Dorothy's not having a great time at home (in a modern-day Kansas) as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's house is condemned. Dorothy tries to be brave for her community, but there seems to be little she can do, until she's whisked off to Oz by the Scarecrow's rainbow, which doesn't bring her to the Emerald City as her old friends are interrupted by Flying Monkeys. The Wicked Witch of the West's brother—the Jester—has taken the broomstick and harnesses its power with a crystal orb. He's turned many leaders of Oz into puppets, finishing with Glinda.

In Oz, Dorothy meets new friends on her way to help her old friends: the giant owl Wiser, Marshal Mallow of Candy County, the Dainty China Princess, and a helpful tree who becomes Tugg the boat. With help from friends old and new, Dorothy is ready to face the Jester. (There's a song sequence where you get to see a few L. Frank Baum characters: the Queen of the Field Mice and her people and the Sawhorse.)

The story certainly doesn't reach quite the poignant heights set by the famous MGM film, and honestly, I wasn't expecting it to. There's one case where the story suffers from that, and that is in two characters falling in love. They don't exchange much more than glances or a few pleasantries or flirts onscreen, so it becomes difficult to buy that they're actually in love. To be fair, they have more interaction than some classic Disney princesses had with their princes, but we've come quite a way since. The same problem is felt in Dorothy's relationships with her new friends. Aside from Wiser, there is little character development between adventures so Dorothy's new friends never seem to connect with her quite as much as the original trio.

Early on, we spotted many parallels to this production and Journey Back to Oz, a long time in completion (though the case is quite different for this film, which bears a 2012 copyright date), an all-star voice cast, as well as it simply being an animated sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Like Journey Back to Oz, Dorothy's first trio of friends appear, but this time, despite any misgivings they have, they try to help.

Dorothy is voiced by Lea Michele, and lest you think that her performance is Rachel Berry in Oz, Michelle manages to offer her own Dorothy, vocally different from her Glee character, and yet not attempting to channel Judy Garland. Bernadette Peters voices Glinda, and while she does a fine job, her voice seems just a bit too flighty for the way the character looked. Martin Short voices the Jester, and definitely relishes the role of villain. Patrick Stewart voices Tugg, and is definitely believable as an old tree.

Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters) voices the Scarecrow, and offers a very intelligent-sounding interpretation of the character. Kelsey Grammer (Fraiser) plays the Tin Woodman and fills the role well. Jim Belushi (According to Jim) is well-suited to the Lion, though, with a deep voice. Oliver Platt (The Big C) voices Wiser and is quite believable as an owl. Hugh Dancy (Hannibal) makes a charming Marshal Mallow. Megan Hilty (a former Glinda from Wicked, Smash) voices the Dainty China Princess, offering a good voice for the character.

The songs are nice, but not particularly great on first exposure. Unlike a couple friends, I didn't listen to them before watching the film, so perhaps they'll get better on another exposure.

Altogether, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return is a fun movie to see and a good start for Summertime Entertainment. Not too scary for the kids, but not condescending to them either. It's not going to be hailed as a great film, and possibly not even a great Oz film (particularly as many believe that role to be permanently filled), but it's one that those who enjoy a light-hearted film should check out, and definitely bring the kids!

(Do it quick, because given the seemingly limited release, it doesn't appear that it will be in theaters for very long.)

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Characters of Oz — Scraps, the Patchwork Girl

Having a magician for a husband is pretty lonely, particularly when he works on magic powders that take years to create. All there is to do is keep the place clean, cook the meals, and then enjoy yourself.

Dr. Pipt was aware of this, that was why he brought Bungle to life to keep Margolotte company. But what if she was able to have help with the housework? Although Dr. Pipt (probably) never saw the Scarecrow before The Patchwork Girl of Oz began, he was aware that a stuffed man was alive in the Land of Oz. And he knew that the Powder had brought to life Jack Pumpkinhead. So why not make a servant for Margolotte so she could have more time to relax?

Margolotte used an old patchwork quilt that her grandmother had made and used it to create a servant girl. The girl, which she dubbed "Angeline," was a little taller than most Munchkins. Baum describes her pretty well. (Although Neill's illustrations became iconic for the character, note where Neill differed from the text.)
Margolotte had first made the girl's form from the patchwork quilt and then she had dressed it with a patchwork skirt and an apron with pockets in it—using the same gay material throughout. Upon the feet she had sewn a pair of red leather shoes with pointed toes. All the fingers and thumbs of the girl's hands had been carefully formed and stuffed and stitched at the edges, with gold plates at the ends to serve as finger-nails...

The head of the Patchwork Girl was the most curious part of her. While she waited for her husband to finish making his Powder of Life the woman had found ample time to complete the head as her fancy dictated, and she realized that a good servant's head must be properly constructed. The hair was of brown yarn and hung down on her neck in several neat braids. Her eyes were two silver suspender-buttons cut from a pair of the Magician's old trousers, and they were sewed on with black threads, which formed the pupils of the eyes. Margolotte had puzzled over the ears for some time, for these were important if the servant was to hear distinctly, but finally she had made them out of thin plates of gold and attached them in place by means of stitches through tiny holes bored in the metal...

The woman had cut a slit for the Patchwork Girl's mouth and sewn two rows of white pearls in it for teeth, using a strip of scarlet plush for a tongue. This mouth Ojo considered very artistic and lifelike, and Margolotte was pleased when the boy praised it. There were almost too many patches on the face of the girl for her to be considered strictly beautiful, for one cheek was yellow and the other red, her chin blue, her forehead purple and the center, where her nose had been formed and padded, a bright yellow.
 After Ojo and Unc Nunkie arrived, coincidentally the day the Powder of Life would be completed, they got to witness Margolotte put the final touches on "Angeline": the brains. The magic brains were made of powder and would add certain qualities to the servant girl. Margolotte added Obedience first and foremost, then Amiability, Truth, and—on Unc Nunkie's suggestion—a little Cleverness.

Ojo felt sorry for "Angeline" and decided to interfere. He added some of all the qualities to the brains as Margolotte and Unc Nunkie helped Dr. Pipt: Judgment, Courage, Ingenuity, Learning, Truth, Poesy, and Self Reliance.

So perhaps Ojo was to blame for why when "Angeline" came to life the next day, she danced wildly to the music they were playing and caused the accident that proved so pivotal to the storyline of the book. With Margolotte and Unc Nunkie turned into marble statues, Ojo was set off to find the ingredients for an antidote, and the Patchwork Girl and Glass Cat would go off with him.

Except "Angeline" didn't like her name. She instead decided to go by Bungle's suggestion "Scraps" as it suited her quite well. Because with all of those brains, particularly Self Reliance, Scraps was not willing to be told how she should express herself or how to behave. She was her own person and she'd choose who she allied herself with and what she would do. She would sing her own nonsensical but whimsical songs and dance as she wished.

Scraps would assist or sometimes prove to be a bit of a troublemaker on her first adventure. She went in after the Woozy and shielded Ojo from Chiss, but she also got herself kicked out of the mysterious house and later attempted to hide Ojo's picking of a seven-leafed clover from Ozma. To be sure, she did it because she didn't want Ojo to be caught and punished, but it was still a dishonest act, and as the story turned out, it would have been easier if she hadn't interfered.

Scraps also got to meet the Scarecrow, and seeing someone similar in construction to herself, she became rather smitten.

After the adventure in The Patchwork Girl of Oz was over, Scraps stayed in the Emerald City. Although she retained her impetuous and independent spirit, the people of the Emerald City and the Palace accepted her for who she was and they built mutual understandings.

I was once asked to build a dynamic between Ozma and Scraps, and I said that I think Ozma is a little envious of Scraps' carefree spirit, as well as being amused by her ingenuity. Perhaps she keeps Scraps around because of Scraps is a little of who she could be, if she wasn't the ruler of Oz.

Scraps is also a little instrumental in Baum's The Lost Princess of Oz, helping out Dorothy and the Wizard by joining their search party, and also finding the Frogman and merging the two parties.

Ruth Plumly Thompson was obviously quite fond of Scraps, though she rarely had a lead role, her most notable appearance being in The Gnome King of Oz in which she becomes the new Queen of the Quilties, a role she doesn't enjoy. During the events of Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, she is briefly turned into a bird.

John R. Neill brought Scraps back in a more prominent role in The Wonder City of Oz, in which she has her first ever costume change thanks to Jenny Jump's turn-style, which sets her at odds with Jenny. Later, she is stranded on the planet of the chocolate soldiers.

It is Neill's long-unfinished The Runaway in Oz that finally put Scraps back in the lead role of an Oz story. After Scraps does the wrong things at the wrong time, she runs away from the Emerald City on her Spoolicle and meets new friends has many adventures before finally deciding to return to the Emerald City to apologize. Along the way, she meets Popla the Power Plant, who she forms a devoted relationship with.

Scraps is one of the more popular Oz characters, and given her colorful and open personality, it's easy to see why. As Kim McFarland said once, Scraps and the Scarecrow make a good think tank, Scraps being one who thinks outside the box, even though she's so far from the box, she can barely see it