Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Jay's thoughts on Nicole Kassell's Wonderful Wizard of Oz

 So, as Sam posted about yesterday, it's been announced that New Line Cinema has signed director Nicole Kassell to a new film adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

While I don't want to be a downer, first things first: we've heard of many, many Oz movies in the works over the years and only a very few have actually come out. So my anticipation is tempered.

I'm actually very glad to hear that a female director has been assigned to Oz given that with Dorothy's lead role and the strong influence of other female characters from Aunt Em to the Good Witch of the North to the Wicked Witches and Glinda, a female perspective would be refreshing.

It's also nice to hear that this is from New Line Cinema rather than Warner Brothers proper. New Line is a division of Warner Brothers, and they were the studio who funded and released The Lord of the Rings trilogy and later The Hobbit. And they also handled Shazam, one of the best DC Comics movies. (Come at me.) They have less of a reputation for interfering with a director's vision.

According to the articles released, this is going to be primarily an adaptation of the book rather than a direct remake of the MGM film. However, as New Line is part of the WarnerMedia family, which also includes Turner Entertainment—owners of the MGM movie—they will be able to borrow from it if they wish. I would hope that they can try to avoid copying the classic film as a new movie based on Oz is almost already at a disadvantage as that movie is so beloved, and I'd prefer to see what can be done differently. You already have the same basic story and many of the same characters, so further tying yourself to that version can make audiences think of that movie instead of just enjoying yours.

I'm sure even if they want to go closely for the book, we'll still be seeing a streamlined version of the story that may eliminate or combine some events from the book. And don't expect the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman or the Winged Monkeys to tell their backstories at great length. Unless they go the recent Warner trend of doing an HBO Max series set in Oz telling more tales of that world to tie in with the film. (Okay, Jay, back to what we KNOW is coming rather than getting excited over a hypothetical. They've announced similar series to tie in with the new The Batman and The Suicide Squad films.) What they do with the story is the main reason why I'll be excited to see the film.

I do have some fancasting ideas, though I doubt many of them would come to pass.

Dorothy should be cast younger than Judy Garland's version, rather more like Fairuza Balk in Return to Oz. I'd almost suggest Abby Ryder Fortson, who very capably played Cassie Lang in the first two Ant-Man movies, as she was able to turn in a really good performance. However, she's already aged since Ant-Man and the Wasp, and will be older before they'd begin shooting. But still, a capable child actress in that vein with a good director should be able to handle the role well.

I don't have many direct fancasts for Dorothy's friends, but a big suggestion I have is to cast them as young adults rather than Hollywood heavies or long-established talent as has been done often in the past. Dorothy's friends are seeking their way in the world, trying to figure out how they fit, which young adults can easily relate to.

That said, I have fancied the idea of John Barrowman as the Wizard. He has a lot of range and has recently been rocking his naturally white hair, and if they should ever follow up with the character's return in a potential sequel, he should still be quite ready for it.

I've also thought of Felicia Day for Glinda mainly because she's a lovely actress with red hair, but again, this isn't my movie, so if my particular picks aren't done (which is likely), it's fine, just means I'm seeing someone else's vision that didn't quite line up with mine. I hope I'll be able to appreciate it for what it is.

I will add that I hope they get a diverse cast for Oz. The story and subsequent series might have been created by a white, straight and cisgender male, and the original illustrators were quite the same, but that doesn't mean that the entire Land of Oz has to be white. Oz the Great and Powerful, for its flaws, embraced this, albeit that the principals were white. The Wiz is basically proof in action that you can retell the story with people of color.

So, as Hollywood continues down yet another yellow brick road, let's wish them good luck!

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