Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Movies of Oz: DiC's Wizard of Oz

Jared and Sam are joined by Garrett Kilgore in a very informative discussion of DiC's short-lived animated series based on MGM's The Wizard of Oz.

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The Strong Man in Oz

A friend named Jon Miranda wanted to try out a new character he'd created in an Oz story, so I helped him come up with this. He wrote as Theo, I wrote the Witch of Dreams and the classic Oz characters. Deciding we had a fairly decent little story, I asked him if it'd be all right if I posted it. I did some editing for better reading and clarity, so enjoy.
Theo was a beloved strong man in his traveling circus. He was always a crowd favorite, the children loved him, and the ladies and some of those odd gents even more.

He slicked his hair back and made sure his mustache was curled to perfection as he winked to himself in the mirror.

"Theo Saint James, you are a marvelous man," he chuckled as he stepped out of his trailer, but found he was not in the circus grounds. Instead he was in some strange stone room. "What this now?"

"Hello..." said a soft, stern voice.

Theo raised a brow. "Who are you?" he called, wearing only his leather pants and boots.

"Who I am is not important, but what you know is..."

Theo crossed his arms.

"This is not funny!" he shouted. "I have a show to put on!"

"I'm afraid it'll have to be cancelled. You're a very long way from home."

Theo looked around and raised a brow once more.

"I have never cancelled a show before! Now enough of this."

He puffed his chest out and marched up to the door.

"Yeah, that magic only works one way, I'm afraid."

A tall, stately woman walked toward him.

Theo raised a brow and laughed.

"Oh, I see. Listen miss, why don't we go back to the tent and enjoy the show?"

She opened the door, and revealed a bare storage room.

"Welcome to the Kingdom of Dreams," she said.

"Kingdom of dreams?" Theo walked in and looked around. "There is no way out..."

"There have been outsiders here before, but they've typically found a way out. Now, what do you know of the mighty Wizard of Oz?"

"Wizard of Oz? I don't know a thing." Theo crossed his arms and approached her. "And you are starting to make me angry! Now show me the way out or else."

A few little gremlin soldiers appeared behind the woman. They were tiny, fuzzy men with stocking caps who wore shimmering pastel-colored costumes.

"Really?" she asked, tilting her head. "Because he seems to dislike you a lot. In the Kingdom of Dreams, we can see into your dreams, into your heart, and in the heart of the Wizard, you are particularly loathed. Now stop lying. What do you know of him?"

He shook his head and backed up a bit. "I don't know anything about this Wizard of Oz! Honest!"

"Perhaps he knows the Wizard by another name!" suggested one of the gremlins.

Theo crossed his arms and shook his head. "Let me outta here!"

The woman crossed her arms.

"I shall have to keep you here, then," she said quietly. "Do not try to enter a dream or you will be but a hazy memory by morning."

"Where are these dreams!?" he demanded, looking around, puzzled.

"We do not monitor them here," she replied. "And I don't have to monitor them, the dream gremlins do that for me. And as I said, if you try to escape in someone's dream, you will become part of that dream."

"So where am I supposed to go?" Theo asked, flaring his nostrils.

"You will have to stay here with me," she said, grinning. "Whether you want to..." she then frowned. "...or not."

"Hmf," Theo grunted. "Well I think one of us is going to be very comfortable and the other one will not be. I don't want to have to fight a woman, but if I have to..."

"Gremlins!" called the woman. "Tie him up!"

The gremlins giggled and began swarming around Theo with ropes. Theo fought and struggled as he tried to get free.

"GET OFF OF ME YOU LITTLE BOOGERS!" he shouted as he was knocked down in a sitting position, his hands and upper chest already roped up tightly. "I THINK A GENTLEMAN'S BEATING WILL SHOW YOU ALL! LET ME GO!"

"This is no way to treat your host," said the woman, rolling her eyes. "You might as well forget about your show. You won't be making it. Gremlins, tie up his legs, and some of you, bring me a record of his dreams."

Theo growled a bit as some held him still and bound up his ankles as well.

"Yes ma'am!" one gremlin said as it ran off.

"Would you get off of me!" Theo huffed. "Just wait until I am free from this!"

One gremlin smirked and looked to the woman.

"He's all yours, Witch of Dreams!"

The gremlin who had left ran back in with a folder. The Witch of Dreams pulled a picture from it and showed it to Theo.

"Does this man look familiar?" she asked. "We found his face in a dream of yours."

Theo blinked a bit and looked it over. "That's Oscar! He was in our circus."

Theo remembered how he and his father traveled with a circus. His father worked as a lion tamer, and he had trained to be a strong man. Oscar had befriended and encouraged Theo, who in return became arrogant and soon started to make fun of his old friend.

"He is the Wizard of Oz!" the Witch laughed. "You did know him by another name! What can you tell us about him?"

Theo blinked and tilted his head.

"I don't know! I haven't talked to him since I was a child." This was a lie. Oscar had vanished for a time, but years later had suddenly returned and rejoined the circus. That was when Theo had made him a target for ridicule. "He was a foolish man, and then one day he disappeared."

"What was foolish about him?"

"He was always causing trouble and such..." he struggled against the ropes. "Just let me go!"

"Tell me. What kind of trouble?"

"He'd just... gamble, sleep around with women in town, stuff like that..."

"Gambling? Is that his weakness?"

"I guess you could say that. Why?"

"Isn't it obvious?" she asked. "Ozma of Oz has grown too powerful. It's time to take one of her allies out of the equation. Glinda is too strong, but the Wizard..."

"I don't know any of those people! Now, let me go!"

"I'm afraid you're in a bit of a pickle," she chuckled. "You see, I only lead this place and could only muster enough magic to bring you here. I don't know how to send you back. I suppose I could let you wander out there. If you're lucky, you might get eaten by a Rak and it'll be all over."

Theo thought fast.

"Err... don't you think that the Wizard would want to see me again? He would want to know that you had me captured! Maybe even get him to gamble for me and see what he does? I'm sure he would take it."

"I don't want the Emerald City. I just want the Wizard out of the way, so maybe you will be reunited after all."

"Yes, perhaps we will!" said a voice.

Theo huffed and struggled as the gremlins looked around to see where that voice came from. Wearing a bright blue coat, a red vest and yellow trousers, out of the shadows stepped Oscar Diggs.

"Hello, Theo, fancy meeting you here! Now, for some reason, the Witch of Dreams wants to bring chaos to the dreams of the people of Oz?"

"YES!" she snarled. "Their dreams are so ... happy! It's BORING!"

Theo raised a brow and looked over the man.

"Oscar!? What are you doing here?" He shouted as the gremlin gagged him and the two picked him up. The others started to charge at the Wizard.

"Protect the mistress!"

"Oh, ho, ho!" laughed the Wizard. "You're all needles and pins today!"

He waved his hands and all the gremlins turned into straight pins on the floor. The Wizard pulled some shears from his pocket and cut Theo's bonds. Theo took off his gag.

"Oscar, what is going on?" He muttered as he shoved the rope off of him.

"Well, son, you may have turned on me badly back when I got back with Bailum & Barney's, but that's in the past. Wouldn't think of leaving you here!"

Theo looked down. He felt awful about what he'd done to Oscar, but was too proud to admit it. "You...wouldn't?"

"You can't leave!" snarled the Witch. "I won't let you."

"You're barely even a sorceress!" the Wizard laughed. He waved his hand and he and Theo vanished as the pins turned back into gremlins.

Oscar and Theo were standing in the throne room of the Emerald City now, in front of the throne of Ozma of Oz. On one side of the throne sat the Cowardly Lion, on the other, the Hungry Tiger. Just below Ozma's throne sat Princess Dorothy on the steps.

"Welcome to Oz!" chuckled the Wizard.

Theo looked around and was still taking this all in.

"Where... where am I?" he asked as he stayed close to Oscar.

"Welcome to my palace," said Ozma, smiling. "You're in the Emerald City, capitol of the Land of Oz. Now, what did the Witch of Dreams want with you?"

Theo looked to her. "You? You are just a little girl."

She smiled at him, and he relaxed.

"She wanted information about the Wizard of Oz..."

"She wanted to get me out of the way to bring chaos to the dreams of our people," Oscar explained.

"All right," sighed Ozma, "so that's another person we shall have to keep an eye on."

"Theo is one of the last people in the Great Outside World who's still alive who knew me very well."

Theo crossed his arms. He was still holding his grudge at Oscar, although it seemed that Oscar was over it.

"Oh, what is this, Oscar? Another group of people you have conned?"

Dorothy chuckled. "Well... yes!"

Theo blinked. "What do you mean by 'yes,' little girl?" he asked, confused.

"The Wizard fooled us all by making us think he had magic," Dorothy explained, "but he was just an ordinary man who knew some tricks. But since I brought him back, he knows real magic."

"Thanks to Glinda," added the Wizard.

Theo huffed and looked around, scowling.

"Of course, everything works out for you so well."

The Wizard laughed. "Well, old boy, how is the circus working for you these days?"

Theo shook as he grabbed the Wizard by his jacket and pulled him up angrily.

"How dare you!"

"Whoa, whoa, relax!" the Wizard grunted.

In a flash, the Hungry Tiger had pinned down Theo.

"Do not abuse our Wizard!"

"N-no! Please don't eat me!" Theo shouted.

"My conscience wouldn't let me," the Tiger growled. "Besides, you're not a fat baby."

The Tiger backed away from Theo.

"I just wanted to know how you were..." the Wizard explained, softly, getting back up.

Theo sighed and dusted himself off.

"Well I was still with the circus," he said at last. "Everyone was wondering where you were! What happened to you?"

"My balloon descended in a crack in the ground during an earthquake and I made my way back to Oz," the Wizard explained. "I decided I'd stay this time."

"Of course," Theo huffed. "Everyone said you left town again. Why did you come and save me? I would have gotten out myself."

"And gone where?" asked the Wizard. "If you made it past the Raks, you probably would have wound up in the Scoodler Country and been made into soup."

"Me? Soup? HA!" Theo gave a hardy laugh as he shook his head. "Well, thank you for the help, now point me the way home."

"Dorothy, go get the Magic Belt," said Ozma, and the little girl scampered off.

"How is the circus these days?" the Wizard asked again.

Theo looked over at the Wizard. "Just fine, I guess, but... it's sort of falling apart. We got bought out recently."

The Wizard looked at him curiously. "And they're not holding it together well?"

"We're all looking for new work..." Theo muttered, shaking his head.

"Then I have an idea," the Wizard mused. "Not long ago, a clown named Notta Bit More and a boy named Bob Up came to Oz and started a circus. They could use some more acts. If you like, I could recommend you. You're the best strong man I know."

"Why are you doing this?" asked Theo curiously. "Being so nice to me?"

"You were unkind to me, but is that any reason why I should treat you the same way?"

"You were my hero when I was a kid," he muttered.

The Wizard patted him on the back. "So, should we tell Dorothy to put the belt back? It's what Ozma was going to use to send you back.

"You—want me to stay?"

"Well, would you like to?"

Theo smiled and nodded his head.

"I think I'd like to," he said. "I'd get to live in the palace right?"

"Well, you can visit," Ozma said. "But I was thinking of putting you up in a nice apartment near the gates. That's where Notta Bit More and Bob Up live."

Theo smiled and nodded his head.

"I'd love that!" He bowed to her as he took her hand and gave it a kiss. "Your highness."

The Wizard chuckled. "Well, then, how about I show you to your guest room?"

Big Finish's Wonderful Wizard of Oz — Review

Some Oz fans got rather excited when they heard Big Finish Productions would be releasing an audio version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz this September. Famous for their officially-licensed Doctor Who audio dramas (which gave many of the later classic Doctors a chance to further define their roles) and a great dramatization of The Picture of Dorian Grey, hopes were high for Oz, joining their new series of audio productions based on classic literature.

It must be noted that Big Finish is a British company, and any actors voicing American characters are usually British actors attempting American accents.

This is, of course, not the first time a full-scale audio dramatization of the story has happened. The BBC has twice offered audio productions, and in the US, Monterey Soundworks, Colonial Radio Theater and the Children's Museum of Los Angeles have also produced adaptations. (There's also been several for kiddie records and the "Classic Wizard of Oz" set.)

Seemingly, Big Finish is quite aware of this and decided to do something different in their adaptation. The production starts well enough with a male character narrating (it's unclear on if it's the Wizard, supposedly Baum, or someone else entirely) and the tornado striking Kansas, but when we get to Oz, our first scene is the Wicked Witch of the East asking the chipmunk-voiced Munchkins who stole her Golden Cap. During Dorothy's journey, we cut over to the Wicked Witch of the West hearing news about Dorothy and her journey. From the journey south to the end, the Good Witch of the North takes over as narrator.

While the Munchkins, the witches (good and wicked), Dorothy and the Wizard sound passably American, Dorothy's friends are clearly not attempting to sound American, the Lion even using the term "blighters."

There are several story changes. The Tin Woodman tells his backstory, but his girlfriend is absent from it. Instead, the Wicked Witch of the East enchanted him to cut himself to pieces because she didn't want him cutting down her trees. All the troubles on the yellow brick road are condensed into two episodes: facing the Kalidahs as they try to get across a bridge, which causes the Field Mice to pledge allegiance to them. Then, they encounter the poppy field, where the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman simply call the mice to rescue Dorothy, Toto and the Cowardly Lion. When they head west, the Monkeys automatically are sent out, and it's revealed the Wicked Witch is marshaling an army to attack the Emerald City, and has a thing for spiders. On the journey south, they find Dainty China Country invaded by the destructive Hammerheads, who they fight briefly before calling the monkeys to take the Hammerheads away, but this can't be done, so they are requested to take them to Glinda's air palace instead. At Glinda's palace, she's been trapped in there for months after the Wicked Witches stole her Silver Shoes and Golden Cap and set a giant spider to keep her captive.

The problem I had with the story changes were that in all the episodes, Dorothy's friends were pushed to the side as Dorothy was made the heroine. This felt as if the writer didn't understand how Baum had the characters function. Dorothy is yes, a heroine, but her friends—who feel their vulnerabilities strongly—are supposed to rise to the occasion. Having Dorothy work out how to solve all the problems takes away from their development. In addition, we know Baum's Glinda would never let herself be caught like that!

I suppose production values are very good, except they tried to make it sound like a kiddie fantasy. John Troutman—who is typically a fan of Big Finish productions—was very turned off by the high-pitched Munchkin voices. The Queen of the Field Mice also has a definitely increased pitch, which might actually be overdone. My thought is that if you want a character to sound small, increase pitch and lower the volume of their voice. Big Finish did not do the latter.

I can't recommend this for someone who wants a good audio dramatization of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I'd recommend Colonial Radio Theater or even the Los Angeles Children's Museum's way too long version over it. If you're a fan who wants to experience a lot of different versions of Oz, then go ahead and give it a shot, but know that this isn't a great example of Big Finish's offerings, either.

An MP3 version can be bought with and without a CD copy from Big Finish, or you can order a CD from Amazon.