Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Oz Kids - The Monkey Prince

Jay and Sam reach the penultimate Oz Kids episode in which the kids go to China to assist a Monkey Prince learn an important lesson. ... We think...

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Monday, March 13, 2017

The Best & Worst of Oz Villains on Screen

I've been thinking a lot recently about The Wizard of Oz and what makes the film so iconic and so memorable, and one of the (rather obvious) conclusions I've come to is that for a lot of people, the Wicked Witch is as responsible - and in some cases, even more responsible - for their love and appreciation of the film as Dorothy is. This got me thinking, what makes a good Oz villain? What makes a bad one? And so, I've come up with of who I find to be definitively the best and the worst villains of the many film & TV adaptations of Oz...  

The Best



1. The Wicked Witch, The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch isn't just the best on-screen Oz villain, she's one of the greatest and most iconic villains of film period. While I was never terrified by her as a child as many other children are, there's no denying this witch's wickedness. This incarnation of the Witch of the West is quite different than Baum's, but I think the liberties that were taken with the character make for a much stronger and more memorable villain. Hamilton's performance as the Wicked Witch and her Kansas equivalent Ms. Gulch is both campy and sinister, making what could have easily been a somewhat one-dimensional antagonist one that is just as interesting as the story's protagonist. And, of course, if it weren't for this Wicked Witch, I think it's safe to say that we would never have gotten Wicked, which, aside from the MGM film, is probably the most popular and most successful adaptation of Baum's work to date.


2. The Nome King, Return to Oz (1985) - Like the Wicked Witch in the MGM film, Return to Oz's Nome King isn't exactly like his literary counterpart, and as was the case with the Wicked Witch, I think I actually prefer this iteration of the character over Baum's. The most interesting aspect of Nicol William's Nome King is that as the viewer, we're never really sure whether or not he's actually "the bad guy." Sure, he's holding the Scarecrow captive and turned everyone into stone, but the reasons he gives for what he's done makes him and the overall story more complex... which is basically what all good villains should do.


3. Azkadelia, Tin Man (2007) - I don't think I've seen Katleen Robertson in anything outside of her role in Tin Man, but I think her performance is one of the things that truly elevated the production to being something greater and more cinematic than typical Syfy Channel fare. Where the protagonist might leave something to be desired in terms of charisma and dimensionality, Azkadelia compensates by being one of the best developed and most compelling antagonists of any Oz adaptation I've seen. There's a definite deviation from the source material happening with this Witch of the West-inspired character and with the series as a whole, but it's executed so well that I really don't mind it.


4. Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985) - You can pretty much thank Princess Mombi for all the times you've heard someone talk about how scary Return to Oz is. The character is mostly based on Baum's character Princess Langwidere, one of the antagonists of Ozma of Oz, but is also derived from the character Mombi, who first appeared as the main antagonist of The Marvelous Land of Oz. The visual effects involved in the memorably haunting scenes in which Princess Mombi changes heads aren't exactly convincing by contemporary standards, but one can see how children of the 1980s would find this character downright terrifying. Of the several actresses who portray the character in the film, Jean Marsh has the most screen time and is the most memorable. She isn't as complex or as interesting as the film's other, previously mentioned "big bad," nor does she hold a candle to the Wicked Witch of the West, but I think I would be remiss not to include Princess Mombi on this list.


The Worst



1. Evilene, The Wiz (1978) - If there's anything Mabel King's Evilene has over Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch, it's that Mabel King's did scare me as a child and still sort of does now. There are a lot of things to dislike about this film, but chief among those for me is this character. I'm not really sure what the intent or inspiration was for this take on the Witch of the West, but it's just bad all around. I guess maybe Joel Schumacher really took the "only bad witches are ugly" line from the MGM film to heart? Eeesh. Basically, anyone who thinks Return to Oz is the scariest Oz movie ever made should revisit The Wiz. (Did I really just recommend re-watching The Wiz? Oy.)


2. The Nome King, The Witches of Oz (2011) - If you saw The Witches of Oz but don't remember the Nome King being in it, it's probably because a) he has about five minutes of screen time in the nearly three-hour film and b) there's nothing about the character's actions or appearance that reflect the character as we know him from the books and previous film adaptations like Return to Oz. I was lucky enough to attend a premiere screening of the film when it was released theatrically (as Dorothy and the Witches of Oz), and I got to meet and talk to Al Snow, the actor who plays the character. He's very nice and charismatic on a personal level, and believe it or not, he's actually read all the Oz books himself and knows quite a bit about them. It's a real shame then that he wasn't given a better role to play and that the character wasn't better realized. The Nome King appears out of nowhere in the third act of the film and does little more than fight the Tin Man. If it weren't for "No one beats the Nome King," the character's only line in the film, we would have no idea who this guy is supposed to be.


3. West, Emerald City (2016) - Remember how I said that I liked how the writers of the MGM film put their own spin on Baum's Witch of the West? Yeah, well, that doesn't always work out so well, and Emerald City's take on the character (and most other characters, but I digress) is proof of that. Because the Witch of the West has always been one of my favorite characters and was probably my favorite part of the MGM film from an early age, I feel especially let down by this incarnation of the character. She has so little in common with previous incarnations of the character that I'm left wondering why even bother calling her West? But I guess the same could be said for pretty much every aspect of Emerald City. (Did you know, for instance, that the actual "Beast Forever" was supposed to be the Nome King? Yeah, me neither.)


4. Theodora, Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - In complete contrast to the rather feminist and progressive characterization of the Witch of the West in Wicked, Oz the Great and Powerful imagines the character as a woman scorned, motivated primarily by jealousy and rejection. I see the film itself as a sort of mixed bag overall, but I feel like it totally misses the mark here, which is a little ironic given that the Witch of the West was so prevalent in the film's merchandise and marketing campaign. Unfortunately, the character fails on virtually every level, from the script and casting to the final make-up and costume design. I don't think it's fair to put too much blame on Mila Kunis, who I am generally a fan of and who I think has proven her acting chops elsewhere, but I do think that she was miscast (and likely misdirected) here, which is a shame because this is a role that she was very excited about and really gave her all to.

But what say you, readers? Is there a particular villain you feel really deserved a spot on either of these lists? Is there one that didn't? Chime in in the comments below with your own opinions!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: NBC's Emerald City Part 2

Jay reunites with Rachel Anderson and Angelo Thomas for another unedited and unfiltered episode to discuss the back half of NBC's season of Emerald City. How did it go? Will there be a season 2? Why are our hosts talking about the next Oz TV show coming already?

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Oz Kids - Underground Adventure

Jay and Sam realize they goofed in trying to figure out the Oz Kids chronology and talk about what they feel must be the third story in the series: Underground Adventure. When Frank and some new friends from America are caught in an earthquake, they have to find their way to Oz, and the other Oz Kids begin their own search.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Where is Oz?

To welcome people who are new to Oz, I thought I'd do a new series of blogs about basic Oz concepts. I generally haven't done a lot of this because someone already did do a great Oz 101: Eric Gjovaag's Oz FAQ, which I recommend to any Oz fan or just the curious. Still, my own take can be fun.

It's far, far away, beyond the moon, beyond the rain...
Halfway to yesterday and back!
Somewhere is Oz, magic land far away, beyond mountains, emerald seas...
It's just beyond the rainbow!

Where is the Land of Oz located? Just up above are lines Dorothy says from several adaptations of the Oz stories. But none of those descriptions are very specific...

The works of L. Frank Baum give us some idea of where it is. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz doesn't tell us much, but it seems to suggest a Kansas tornado can get you there. However, looking at tornadoes, that doesn't add up. Baum suggests the tornado Dorothy is in lasts for hours, when tornadoes can last about ten minutes and can move at speeds more than 300 miles per hour. A ten minute 300 mph tornado would be only 50 miles. Now, it's possible that it was a series of tornadoes, but for Dorothy's house to be smoothly carried from one to the next is a stretch. All we can assume is that the tornado was magical in origin, and who was behind it? They're not telling...

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz informs us that Oz is surrounded by a desert, and later books show magical borderlands beyond the desert and magical island kingdoms. The Marvelous Land of Oz has an episode in which the Gump flies over the desert and they assume they are in Dorothy's outside world, but infortmation from later books indicates that the Gump flew into one of the Borderlands.

In his later years, Baum wrote a comedy play that was never produced titled The Girl from Oz. A girl from "Oz" arrives on a US army base where all the men fall in love with her. However, the script calls her home "Delcapan," an island kingdom in the South Pacific ruled by an exiled Russian princess. So, while the "Oz" of that story wasn't actually Oz, is putting it in the South Pacific accurate?

In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy is on a trip to Australia. Dorothy lives in the middle of the US in Kansas, and given that she visits California in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, we can assume that she and Uncle Henry traveled to the Pacific Ocean and are sailing that way. (It's also a far more direct route than traveling to the Atlantic, unless for some reason, it was cheaper to sail past Europe, Africa and Asia by means of the Atlantic, which I doubt.) When Dorothy is washed overboard in a chicken coop, she washes up on the shore of the Land of Ev, which is revealed to be a borderland of Oz.

So, that seems to add up. If Oz is actually on Earth, it would be in the South Pacific.

That hasn't kept other interpretations, such as it being somewhere else in outer space (promotional material for Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz suggest that, though that series is rarely taken as an actual piece of Ozian history). After other "other world" fantasy series popped up—such as The Chronicles of Narnia—fans began to read Oz as an alternate world, reality, dimension, etc. But that doesn't seem to match up with Baum's writings. Easy to explain, however, yes.

In The Emerald City of Oz, to keep Oz from being invaded by the outside world again, Glinda puts a barrier around the land that renders it invisible from the outside. This was intended by Baum as a device to close the series, but as he revived it and it was carried on by other writers, the barrier really did not seem to have much effectiveness. Ruth Plumly Thompson's Pirates in Oz even features pirate ships flying over the desert directly into Oz.

What follows next is my own theory and my own ideas which I will be working into future works.

As the series progressed, it was clear that there was no point to closing the Land of Oz off from other magical countries. They knew it was there. In stories such as Rinkitink in Oz, Captain Salt in Oz and The Shaggy Man of Oz, characters from Oz interact directly with other countries outside of the borders of Oz. Thus, the problem of keeping Oz isolated shouldn't mean isolating it from its closest neighbors, but from countries further than that who did not know of magic.

Baum titled the ocean around Oz as the Nonestic Ocean (following on that, some fans—including myself—call the continent that Oz lies on "Nonestica," though Thompson called it "The Continent of Imagination"), so we may assume all the lands inside the ocean are magical.

But, of course, if this ocean is supposed to be on earth (aside from its usually believed fictional status), why hasn't it been seen? After all, we have satellites and space stations that can view and photograph our planet from space and they've never spotted it. The place where the Nonestic should be isn't invisible as that would look far more suspicious to satellite photos than uncharted waters and lands.

So, is it possible that Glinda joined with other magic users (Queen Lulea, Queen Zurline, Queen Zixi, Jinnicky, etc.) and put a new barrier around the entire Nonestic Ocean and all it contains? Now, how would this barrier work? My theory is that as the risk of being discovered by the outside world grows, these lands (collectively "fairyland") get more and more shunted into an alternate plane of reality.

Sure would be a shame if someone... undid that enchantment...

Well, that's my thoughts on where Oz is or was. If you're wanting a look at the development of the layout of Oz, David Maxine has done a series of blogs on his Oz blog titled "Map of Oz Monday," so check that out!

Friday, February 03, 2017

Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1 - Angelo's Review

Captive Hearts of Oz is a new manga series from Seven Seas Entertainment, who also published a beautifully illustrated collection of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz last year. The series is inspired by Wonderful Wizard (and, based on the first volume, is a loose adaptation of that story) written by Ryo Maruya, a New York Times best-selling manga writer, with art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru.

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts here, I've been let down by this sort of adaptation before. I read the first two books of the Dorothy of Oz manga series and couldn't get into it enough to read the rest of them. The story was all over the place and had less and less in common with the source material as it went on. I'm happy to report, though, that Captive Hearts of Oz is much better.

I wasn't really sure what to expect in terms of story going into it, so I was surprised to find that it doesn't veer very far from the Wonderful Wizard story, especially not at first. It begins much like you'd expect it to: we're introduced to our protagonist, Dorothy, who lives on a farm in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (and Toto, too!) and finds herself separated from her family and in the Land of Oz after a tornado. She learns from the Good Witch of the North that she (or her house) is responsible for the death of the Wicked Witch of the East, is given the Silver Shoes, and sent on her way to see a wizard named Oz in hopes that he might be able to send her home.

Things start to get interesting when Dorothy encounters Hayward, this story's version of the Scarecrow character. He considers himself to be a scarecrow and Dorothy accepts that, but he looks human. There's some fun dialogue between the two in their first interaction, and I really enjoyed their chemistry throughout the book. It's not totally clear yet if he's intended to be a love interest for Dorothy, but there are definitely some sparks there. I found Dorothy's other companions to be not nearly as interesting or likeable, however, especially the Lion, who, like Hayward, is drawn as a human but for some reason says he's a lion. We are given some backstory for the Tin Woodman character (which is pretty much the same as the one we've come to expect), but I'm hoping these characters are fleshed out more and grow on me in the next books.

I appreciate that this adaptation takes almost no cues from the MGM movie and pretty much uses only Baum's book as its jumping off point. For example, Dorothy's shoes are silver and are never referred to as slippers, and the Good Witches of the North and South are two different characters. There's even a character named Ku-Klip in here, who's the Tin Man's tinsmith and has an interesting dynamic with that character.

My only real problem with the first volume of Captive Hearts of Oz is that it's a little hard to follow at times. There's a subplot happening throughout the book that's intentionally mysterious and removed from the main story, and it's not always clear what we're looking at or who's speaking in these scenes. I feel kind of indifferent about the art overall, but I do wish that there was more creativity in the way that the world and the characters are drawn.

I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book, and I'll definitely be picking up Volume 2 to see where the story goes from here. The first volume is essentially a retelling of Wonderful Wizard up to the point where the Fab Four are together and on their way to the Emerald City, but I suspect the story will continue to evolve from that as it goes on.

You can buy Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 1 in paperback or e-book format on Amazon here. Volume 2 is set to be released on June 6 and is already available for pre-order (here).

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.

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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.