Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Why Warner Brothers' New Wizard of Oz and The Wicked Movies Shouldn't Connect

 Screenrant posted a piece by Kayla Laguerre-Lewis arguing that the two-part film adaptation of Wicked and Warner Brothers' Kenya Barris Wizard of Oz should connect. I saw a link to the piece on Facebook, and of course, fans were disagreeing with the point or even the headline.

It's entirely possible for studios to collaborate. Right now, we have Sony's Columbia Pictures and Disney's Marvel Studios giving us Tom Holland's Spider-Man movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

However, with Oz, it's completely possible for studios to make projects independently as long as they don't cross trademarks and copyrights and licenses. Warner Brothers owns the MGM film The Wizard of Oz through their absorption of Turner Entertainment, who had bought MGM's catalog in the 1980s.

Universal was always going to be the one to make the Wicked film adaptation happen as they'd backed the musical. And the primary source material of both, L. Frank Baum's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the sequels he wrote to it are public domain, allowing for them to be freely exploited by anyone who can. Wicked is, of course, based on Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a derivative work of the Baum story.

Oz has been adapted many times over the years, allowing for different artists to bring their own spins to the material, from the original musical adaptation that hit Broadway in 1903 to the 1925 silent film, to 2007's Tin Man and 2017's Emerald City. Some fare better than others with fans, others have fans split.

Gregory Maguire's Wicked was a difficult piece to adapt into a Broadway musical, with a huge overhaul of the story dropping a lot of elements. Yet the musical took off and has a life of its own, still aware of its roots in Maguire's text, Baum's creation and the MGM landmark adaptation.

The novel questions the nature of Good and Evil and where our perceptions lie, using a famous character whose name was more a description as a protagonist. It's also worth noting that the word "wicked" doesn't necessarily mean evil, but twisted. It has the same root word as "wreath," "wicker" and "wraith." It's something that has been changed from its original purpose.

The musical found a different way to handle it. Early in the musical, Glinda asks, "Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?" If we take the "twisted" definition, Glinda in the musical is also "wicked," not that she's evil, but that she found herself taking a different path than she anticipated. (In the novel, Glinda is far less of an active character after her school years.)

The thing is, Wicked is not the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Oz is the story of Dorothy Gale, a young girl thrust into a strange and unfamiliar world, looking for a way to get home, empowering other people to improve their lives. Wicked is adjacent to Dorothy's story, looking at the character held to be the villain of Dorothy's story in an alternate universe to the original Baum or MGM incarnations.

Oz fans are split on Wicked to this day. I wouldn't be surprised if there are fans of Maguire's novel who dislike the musical and vice versa. However, the property is in itself an example of what can be done with Oz when one is not constrained by another version.

Maguire's book decided to pull away from Baum's Oz (but brought over the green skinned witch from MGM) and create its own version with a more civilized ugly side. The musical adaptation used it as inspiration for a very different adaptation, not feeling constrained by its source material.

And the movie version of the musical is going to be in two films, likely involving new characters, plotlines and songs, again not constrained by its source.

So why should Kenya Barris make his new interpretation of The Wizard of Oz connect to another version? It's likely not going to be the MGM film again, and it won't be exactly like Baum's book (though I hope we'll see the basis).

I don't want to see an artist make their version of Oz be forced to fit some inter-corporate synergy. I want them to offer their own version, unique and able to be what it wants. Not the other side of Wicked. And as The Chronicles of Oz proved, you can nod your cap to other versions lovingly while not constraining yourself to them.

Now what do I have to do to get an Oz movie featuring Ozma, Scraps and Polychrome?

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