When listing classic American films, or just films period, no list is complete without The Wizard of Oz. Based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first published in 1900, this film has stood the test of time and engaged generations with it’s meaningful message that no matter how old you are, there’s no place like home. The film, first released in 1939, is turning 75 years old this year, so to celebrate this milestone, let’s take a look at some of the dozens of spinoffs and adaptations that have come from both the beloved musical and the novel.
Oz the Great and Powerful
This blockbuster from the modern entertainment powerhouse that is Disney cost the studio an estimated $325 million to make, but dazzled audiences across the planet with its 3D images and dazzling computer generated graphics. Serving as a prequel to the original film, Oz the Great and Powerful tells the story of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a down on his luck con-man and traveling magician who gets swept into a tornado while riding in a hot air balloon in an effort to escape from people he swindled, and crash lands in a place called Oz. There, he meets a series of women including Glinda (Michelle Williams), Theodora (Mila Kunis), and Evanora (Rachel Weisz who, in my opinion, was the best part of the film).
The film sets the scene for the original in a much darker way than many would have expected. There are many parts that could be deemed downright frightening when considering its young target market, and between Kunis and Weisz tearing up the screen it’s hard to see much relation to the original. However, the gamble Disney took to make it paid off, since it pulled in nearly $500 million worldwide during its theatrical run. Luckily, you can still easily catch the film on demand through DTV or watch it online though Disney.
One spin off of the original film and novel managed to successfully draw in a whole new legion of fans and endear itself to millions across the world. I am, of course, talking about Wicked. Much like Oz the Great and Powerful, Wicked is a prequel to the original story, however that’s where the similarities end. Based on the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, the musical tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West (named Elphaba) and Glinda the good.
The musical, which premiered in 2003 with Kristen Chenoweth as Glinda and Frozen’s Idina Menzel as Elphaba, begins when the two witchy women meet in school. Glinda is, naturally, well liked and popular, while Elphaba is subject to ridicule because of her skin color. Both young women come into their own while embarking on an unlikely friendship which ultimately becomes deeply fractured when the two venture to the Emerald City and meet the Wizard.
The musical has gone on to win three Tony awards as well as a Grammy for its original cast album. On top of that, it has become one of the longest running shows in Broadway history with a staggering 4,500 performances. It’s been translated and performed everywhere from Mexico City to Seoul. Despite rumors of a film version coming, there appears to be nothing substantial yet.
The Wiz is another musical take on the classic story, albeit a significantly more eccentric one. The musical started as an all African-American version of the original book and premiered in 1974 in Baltimore before moving to Broadway the following year.
It created enough buzz that Motown Records Barry Gordy decided to purchase the rights to the film. On the insistence of his star recording artist (and girlfriend), Diana Ross, Gordy cast her as Dorothy in the film version. Acting alongside Ross was a young Michael Jackson as Scarecrow, Lena Horne as Glinda the Good, and Richard Pryor as The Wiz. The film, which cost $25 million to make only earned $13 million at the box office, more or less ended Ross’s big screen career (although she has gone on to do two made-for-T.V. movies since). Despite its financial shortcomings its psychedelic sets and disco-esque music has earned it a major cult following in the years since its release.
The attempts to capitalize on this timeless film and book have been a mixed bag to say the least. Of course, as with anything good, Hollywood will keep trying to churn out sequels and prequels and spinoffs for what is sure to be decades to come. However, nothing will capture the magic of the original. So, in honor of it’s 75th anniversary pop it in the DVD player, make yourself some popcorn, and return to that wonderful land of Oz.