The Case for the Recurring and Powerful Oz

James Franco at the BFI London Film Festival © Samir Hussein/Getty Images
James Franco at the BFI London Film Festival © Samir Hussein/Getty Images

Because I'm friends with Signature on Facebook, I know that Mila Kunis is hankering to play the Wicked Witch of the West in Sam Raimi's upcoming fantasia, "Oz, The Great and Powerful." But because I always double-check my homework, I know that any hope (or dread) this news inspires is entirely premature. "I don't know yet, I don't know," Kunis insists in an MTV News interview. If she doesn't know (and frankly, she doesn't sound that excited about it), then really the part could be anyone's at this point. Since it's Raimi and the storyline seems far afield from L. Frank Baum's timeless novels -- a prequel of some kind, apparently -- then I'm really hoping for a stranger choice. Is Bai Ling free? She'd be a great foil for already-confirmed star James Franco.

It's easy to roll one's eyes at remakes and reboots, but Baum (and Garland) purists are going to have to face facts: There's no such thing as a "real" Oz story anymore ... and that's okay. The original novel and its famous film adaptation have been absorbed into something far more wondrous: an original American mythology, one of the few such mythologies to have endured over a century in the public's imagination with no sign of growing stale or irrelevant. If anything, it has gotten stranger and more surprising at every turn.

Think about the way Gregory Maguire's intensely political rewrite, Wicked, twisted things around for popular fiction, later going on to become -- of all infernal things -- a belt-o-rama Broadway musical, which itself is currently headed toward the big screen. (There's already a vocal contingent hoping to tilt the filmmakers toward animation instead of live-action, and artist Heidi Jo Gilbert has even whipped up her own animated storyboard to demonstrate the advantages of that medium.) Or that time when "Watchmen" creator Alan Moore and his wife-to-be, the artist Melinda Gebbe, reinvented Dorothy as an erotic adventuress in the graphic (as in porno) novel, Lost Girls.

Remember being terrified and confused by "Return to Oz" in 1985? (Dorothy, played by creepster Fairuza Balk, receives shock treatments in the opening scenes.) The thrill is not gone: a documentary about the flop by fledgling filmmaker Gabe Rodriguez, called "The Joy That Got Away," is being passed around online and screened at festivals.

The Oz mythology has spawned an even less likely product: a protest song. For reasons too complex to go into here, Judy Garland's 1939 performance became sacrosanct within gay culture; over the years, the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" seemed to articulate more than wistful, childish escapism -- it urged people to imagine a better world, just out of reach, where their dreams of peace and freedom finally become attainable. The lyrics might seem too silly to be taken very seriously, but see for yourself. Here's a powerful video of the song in this context, following a moment of silence at a NYC memorial for Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who committed suicide last fall after being harassed by his roommate.

As you can see, there's little that newcomers like Sam Raimi or Mila Kunis (or even Bai Ling) can do to interfere with the great and terrible Oz legacy. Rearrange the ingredients, paint the Emerald City a new color, do anything you like! Even if you flop, you'll have broadened the palette from which a second century of Ozmonauts can paint from.

Why do you think Oz continues to fascinate? Check out a few ideas about this very topic here, and let us know what you think.

  • Sharon Akins

    I think you forgot the more recent adaptation by Syfy channel, of Tin Man which was viewed by the station and the actors as a 're-imagining' of Baum's novel, but if you have watched it, and watched the Disney Return to Oz, then how could it be thus, for DG MEETS Dorothy. I myself can only view Tin Man as the last installment - at that time - of an Oz trilogy of movies.

    • Wizard of Oz is the greatest movie of all time. Only thing is, is still hate the flying monkeys and the wicked witch is my favorite. They do not know how to make movies like that anymore. Although, I thought that the Tin Man was excellent as also the book, Wicked. I gave you a different look at the Land of Oz in several different ways. Great storytelling.

  • Frank Oz had gotten the idea of the Wizard Of OZ from Fayetteville, NY. His mother in law was Matilda Joslyn Gage as the Wicked Witch of the West. Ms. Gage was a sufferagists who worked along side Susan B. Anthony & Elizabeth Cady Stanton the founding mothers of women's rights. I had written a screenplay about them, if you are interested in Directing????

    • Dave Seamans

      How interesting I never knew this and I am a big fan of the Wizard of OZ. I am also a direct descendant of Susan B. Anthony.

    • Dean Nett

      The author of the original Oz books (14 in all) was L. Frank Baum, not Frank Oz.

  • I meant L. Frank Baum...sorry.
    a new take of Somewhere Over the Rainbow!

  • I want to be Scarecrow!! Where's the audition notices??

  • Are they going to cast the role of Glinda the Good Witch?
    I would love to play the part of Glinda. How close to the orignial adaption of the original Wizard 0f OZ will this movie remake be?

    I have been an Oz Fan for years and years, would love any information about the movie...

    Thank You, Kathy Abbott

  • jeannie huston

    i have also been a Oz fan for many years, i can recite the whole intire movie word for word, my living room in my house if full of Oz collectibles, i would love to play any role in the movie, any information on the movie would be much appreciated

  • Amy

    Actually...the Emerald City wasn't even green. If you read the books you discover that it is another creation of the Wizards. He makes everyone wear green tinted goggles when then enter the city! And...Hollywood changed Dorothy's silver shoes to red since it was an early color film.

    I will forever be an Oz purist, but that is because I've read and re-read all 14 (yes, there are 14) of Baum's Oz books. It is a real world to me and is therefore sacrosanct! However, I still love to watch (and sometimes criticize) every adaptation.

    BTW: I could only get through half of Wicked because it was so far removed from Baum's story...and not even well written.

    • Kathy

      Thank you for telling us about Wicked. I just finished reading the first Wizard Of Oz book with our 12 year old. We loved it but it is sooo different from the film version. I have been wondering if I (not my daughter) should even bother reading Wicked. I appreciate your post.

      • Sharon

        The story Wicked is not at all what you would expect in regards to the actual story The Wizard of Oz. It is more for the adults than children. It is the story of the life of the wicked witch from birth thru college and after. It is quite political once you get into the later years. I personally loved every bit of it and all of the books that followed. I look forward to the next on to come.

      • Anyone that is wondering about reading Wicked it depends one the person and how old the kids are. If the kids are in their young teens but if they are younger they shouldn't read it. I have read it and there is a part in it that isn't made for kids that are younger. I am a mom and if my daughter wanted to read now I would let her because she is 13 yrs old and going to be 14 this year. A ten year old shouldn't not read it because it's not written juvenile readers. I work in a public library where I work and a child that was ten years old wanted to read I have to let him check it out because we can't tell them what they can and can't check out its up to the parents to check it out, and give us a written note because we are a public library.

    • Sue

      As an Ozmopolitan and member of the International Wizard of Oz Club (yes, there is one!), I agree with those who have read all of L. Frank Baum's works (not just Oz) that it is more than Wicked will ever be. I read that and the language and foul attributes of the witches are not what Mr. Baum would've written nor discussed. They are disgusting and they are NOT something anyone who is not a mature adult should be reading. Ruth Plumly Thompson (on a rabbit trail off this note), was the first of many to write more about Oz. Collectively, there have been over 10 writers and 70 Oz books. If you are interested, google the IWOZ Club and join us! You'll be pleased!

    • Liza Bleu

      I can appreciate perspectives on all sides of a tale such as the difference between The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the book by Baum) and the The Wizard of Oz (the movie by MGM). However, I have read the detritus of the Baum masterpiece better known as WICKED. Maguire is indeed a technically skilled writer. That is far as I can go in praising his abilities in literary works ( or at least in his "disaster-piece" WICKED). Based on his literary attempt in WICKED it is obvious he definitely lacks true "creative license". It's almost comparable to as if a house painter took Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and painted the sun in to it make a more "abstract" and perhaps even a new "adaptation". Mr. Maguire in my opinion started with a relatively good concept and littered it with the garbage he uses to fill in the pages. Although I am a self-proclaimed Oz purist ( not sure if I would ever officially qualify since my first introduction to Oz was at the age of 5 watching the movie) I was interested in seeing another authors/artist point of the Wicked Witch of The West. Although the story is titled "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" it really boiled down to the villain, as in most stories. Not that I thought Baum should have titled it "The Wicked Witch of the West" but that I as a young child loving the movie remembered and even feared the mysterious, evil and HATEFUL witch. Why was she so hateful? So when the book "WICKED" was first released I immediately purchased it to, after all these years, get one man's answer. Sadly, I was disappointed. I had hoped that, although Maguire's attempt was really for "adults" as so many keep saying, that he would at least stick to a plausible story line. And although stories are not the same as paintings, it does go back to someone re-painting "Starry Night" analogy and deciding to add the sun in rather than make the stars shine brighter or the Cypress Tree bigger or even darker. However, comparatively Mr. Maguire (in my humble opinion) took "Starry Night" and changed the Cypress Tree to an Apple Blossom, changed the village Saint-Remy to Fayetteville, Arkansas. It really becomes a whole other painting. And if that is the case of what WICKED truly is....then why not just tell the story of a witch and not the Wicked Witch of the West? Why steal a basis from an American masterpiece to remove it so much from the original that it is un-recognizable and becomes nothing more than a TALL TALE of a tale? None-the-less while I whine as so many other “Ozmites” do about WICKED, Mr. Maguire is laughing all the way to the bank. But then in retrospect so did Gary Dahl and his infamous PET ROCK. It is what it is!

  • marshmellow

    OMG!!! I cant believe they are actually trying to recreate the greatest movie ever .you know hollywood is going downhill when they start recycling classics. on the other hand i would like to see what they do that

    • I am in agreement with marshmellow, Tin man on Sci fi wasn't a very good remake as didn't the Wiz with Micheal Jackson & Dianna Ross. I think that hollywood needs to find some new stuff and to leave the classics alone. The Wizard of Oz This movie was classified as a classic so leave it as what they call it The Wizard of Oz Biggest classic ever made and in 1939. It really was a great movie.

  • Mike Tabor

    Quoting Amy above :
    " It is a real world to me and is therefore sacrosanct! However, I still love to watch (and sometimes criticize) every adaptation.

    BTW: I could only get through half of Wicked because it was so far removed from Baum’s story…and not even well written."

    As a child , and again in my teen years , i read the original books as well , and loved them. I don't see how you could find Maguire's "Wicked" as being "not even well written" though....I thought it was excellent.

    • Jimmy

      I, like many adults of a certain age, used to watch The Wizard of Oz every year it came on TV. It's a classic with great character acting and the wonderful Judy Garland. Margaret Hamilton's witch always was scary. Of course, who can forget Over the Rainbow. I tried reading the Oz books when I was younger but I didn't like them as much. I like the idea of it being a dream. Return to Oz was a disaster. Awful! The Wiz (Not sure what my opinion is) I did see Wicked, not long ago and though it's not for children with the adult themes, it was spectacular and my friend and I loved it. The Wicked Witch got standing ovations. The music and everything else is great. You can't compare it with The Wizard of Oz at all. Maybe Baum wouldn't have liked it, but lots of people do like it. I don't remember much fould language, just the adult themes. I hope they don't ruin it in a movie and I hope it's not animated. Maybe it could be part animated and part live acting maybe like Mary Poppins. Just don't mess with the script and get good singers who can act. I like James Franco but I think that movie will not be to my tastes. Don't mess with a classic. Wicked is a completely different story. I hope they don't mess it up by getting actors who can't sing like Nine. I heard that was an awful movie of the play so I didn't see it. I loved Chicago, also done by the same person, though. I know I'm off the subject but just my opinions.

      • Lori

        It seems lately Hollywood keeps recycling movie ideas instead of coming up with original ideas. Have they run out of their own thoughts? I would like to see some of the cgi in the scenes with the flying monkeys and the wicked witch, but am afraid that this will just be a movie overtaken by digital effects and story will be given second place. Like many Oz Maniacs who grew up watching it on TV every year, there is no way of topping THE BEST with something just because it's a NEWER VERSION. Can the idea while you can and before any footage has been wasted.

  • Kathy

    I just finished reading the Wizard Of Oz book which is really so different from the movie version. I wish someone would do the book version.

  • Morgan

    It's an interesting article to be sure and I really love how OZ has become such an American mythology and legacy really. The idea that it can invented over and over again is great.

    I'm wondering if some of the previous posters even read it thoroughly though? They are not remaking the 1939 film. Rather, they are making a NEW film as a prequel of sorts. The 1939 film is one of my all-time favorites but even that was an adaptation of the original novel.

    Someone commented on how the novel WICKED was not well written. Actually, it was well written but not everyone's cup of tea. I think that sometimes people pick up WICKED the novel with the hopes that it will be the superficial entertainment that it is on Broadway. Not so. The novel is a dense and complicated biography/political manifesto the unfolds the more you read it. There are also 2 sequels to the novel that feature beloved characters from the original novels.

    Admittedly, I did see Tin Man on SciFi but in general hate that station's over-produced and in some cases, absurd, storylines. That miniseries was a muddy-mess.

    I say go the feature film route! My two cents.

  • Tom

    As a child, I loved the 14 original Baum books, and as an adult, I loved "Wicked" and its two sequels. Baum told the story from one perspective, as one would tell it to a child. Maguire told it as one would tell an adult. I also enjoyed his ability to define Oz as a real place with his gift of language.

  • Sharon

    Went to the Musical Wicked in New York acouple of summers ago with my husband, his sister and brother-in-law. I was the only one of the four of us who had read any of the books or had any idea what the story was about. It was the best thing I have ever seen in my life. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. After it was over not only me, but each of the other 3 could not believe how great it was. My sister-in-law said her husband loved it so much that he read and reread the program he had gotten and wanted to go back and see it again. He is now as hooked as I am. If you ever get a chance to see it, it is soooooo worth it. The scenery and the actors are unbelievable. You won't believe some of the things they do! UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!!!

    • Donna K

      Yes Sharon!!! Went to see it also on Broadway when it first opened with my oldest daughter as a Girl Scout Council run Trip...had dinner at Mars 2112 and a workshop with some of the actors and crew...I was hooked (being WofOz is my all time favorite movie, hadn't read Wicked-was blown away how it all fell in to place! Espec too because Elphaba was Idina Menzel & Glinda was Kristin Chenoweth..saw it 2 times since (2nd still had Idina), brought back my mom & other daughters, the 3rd time in London with my younger two's Marching Band trip! Plan to go back to see it again with a friend that hasn't seen it...maybe this Summer! Hope it becomes the longest running Musical!! Looking forward to this movie if all goes well! James Franco is a great actor but it doesn't mention what role he'll play...will keep a look out!

  • Kat romer

    Would love to be part of the movie too.....ANY PART!!!!! How does one find out how to audition?

  • Howard Clevenger

    It just goes to show you the power of what has become an American masterpeice, the books and the judy garland film! I look forward with great interest at all the interpretations, it is my hope that there would also one day be a lord of the rings, Chronicles of narnia style version with a sortof realism and such! whatever happens though, i still love to watch the Garland film every year and sometimes I do the dark side of the moontreatment wich is wild in its self. Variety is the spice of life!

  • Julie

    For those who liked the original 14 books - check out the Ruth Plumly Thompson continuation of the series - she took it much further and did it well. 🙂

  • Jeff Coleman

    ya know .... I enjoyed watching the Wizard of Oz as a small child, but also had all the books (still do!). I think it will be interesting to see what this new movie will be like. The old movie is really quite different from the books. In that case the books ARE better. I wish someone WOULD do a remake and remain faithful to the books ..... and please ..... NO SINGING!!!!

  • Jeff Coleman

    .... I almost forgot to mention (tried to forget) the Sci-fi channel version made me cringe in horror.

  • Michelle Harrison

    First of all it's really hard to remake classics and have them still be really really good. But, in the case of "The Wizard of Oz" I don't care who is in them I just wish everybody would leave that movie alone! First of all it is such a beloved classic to begin with and second of all my uncle (who has passed away now) actually got to interview Ray Bolger. It's just hard for me to see the remakes out there. I loved my uncle very much. I also like "The Wizard of Oz" very much.

  • The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movies since I was a little girl. I haven't read the books, just part of the first book Wizard of Oz. I think its great that they are going to make another Oz movie with different actors and more up to date or try and make like the original. I have seen the return of oz and I didn't care if it was a flop or not, it was about Dorothy and all the other characters. You never can get a movie just like the books if you did they would be 5 hrs long or longer to see all that from a books point of view.

  • I am in agreement with marshmellow leave the 1939 best classic alone and find something else to redo or to make. Not Wisard of Oz I am in my early 50's and i still enjoy sitting down and watching it. There are parts that still make me jump after seeing the movie over and over for a good 70 or more times.

  • val

    I have always love the wizard of oz, first the movie, then all 14 original books, tried to read some of the ruth plumly thomas ones but it just didn't have the baum wonder. I have always wanted to see more of the books made into movies, because my favorite character has always been Ozma not Dorothy.

    I have continuely wondered if the 2nd book is just too wierd for most directors or just too gay/trans and then making the actual introduction to Ozma fall flat if you ignore the origional writing. I have always sorta dreamed Tim Burton would do renditions of the books cause I think they would be perfect for his view point.

    When it comes to the before/new creations of the Oz world I enjoyed the Tin Man a lot but hated Wicked and return to Oz cause it was too far from books. So I worry about prequals that don't follow universe rules. You have to at least follow universe rules, you have to arive to Oz through magic or natural disaster and only through magic eventually, you can't age, you can't die through natural causes, and Oz is not a dream

  • Guess that even though I was all things Wizard of Oz from the age of three, ( I thought the Wicked Witch was really neat!), I eagerly read the book Wicked, and cried at the final curtian of the Broadway play. I loved it, and totally understood that it was yet another persons perception of the story. Hated The Wiz, Tin Man was just not my cup of tea, but the original movie, will forever hold my heart, and the Broadway play will hold a close second. It's all in the way we choose to dream a little dream....

  • kelly

    omg i just love this movie ill c every n anything about wiz of oz next yr in feb me n my husband will b going 2 vages n getting married age n will have a whole bunch of ppl going n the wedding will b a wizard of oz theam i cant wait ill b dorthy n he will b the lion hes my fav franco if u do anything in oz u will b GREAT just like in GH

  • Terry Myers

    I Love the Baum OZ stories. Even though the Original Wizard of Oz was off the beaten path from the books, its still remains the standard. Return to Oz was an excellent movie. It hit all the marks on the story line. BUT, all this Wicked nonsense is a slap in the face. Mr baum is turning in his grave! I know with the times, the books need an extra push for visual effect for the bigscreen. Putting Jackie from that 70's Show would be a big mistake! The witch needs to be a little more seasoned. WICKED is about making a buck, The Baum stories is about filling a childs imagination!

  • Barbara

    I'm a Wizard of Oz purist... my only diversion to date is reading Wicked because I have tickets to see the Broadway show in June. Maguire's book is its own adventure and fantasy and needs to be treated separately from what the OZ purists might expect. Once adjusting to the Maguire's style and purpose, the book fascinated me! Definitely not appropriate for children. I cannot even imagine what the Wicked broadway show must be like.... looking forward to it!
    BTW - I played the Wicked Witch of the West on stage twice!

  • The reason the original Oz series passes the test of time is because it's based on our inner human nature as depicted in the bible story based on our atomic structure. It is also the same blueprint Myers & Briggs test used in determining human personality, 98% effective since 1912, world wide. The reason the follow up movies do not have the same appeal is because they are not using the maps Baum discovered, and published in Tik-tok of Oz. They need to make a movie based on understanding that map, which is published in the book by Michele Rubatino The Origin of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This same map was also used by Walt Disney. Only the real mccoy wins the prize of mass human interest.

  • karen

    So what's the big deal if another oz movie is made? If you don't want to see then don't. I like almost all others who commented is a huge fan of the movie and the books. I actually like syfy tinman. I also like wicked. I was not so keen on the wizards though. I love all the oz trivia. I loved the made for tv movie on how the story revolved. If I remember correctly dorthy was originally a boy but baum changed it to honor his sick niece. He never had children but told the stories to the neighbourhood children. Can't do that now a days or you would be labeled a pervert. He always called it a magical place and one of the kids asked what the name was and he spied a filing cabinet with the letters o-z so it became oz. The cowardly join was created because there was a town bully and when he was confronted he wasn't so brave. America being the young country that it is did not have real fairy tails until these wonderful stories came along. As many commented there are 14 books. I personally think there is room for another movie or 2 if 3. I would love to see my favorite characters back on the screen. No other movie can take the place of the original. Might give it more interest. My 2 nephews never seen it. Their silly mother is scared by the flying monkeys.

  • karen

    Errr my phone auto corrected I am not huge fan of the wiz

  • karen

    Me again diem (hah my phone did it again didn't want to be called dumb so it changed it to diem ... and it tried to auto correct hah to hag) dumb phone auto corrected cowardly lion to join. Goofy phone.


  • I have a band, called Yellow Brick Road, also a campground by the same title. Call me the wizard of the OZarks. We be writin our own tunes, and playing in the Land of OZ. Keep the magic flowing

  • Michelle Stelmach

    I sincerely hope that James Franco's protrayal of the Great and Powerful Oz is better than his portrayal of an Oscar Host.

  • Ashley

    i Would LOVE it if i got to be in the movie! theres open auditions?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!

  • Elizabeth

    I am one of those folks that say, leave classic movies alone, and I am a HUGE fan of The Wizard of OZ. I am sick of Hollywood remaking classics I want to see new and fresh ideas, not the same old thing set in a different time frame, with new actors.
    But with this version it doesn't seem to be that at all, (at least I hope not) it seems to be more of a completly different direction than the version we all grew up with. Which by the way I don't care who they get to play the Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton's performance will never be topped. Sorry, I'm more of a fan of her's than Dorothy.I remember seeing a show about the top 100 scariest moments in movies and her Wicked Witch topped them all. I think Miss Kunis is way to pretty to play the part myself, but that's just my opinion.

  • Anita Parker

    Anyone can re-do this movie any way they want. I myself AM a true Ozmonaut and I can't wait to see what they come up with next, that is what this industry does!! No worries, the ORIGINAL classic will always be there!!

  • sindy

    you for got .....TIN MAN ... which is also another take on wizard of oz.... they can only remake it so many times

  • mason

    I think its a great idea to create a more in depth Wizard, people who havent read the books don't really get what he is all about.
    This movie is not a remake, its a completely new idea and a new movie. the books are fantastic it will be interesting to see what they take from them

  • Joel

    My daughter sent this to me and it is absolutely amazing to read all of your comments. I love the Wizard of OZ! I remember when Return to OZ came here to New York, and played at Radio City Music Hall. It played with a Disney show on stage. Needless to say, I took my daughter to see it and did approx 6000 other parents. Like you say the opening scene with the shock treatments was horrifying to the other children. It was the funniest to watch all of the screaming children running from the auditorium!!! I went out into the lobby and there they were all crying from being scared to death. After the movie, the stage show began with the witch from Snow White and the children all started screaming again!! It was quite a movie going experience!!
    I also saw The Wiz all I can say it was interesting and somewhat bizarre!
    I read Wicked and am still not sure if I liked it. I'll read it again in the future and make up my mind. I saw the musical and loved it. It was fun and mindless. Will probably see it again. It's been running on Broadway almost 7 years.
    So Mr Franco I am interested in seeing this new version of Wizard of Oz. I will see it just out of curiousity.

  • Marie

    Has anyone heard about audition for the movie?

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