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.

Download this episode (right click and save)

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 interesting that Dorothy appears to be drawn as someone of color. The character also looks considerably younger than Judy Garland's Dorothy, which is certainly more in line with the Dorothy of 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 now called 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!