Friday, July 21, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Lion of Oz audio commentary

Jay and Sam meet up in their hotel room at Oz Con International 2017 and watch Lion of Oz, the animated adaptation of Roger S. Baum's Lion of Oz and the Badge of Courage, and give you their live comments and criticisms of the movie.

(A standard review episode will be recorded and released soon.)

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the players and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services and aggregators that mirror these.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Land of Stories concluded

A couple years ago, I reviewed the first four books of a non-Oz fantasy series on the blog because the fourth book had a little visit to Oz: Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories. In that review, I happened to say this:
There also seems to be an overarching plot in the series, but to discuss that further might drop too many spoilers. It might be coming to a head at the end of Beyond the Kingdoms, or else we might be in for a huge twist.
Turns out I was right as the series has released its sixth and final book, Worlds Collide. There are spin-off books already, from a diary of Colfer's take on Mother Goose, to a treasury book of classic fairy tales that play into The Land of Stories, to a couple of picture books. With the series concluded, a film adaptation of the series is set to begin pre-production, and the author has teased he has ideas for more spin-offs.

Well, for the sake of being complete and the thin excuse that the Tin Woodman reappears in the fifth and sixth books, as well as the Wicked Witch of the West also popping up in the final book, let's take a look at those two books.

An Author's Odyssey winds up being the bridging chapter between Beyond the Kingdoms and Worlds Collide, and I felt was the weakest book in the series. Not that it was bad, but while it introduces many great new characters and has some exciting twists and plot developments, it doesn't really stand on its own.

Using the Portal Potion, Conner and Alex dive into Conner's own short stories to recruit the heroes of his own tales to assist in the fight against the Masked Man and the witches who he's won to his side. There's pirates, space cyborgs, mummies, superheroes, and even a "rosary chicken" who resulted from a misspelling of "rosemary." Meanwhile, things are not developing well in the Land of Stories as the witches prepare for their assault on "the Otherworld." Also, where are all the realized fictional characters going to stay?

This brings us to the last book, Worlds Collide. It opens with an 80 year old Conner at an event celebrating his books, when a fan asks him a question he can't recall the answer to: what happened to his twin sister Alex?

And then picking up where An Author's Odyssey left off, we cycle through a number of plots, leading to a big showdown that goes from the Land of Stories to New York City, starting at The New York Public Library and leading into the streets as the attacking witches have cursed Alex to do their bidding. It's an exciting ending that sees all of the characters come back to make a united front against wicked magic, but will it be enough? And will all of our friends make it out alive?

There is, surprisingly, a scene where a character writes a short story about J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum coming back to life so they can use the Portal Potion to consult with the authors on how to defeat the villains they created. Unfortunately, this visit is not described and the character only reports on what they learned. When they talk about consulting with Baum, they briefly mention "it's nice to know the movie depicted something correctly."

Overall, I was glad with how the series ended and would still recommend it to other Oz fans interested in other fantasy series. Colfer keeps his characterizations strong and his gift of giving the characters delightful dialogue is still very much at play. And—as said—there's a few Oz Easter eggs in the series for fans.

Sigh. Well, what do I read now? Hmm, what's this from Christmas last year?

Uh oh.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jay binged Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz

Well, I think the title told you what I did this morning...

Animation and Oz seem well suited to each other, as both seem to be limited only by imagination. There's only been a handful of Oz animated series, though, with Tales of the Wizard of Oz in the early 1960s, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz anime series in 1986-87, the DIC animated series based on the MGM movie in 1991, The Oz Kids and The Galaxy Adventures of Oz in the mid-90s, and nothing since. Well, this summer, it turned out we're getting not one but two animated series that would be exclusive to video streaming services, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz for the new Boomerang service out now, and Lost in Oz on Amazon Prime coming in August.

Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz takes the familiarity of MGM's The Wizard of Oz as its springboard. However, Dorothy is depicted as an actual little girl instead of trying to actively copy Judy Garland. She has the brown hair in pigtails, white blouse and blue gingham pinafore with Ruby Slippers, but otherwise, they let this Dorothy (Kari Wahlgren) be herself instead of copying Judy's voice or mannerisms. I appreciated that her skin tone is darker than other human (or human-appearing) characters such as Ozma. Whether this Dorothy is supposed to be a person of color or we presume she has tanned skin from being a farmgirl, that's up for debate.

The series regularly features the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion (Bill Fagerbakke, JP Karliak and Jess Harnell), who are cartoon versions of their MGM counterparts and the voice actors channel Bolger, Hayley and Lahr well enough while not being overbearing. Also regularly featured are Ozma (also Kari Wahlgren), identified as the Queen of Oz, who wears a green gown, carries her Oz scepter, and wears a circlet with the Oz logo as in John R. Neill's illustrations, just without the poppies. Wilhelmina (Jessica DiCicco) also regularly appears and is the niece of the Wicked Witch of the West, who appears in a crystal ball, egging her niece on to get the Ruby Slippers. She's assisted by a comical pair of Winged Monkeys, Frank and Lyman (Steven Blum and Jess Harnell).

The premise of the series is that Dorothy and Toto live in Oz, Dorothy being made a princess by Ozma, and with friends old and new, Dorothy and Toto have adventures. Many of these are original, though quite a few are inspired by and based on episodes and elements from the Baum books. The episode you can watch without a subscription or free trial, "Beware the Woozy," features Ozma accidentally being turned to stone by a magic potion, as happens to Unc Nunkie and Margolotte in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, although the circumstances are highly altered. Dorothy and her friends hurry to get together ingredients for an antidote, the major one being three hairs from a Woozy's tail. The Woozy is sadly not the blocky creature described in Patchwork Girl, but can still shoot fire when provoked and is otherwise an agreeable character. The Nome King notices the problems this creates for Oz and uses it to step in as the new ruler.

Many other characters from the Oz series turn up in new incarnations as well, such as Billina, Dr. Pipt, the Wheelers, Ojo, the Hungry Tiger, the Woggle-Bug, the Patchwork Girl, the Orks, and there's even a purple dragon. Whether or not he's inspired by the one in The Magical Monarch of Mo is up for anyone to guess, but when a character later mentions the Valley of the Clowns from Dot and Tot of Merryland, perhaps the writers really read up on their Baum.

There's certainly a big disconnect here between the series and MGM's The Wizard of Oz. Why is Dorothy living in Oz? Where are Aunt Em and Uncle Henry? Dorothy mentions Zeke, one of the farmhands from the classic movie. How did Ozma become Queen of Oz in this version? The opening of the DIC series basically gave you a sum-up of what had happened between the movie and the events of the episodes you'd see. This one starts with Dorothy using the Ruby Slippers to leave Kansas with Toto, then a cavalcade of Oz characters, but I doubt we're supposed to see this as a narrative. I'm not knocking the show, I just want to know what happened in this version. Perhaps if this does well enough, Warner Brothers might even do a direct to video spinoff linking the series' narrative to the classic film a bit more.

The show is clearly meant for children, but I found it to be highly entertaining. I'm glad they're using elements from the books as children might turn to the books after watching the show. The animation is nothing to write home about, but it's rather pleasing.

There are currently 13 11 minute and 18 second stories on Here's a list with a brief description of each plot:
  • "Beware the Woozy" - When Ozma becomes petrified, Dorothy and her friend search for the ingredients of an antidote.
  • "Magical Mandolin" - Wilhelmina sets her eyes on a mandolin Dorothy gets her hands on that has magic properties.
  • "Toto Unleashed" - Wilhelmina tries to claim Toto for her own after Dorothy neglects him.
  • "Official Ozian Exam" - Dorothy is informed that if she doesn't take an exam about Oz, she will have to leave. Just she can't help but take care of Indigo City's problem with a purple dragon first...
  • "Locket Locket In My Pocket" - Wilhelmina uses a magic locket to disguise herself as Dorothy to ruin the princess' reputation.
  • "Mixed-Up Mixer" - When Dorothy tries to teach Ozma to cook without using magic, a mixer becomes enchanted and begins mixing up everything it comes across.
  • "Ojo the Unlucky" - Noting an unfortunate Munchkin boy, Dorothy and her friends try to help him change his fate.
  • "The Lion's Share" - The Cowardly Lion is off to a feast with his friends to celebrate his ruling of the forest. Just they have to get through the dark, dark forest first...
  • "Rules of Attraction" - When Dorothy is given the Love Magnet, everyone can't help but do whatever she wants.
  • "Brain Power of Love" - The Scarecrow meets the Patchwork Girl and becomes smitten. Wilhelmina isn't convinced that the Patchwork Girl is simply what she appears to be.
  • "Jinxed" - Dorothy and Ozma become mute when they pull off a jinx and Dorothy and her friends scramble to find a way to break the jinx.
  • "Rise of the Nome King" - When the Nome King gets a hold of a magic magnifying glass Dorothy was using to help people, he makes himself grow giant size (not quite Kabumpo in Oz-scale, however).
  • "One-Winged Wally" - Dorothy and her friends try to help a young flying monkey with only one wing get another one.
 The series is also being aired on television in other countries with ten half hour timeslot episodes that use two of these stories each. Wikipedia lists the presumed remaining 7 stories of Season 1, which it's presumed Boomerang will release on their website at a later date, and reportedly, Season 2 is already underway.
  • "Wand-erful"
  • "No Sleep Sleepover"
  • "Lion Catches a Bug"
  • "Tik Tok and Tin Man"
  • "If I Only Had Some Brawn"
  • "The Beast Royales"
  • "Time After Time"
A DVD of presumably the first 13 stories will be released in November, and likely somewhere around that time, the series will be available for digital sale as well. At the moment, in the US, it can only be seen on Boomerang, making it one of the exclusives you'll have to sign up for their service to see.

And that brings me to my biggest negative. The site could use some fixing up. I tried to use Chrome to stream the episodes (and also cast them to my TV), but sometimes the stream wouldn't start, or else it would severely lag. Surprisingly, I had better luck in Firefox, even though sometimes the video would freeze for some seconds while the audio played. My big frustration is that it's not like DRM protected video streaming is some arcane technology. It works flawlessly on YouTube on most browsers as well as other sites like Vudu and Netflix.

It seems the mobile version of Boomerang allows for Chromecast support, but for me, my phone is outdated and can't install the app, which I guess isn't their fault. For anyone else hoping to use a Roku, Apple TV, PS4, etc. to watch the show on their TV, check the website's FAQ first.

So, with everything I said in mind, I'd recommend Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, just before you sign up for a subscription, use their offer of a free to watch episode to figure out the best way for you to watch it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Oz Con International 2017 Recap

Jay and Sam meet up at Oz Con 2017 in Portland, Oregon and talk about what happened during the convention each day.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the players and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services that mirror these.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

'Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz' Series Debuts!

Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, the new animated series produced by Warner Bros. Animation, made its debut this week on the Boomerang digital streaming service, which currently costs $4.99 per month or $39.99 for a one-year subscription. You can view the trailer and the episode "Beware the Woozy" without a subscription, and you have the choice of waiting until the home video release later this summer if you're not too anxious to check it out. The "Season 1, Vol. 1" DVD is available for pre-order through Best Buy (here) and Barnes & Noble (here) and is set for release on August 8 November 28.

I'm not sure if the thirteen episodes that are streaming now complete the first season or when to expect the next wave of episodes to be released, but I do have word that work on a second season is already underway. 

Personally, I find the show to be a bit too juvenile, but I do like the character designs and the style of animation, and I'm impressed by how much the show is influenced by Baum's books (unlike the DIC animated series or something like Tales of the Wizard of Oz). Ozma, Billina, the Rak, the Orks, the Woozy, the Fuddles, the Wheelers, Dr. Pipt, Kaliko, the Nome King, the Woggle-bug, the Patchwork Girl, the Hungry Tiger, and Ojo the Unlucky are all here and are, for the most part, faithful to their literary counterparts.

I don't think this show alone is enough to warrant a paid subscription, but I will be buying the show on DVD as it is released in that format. Barnes & Noble's product listing for the first volume has the running time at 154 minutes, which means that it should contain the first thirteen episodes, seeing as each episode is roughly eleven minutes long — that's a good amount of content for just $9.37 (or $11.99 at Best Buy).

If you've had a chance to check out Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on what you've seen or what you'd like to see on the show in the future!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Adventures in the Emerald City

Jay and Sam talk about the Russian animated series Adventures in the Emerald City, with a twist for foreign language productions: this time our guys have English subtitles. Listen to them talk about how this animated take on the first two Oz stories—with a bit of Volkov—attempted to streamline the Oz stories a bit and join them in wishing that the series had gone further.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the players and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services that mirror these.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Adapting Return to Oz - Long Movie, Short Story Part 2

The next book I look at in reviewing how the 1985 Disney movie is adapted from long movie into short children's book is the Random House edition for "Disney's Wonderful World of Reading".

As described on the back, this series of books by Random House adapted many of the classic Disney films that we grew up with (with little changes - such as Princess Aurora NOT being raised up by the Fairies as a peasant girl in the woods, so she met Prince Phillip when he woke her), as well as adapting other stories that happened been done on films yet (e.g. Mickey was Aladdin with two book adventures with the Magic Lamp).  All the books had simple vocabulary and many lush illustrations, some of which were done by Sheilah Beckett and other artists.

"Return to Oz" may not have been an instant classic or entirely well received, but it was still selected to be amongst the many books helping children to read, along with all the other tie-in story telling books made as merchandise for the film.

Yes, the words are rather simple and so the sentences are rather short, but unlike all the other Random House books or the other Little Golden Books retelling the film, these pages did have new illustrations that looked like cartoon characters; rather, like many of the other bigger storybooks and novels, the pictures used were stills taken for the film, many photographs of which are shrunk, in poor quality and severely cropped.  Many of these pictures are shown only here and have not turned up in any other books or magazines.

In adapting the relatively long and detailed story of the film into a short book for children to read easily, many connections and important factors are left out, making the story seem too convenient and at other times with gaps or without any of the important little things, like emotion.

It briefly says how Dorothy lives on a farm in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry until "there was a big storm.  The wind carried Dorothy to the Land of Oz.  When Dorothy came back home, Aunt Em said she had been dreaming.  But Dorothy knew she had been in Oz.  She found a key on the floor.".

When Aunt Em takes Dorothy to Dr Worley's house, she leaves almost immediately with just a good-bye, before the nurse takes Dorothy to talk to the doctor.
(the actual names, Worley and Wilson, are not used here, so their titles are lower case, simple "nurse" and "doctor")

Dorothy is visited by the girl in her room, but there is no mention of the Electrical Healing machine, so the girls make their escape as soon the house is set on fire by lightning.  It is not implied in text or pictures that they are chased.

Dorothy wakes up with Billina "in a beautiful place", gets lunch pails from trees and finds the broken yellow brick road, without seeing or finding her old house.  She doesn't sound the least bit concerned why the road is broken up, just hoping she'll find her old friends in the Emerald City.
Upon entering the ruins and after (only) finding two of her friends in stone, it is just one Wheeler who chases Dorothy into the narrow street where she finds Tik-Topk behind a secret door in the wall.  Tik-Tok seems already wound up, talking to her and shows "another way out of the room" before he fights all the other Wheelers.

Notice how the space behind Dorothy's head is blacked out - usually one of Mombi's head is shown here;  Since the whole image is cropped, so too is the view of Mombi's hands holding her Head no. 4

While looking for Mombi, Tik-Tok says he will hit her with the lunch-pail if she isn't nice to them.
When they find her, she is wearing the same long-haired head as in the film, but the next two page have short black hair (Head no. 4), without explaining the change or even mentioning the Hall of Heads.  Tik-Tok is slow to save Dorothy from Mombi, leaving her and Billina locked up in the dusty tower room, where they find Jack Pumpkinhead.
After Dorothy outs Jack back together, he says how "the next room" has the Gump (which, on the next page, Dorothy expresses the pieces already put together) AND the Powder of Life, which she uses for their escape.

It is not explained or mentioned how Tik-Tok is reunited with them for their flying escape, nor is the scene back in the Palace and Mombi's screaming heads included (however she can be seen in the background as the Gump sets off through the balcony).

They arrive on the Nome King's mountain (no indication of falling or lucky landing), fall into the hole, meet the King (who seems nearly human) and play his guessing game.

The "small box" is actually the green ornament from the film, but is not Scarecrow's enchantment in this book (perhaps the editor didn't know this?)
Dorothy's choices are different from the film and do not reveal what her third guess was.  After the Scarecrow is restored, he actually manages to make a guess and restore the Gump.

  The Nome King is angry at Dorothy's success but does not get interrupted by Mombi, he doesn't disrupt the Game or try to devour Dorothy's friends, he has none of his Nomes to spy on or aid him, most of all Jack does not have Billina hiding in his egg to accidentally drop the egg into his throat and poison him ... yet, he crashes and becomes a rubble where Dorothy reclaims the Ruby Slippers, which have not been mentioned at all until now, which she uses to return herself and her friends to Oz.
  Tik-Tok, apparently has already been restored and he shows "where the Gump and Billina" are, while the Emerald City is "beautiful again".
This is also the first (and last) time the people are mentioned being turned to stone and back to life again during the "wonderful party".

When Scarecrow decides he doesn't want to rule and the people suggest Dorothy to be Queen, her wish to be in both places at once makes "a girl wearing the dress of a queen" stepping out of the mirror.  The girl is Ozma, who Dorothy last saw in the Kansas river.

Shown at left is the "shimmery paper" mirror wall Emma Ridley mentioned "headbut" stepping through as Ozma - the actual film has half the scene warped through special effects

Dorothy says her good-byes ... but there is no indication of what happens to the Ruby Slippers (which caused this mess in the first place), so it is not clarified that Ozma uses them instead of Dorothy ... and she is back in the muddy riverbank of Kansas.

Once clean and back in her bedroom, she sees Queen Ozma in her mirror briefly, wondering if she will go back again some day . . . 

So Random House's adaption of "Return to Oz" is a basic retelling, missing out on several moments that may have been deemed unsuitable or unsettling for children and families.
The most vital thing they leave out is how necessary Billina is to the story: not only is she the one who finds the Oz key in Kansas and guides Dorothy to the door with Tik-Tok, but she is the one who actually defeats the Nome King by laying her egg in his mouth which poisons him (and thereby saving Dorothy, her friends and all of Oz).   Bringing Billina into the story but not retaining her triumph over the Nome King removes her importance and makes her useless.  It's not enough to just be included, there needs to be a purpose (just as Jack's hollow head hides Billina from the Nome King).

Another aspect of the story that is unresolved is what happens to "Princess" Mombi after the Emerald City is restored - there is no indication that she was a witch, or imprisoned, or had anything to do with the Wheelers or the Nome King, or otherwise how she is "ruling" the ruined city in the first place.

While the pictures are lackluster and do not fit the usual approach taken with the other Random House books (having fresh new illustrations made, instead of cropping still photographs), it is still nice to see some unusual photos here that aren't included anywhere else - especially one that gives a hint at the behind-the-scenes mentioned later by Emma Ridley in her interview with Ryan Jay.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Captive Hearts of Oz, Volume 2 - Angelo's Review

(This is a review of Volume 2 of the new manga series Captive Hearts of Oz by Ryo Maruya and Mamenosuke Fujimaru from Seven Seas Entertainment. You can read my review of Volume 1 here.)

I wasn't already set on buying the second volume of Captive Hearts of Oz before buying and reading the first one for myself. As I discussed in my review of Volume 1, I didn't have the highest expectations for this series initially, but I did end up enjoying the first volume well enough.

Because this is a direct continuation of the first volume of the series, it's somewhat difficult to review it as thoroughly as I reviewed Volume 1. This volume continues to follow the overall narrative structure of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, beginning with the introduction of the Cowardly Lion (who is given the name "Leon" here) and ending with our heroes arriving at the Emerald City, where, as in the original story, they each hope to have their wishes granted by the mysterious Wizard of Oz.

Although this is by no means a faithful adaptation of Wonderful Wizard, I am still surprised by how much of Baum's work is retained here. The Kalidahs, deadly poppies, and even the rescue of the Scarecrow all make the transition in some form. What's especially unique and intriguing about this adaptation is the recurring idea that, as Bert in Mary Poppins famously said, "All that's to happen's all happened before." We understand that the events of this story follow those of a preexisting one, one that is actually known to some of the characters here.

Just how Captive Hearts relates to the original story is still a mystery by the end of Volume 2, and I'm definitely interested in seeing how that is explained in the next (and presumably the final) volume of the series. We do get a little more insight in Volume 2 as to who's involved here and what everyone's motives are, but I feel like it would be a more engaging and, frankly, less confusing read if the storytelling were a little more straightforward. There's so much teasing plot points and jumping around between different settings and characters that it becomes a bit difficult to follow at times.

I said in my review of Volume 1 that I felt like the drawings weren't very clear, and that issue persists through Volume 2, especially in the more action-packed panels. It's occasionally difficult to tell who's speaking and even to distinguish some of the supporting characters from one another.

Those frustrations aside, however, I am still enjoying Captive Hearts of Oz. It's a fun take on Oz that is unique and contemporary but still retains much of the story and spirit of Baum's work (unlike, say, Emerald City). The real strength of this adaptation is the bond between Dorothy and her companions, and there are plenty of moments sprinkled throughout this volume that play to that strength. I'm not totally buying the romance blossoming between Dorothy and another character, but I personally don't mind it as much as others might. (There are definite shades of Twilight here, though, I must admit.)

All in all, I wanted a little more from this volume in terms of storytelling, but I'm intrigued enough by the setup for the future of the series that I will be picking up the next volume and reviewing it on the blog. If you're reading Captive Hearts of Oz, feel free to leave your thoughts about the series in the comments! You can purchase Volume 2 from Amazon here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Adapting Return to Oz - Long Movie, Short Story Part 1

Whenever it's June I always consider it a time to really focus on Disney's "Return to Oz" film, which was released on June 21 back in 1985.

And as you may be aware, there was a massive selection of books to choose from and to collect with the merchandise made to promote the film.

Whether you see it or not, it is a somewhat complex and detailed film ... so I thought it was time to devote a post that focused on the few books that do not do a good job of adapting the story.

The BEST official full-length adaptation of the movie from screen (back, of sorts) to writing on paper was the Novelization by Joan D Vinge, which allowed an in-depth look at some of the characters' backstory, such as Aunt Em being a Christian woman who believed in GOD and whose father was a Preacher, but now struggles with a broken unfinished home, invalid hopeless husband and troubled sleepless niece and second mortgage, as winter approaches ... how the Wheelers were a free people before Mombi and the Nome King's offer to keep them alive as servants or be turned to stone ... these were a great companion to the film.  It even has a retelling of the story with the Wizard that feels in line with this follow-up.

There was another novel adaption of the movie, but this was a "Young Puffin" version by Alistair Hedley and the writing is not very sophisticated or enjoyable.  The introduction says this book "has been especially written for Puffin with younger readers in mind."
It also includes photo stills (in rather poor quality) and new illustrations by Jo Worth, but they are sketchy and rather off.

The illustrations show the characters the same height as Dorothy, including Dr Worley/Nome King.  Ozma, however, has a different look each time (she's in 3 pictures) and doesn't appear pretty or beautiful or consistent at all, aside from the first picture.  But the Ruby Slippers are drawn pretty nicely.

The one good thing I like is that it also includes a Map of Oz, which was featured in other books by Puffin.

These are just some examples of the writing from this book:

* Uncle Henry suggests Aunt Em taking Dorothy to the Doctor for healing, while she is a bit hesitant

* the "Electrical Marvel" machine is mentioned but not actually used or seen, but replaced by a simple hypnosis by pocket watch on a chain-string - a blackout still allows Kansas Ozma to rescue Dorothy from the clinic and into the storm to Oz ...

* When Dorothy finds Billina talking, the hen replies "Ten out of ten for observation"

* Before recognising her old farmhouse, Dorothy calls it "an old derelict building.  It's surprising the Scarecrow allows a broken-down old ruin like that to stand.  Let's go and look."

* When they meet Princess Mombi, she says "I am quite fatigued with playing.  It is the emotion.  I am so sensitive and my heart is not strong.  Help me to rise."

* Upon arriving at the Nome King's mountain, the landing is similar to the Joan D Vinge Novel which followed an earlier script, where Tik-Tok and the Gump were dangling on the edge of a cliff and were saved by their friends - this retelling is shorter and without any drama.  Moments later, Billina "crept inside Jack's head and went to sleep, while no one was looking" - how can she do that without even Jack saying something, or any of the others noticing her absence?
Later when Jack is about to guess his turn, Dorothy is aware that Billina is inside his head, but it is not specified how or when she found out.

* During this time, Mombi plays a note on her mandolin which threatens to shatter the glass in her Throne Room, which "was an unspeakable agony to the smoky indistinct spirit trapped in the mirrored door."

* The friends make their way along the mountain, the Gump being reassembled to walk on his own.  Later, Dorothy does not introduce the hen to the Nome King for fear she'll forget "her temper in the Royal presence."
When brought to attention Tik-Tok clicks his "copper heels" (that's not even physically possible!)

* When falling through the mountain, Dorothy experiences "in her body the stubborn hopelessness of rock, that holds so grimly to what it contains, yet in the end must yield it up.  And she felt behind her eyes the beauty of secret colours on which no light has ever shone; flesh, blood, muscle and bone of her was admitted to the intimate society of the earth's interior."

* When the Nome King offers a game to find and rescue the Scarecrow, Dorothy responds "That's worth any risk" (whereas before on screen, she is uncertain);
Later when he offers Dorothy the chance to go back home instead of risking transformation, he says "There's no hope.  Forget about them.  They're not even human.  You've got to look after yourself in this world.  I'll let you have the ruby slippers  and you can wish yourself back home and never think about Oz again."  To which Dorothy responds "Poor Nome King ... You don't even understand about friends."  And she leaves, leaving the Nome King "looking sadly at the ruby slippers".

* "You're too late, Mombi ... You're always too late.  You're incompetent.  A nincompoop.  An out-and-out failure.  Go and drown yourself in a bucket of lard."

* Upon being restored, the Gump describes being an ornament as "educational ... But I have to admit, a trifle lacking in variety, a trifle limiting, a trifle cramping.  In a word: dull."

* During the climactic finale, the Friends watch the Nome King swallow Mombi in her cage "down his great stone gullet, that was ribbed with layers of rock laid down through all the ages of the world" ... When he swallows Billina's egg and Dorothy wonders how that defeated him, he explains how "The egg is life, growth, change.  That egg is now in my heart.  And in the fires of my heart, the egg will develop, quicken into life.  The chicken will awake.  I feel it stir.  It begins to peck, peck, peck at the shell.  Strong is the shell, but the chicken is stronger.  It will shatter my heart.  You have won."  then there is a thunderclap "like the first bang that formed the world", a flash etc and blackness/silence.

* When Ozma is free, she reveals how her father King Pastoria was bewitched by Mombi and he promised to give her the first living thing that would greet him home, which he expected to be his dog ... but it was Ozma, so he exchanged her for a potion of eternal life, but even so he threw away the potion and killed himself.

* Back in Kansas, Aunt Em is relieved that Dr Worley and Nurse Wilson were killed by the lightning caught by the "infernal" machines ... not to mention that he "wasn't a real doctor at all!  He was an evil man"

So here we have an inferior retelling of the movie, with words poorly formatted and written in a boring manner with questionable changes, where what is supposed to sound poetic instead comes across as dreary and talking down to children instead of sounding informative, inspirational or even encourages an improvement in vocabulary and proper speaking in text.

I plan on reviewing other "lackluster" adaptations of Disney's film from film to book in the remaining month.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Wizard of Oz's 80th Anniversary: What Do We Want & What Can We Expect?

The Wizard of Oz (the MGM movie, that is) will be eighty years old in 2019. Warner Bros. commemorated its 70th and 75th anniversaries with home video and theatrical re-releases as well as a variety of merchandise, promotional events, and collectible offerings. Given that the 75th anniversary of the film was mostly celebrated in 2013, almost a full year before its actual anniversary, it's time to start thinking about what might be in store for the 80th anniversary. What do we want to see that we haven't seen before? What don't we want to see? And what can we expect to see come 2018 and 2019? All good questions.

Let's start with what we can expect to see from the Brothers Warner. It's pretty much a lock at this point that the next home video re-release will include 4K ("Ultra HD") Blu-ray. The format has certainly become more popular in the years since the 75th anniversary release, and we know for a fact that such a print of the film (in 8K resolution, actually) already exists. The question, though, is whether or not the 80th anniversary release will include Blu-ray 3D as well. I'm quite the advocate for the format and for 3D in general, but the reality is that I'm in the minority there. 3D TVs are no longer being made, and it's becoming less and less of a certainty that every major home video release will include Blu-ray 3D, even if it was previously available in that format. The latest home video release of Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast, for example, does not include Blu-ray 3D, even though the one prior (the "Diamond" edition) did.

I think it's also worth mentioning that the MGM film's 80th anniversary will nearly coincide (if all goes to plan) with the release of the long-awaited Wicked movie, which is currently slated for December 20, 2019. Since Wicked will likely be in public consciousness even more so than usual, I wouldn't be surprised to see the witches, especially the Wicked Witch, front and center in whatever merchandise and promotional material comes along with The Wizard of Oz's 80th anniversary. (The packaging of the 2005 Three-Disc Collector's Edition DVD, for example, was clearly inspired by Wicked, which makes sense given the popularity of the musical at that time.)

Okay, so we've established that I (and at least a handful of other Oz fans that I know of) would like for the film to continue to be available in 3D. But what else do we (I) want?

On the home video front, I'd like to see the next release focus on quality over quantity, especially in terms of physical extras. The 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition included far too many unsubstantial "collectible" items, presumably to justify a high price point. Sure, the photo book is nice, but what purpose does it have when a better, more comprehensive companion book is available separately? The pins are nice, too, but their inclusion in a home video box set makes little sense. The Ruby Slipper "sparkler globe" and Wicked Witch of the East flash drive are even more out of place here and are so cheaply made that they're by no means worthy of the adjective "collectible."

The physical extras included with the 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, in my opinion, were generally of higher quality than those included with the 75th, but still I question the reason for including something like a wristwatch in a home video release. It's true that a shiny, bulky box set looks nicer and more "collectible" on the shelf, but I'd like for what's inside to feel less like things you'd put in a Christmas stocking.

In terms of bonus features, I'd definitely like to see everything from the previous releases carried over to this one. I feel like Disney has been shortchanging consumers by re-releasing many of its titles with less bonus features than previous home video releases, and I'd hate for Warner Bros. to do the same here. I'm glad to see that the Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic has recently been made available on its own after being excluded from the 75th anniversary release, but yes, I think it should absolutely be included in the next release.

I'm actually pretty happy with the various featurettes and documentaries that Warner Bros. has put together over the years, but I wouldn't mind seeing a new one that delves a bit deeper into Oz outside of the 1939 film (spanning the books, other adaptations, the Oz community, etc.). I think a Judy Garland-centric documentary of some sort could be interesting and would appeal to a lot of people, too.

Essentially all previous releases of the film have included "Outtakes and Deleted Scenes," but I think these are worth taking another stab at for the next release. The "Over the Rainbow" reprise and the "Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead" reprise have been paired with stills and behind-the-scenes photos, but the images are of very poor quality, and they even suffer from some bizarre digital distortion that's difficult to describe but results in portions of the image being duplicated in random places. (See here and here.) I'm fairly sure that I've seen those images elsewhere without that problem, so I don't think it would be too difficult to correct.

The famously deleted musical sequence "The Jitterbug" was incorporated into the direct-to-video animated film Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz, which has brought out curiosity among fans about the possibility of recreating some of the many deleted scenes from the original film with animation or, at the very least, storyboards/animatics. It's definitely not something that we need to have, but it would be fun to see what these scenes could have looked like. Maybe each one could have a brief introduction (by someone like John Fricke or TCM's Ben Mankiewicz) to provide a little context?

Ted Esbaugh's Wizard of Oz cartoon has been included in every home video release of the 1939 film since at least 2005, but since the 75th anniversary release, it has been restored in high-definition and released in a collection of similar animated short films by a company called Thunderbean Animation, dubbed Technicolor Dreams and Black and White Nightmares. I personally do not own this collection, but from what I've seen and heard of it from people who do, it's a pretty substantial upgrade in terms of quality. (You can check out Jared's review of that here, which includes some screenshots for comparison.) I don't think it's necessary to do, but I think it would be nice to see the restored version of that cartoon on the 80th anniversary release. It's just a matter of whether or not Warner Bros. is willing to spend a little extra money to make that happen.

I'll admit that I personally don't watch the DVD discs since I can watch the movie either on Blu-ray or digitally, but it would be nice if Warner Bros. put in a little extra effort and created new DVD menus, which have not changed since the 2005 release. They don't have to be anything too special, but they should at least reflect the packaging and overall branding for the 80th anniversary.

On the subject of branding, a complaint that I and many other Oz fans have had in recent years is the lack of quality in the artwork used for the film's merchandise, packaging, and promotional material. This isn't exactly a new problem with Warner Bros. in my opinion, but I do think it's gotten worse as of late, and I really would like to see improvement in this area come the 80th anniversary. I'd be happy as a clam at high tide if I never had to see these stiff, garish, and overused digital recreations of the cast again. Eeesh. (Ever heard about The Uncanny Valley? Yeah, this 2017 calendar is exemplary of that.)

The film is still aired on television several times each year as it has been for decades, but how nice would it be for this to be approached more as a "television event" than it has been in recent years? Warner Bros. could strike a deal with a major network like NBC or CBS to air the film, perhaps accompanied by some sort of special, exclusive content along the lines of what TCM often does, serving up some legitimate trivia and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Regardless, I think we can all agree that the film deserves more respect than the ridiculous ad campaign that TBS delivered when it aired the film last year...

At the end of the day, I think what we all want is for Warner Bros. to treat the film, and its fans, with respect (which isn't to say that they've necessarily failed to do so in the past). Most of us will continue to shell out the money for new collectibles and home video releases, but that loyalty shouldn't be taken for granted. Quality over quantity, always. (I'm looking at you, too, Hallmark...)