Look What They’ve Started…


If you’re a fan of Wicked, stop reading because the following post might offend you, by no means am I pulling any punches.  I had kind of a stressful day that I can’t post about, and then I read this article, so that was the icing on the cake.  Think I’ll take out my frustrations on pop culture – things that don’t really matter in real life.

I just read an offensive (to me) article detailing the no fewer than SIX Wizard of Oz spinoffs currently being developed in Hollywood.  Luckily for the world and movie fans abound, most of them won’t see the light of day, but unfortunately at least one or even a few will make it through production and be released into mainstream society, poisoning the legacy of Baum’s characters and the 1939 MGM cinematic masterpiece we true fans hold dear.  Before you think I’m overreacting, read the synopses I included below.  If you’re still not offended, do a google image search to dredge up the action figures from the Twisted Oz series, but make sure your kids aren’t in the room first.  What is this world coming to?

I bring Wicked into this because I blame the franchise – once someone decided to write a book imagining their own version of Baum’s characters, the door was blown wide open.  Sure, there have been uncountable Wizard of Oz spinoffs.  The Muppets had one, the Veggie Tales had one, and countless sitcoms from the last 7 decades had their shots at putting their main characters in versions of Munchkinland.  But not until Wicked took off in popularity have people really started abusing the integrity of Baum’s original characters and, more importantly to me, massacring the sweet and innocent 1939 MGM movie – my favorite movie for many reasons, the main one being how advanced in many ways it truly was for its day.  Sure, 1985’s debacle Return to Oz was no picnic, but did it really do any significant damage?  Not really, it was never really liked nor taken seriously.  I like to make this comparison:  take another movie classic, say, Gone With The Wind.  Now take an “author” (really just some who is literate enough to be able to put words together to  make a story) and imagine them creating a  “backstory” for the Civil War characters Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara.  Let’s make Rhett, oh, let’s say he was an astronaut before he met Scarlett and let’s make her an ER doctor – that’s why she has trouble attaching to people; it’s because she loses them in the ER.  Doesn’t make much sense, does it?  Probably because Gone With the Wind is what it is –  an epic story set during the 1800’s when those professions did not exist as we know them today.  Do you see my point?  Wicked has the witches going to school and other ridiculous scenarios – I’m not going to falsely claim to be an expert as I’ve never read the book nor seen the show.  Perhaps if I saw the show, I would like it –  everyone seems to rave about it, and the costumes are supposed to be amazing.  Maybe so, but they should have left my favorite movie alone!  They could have started from scratch, wrote their own stories with their own characters, and I would have been perfectly happy to check out Wicked the show.  But they had to steal Baum’s ideas and MGM’s visions just to put a brand-name on a product to sell, and this my friends, is called “selling out”.

And as a result, we might be faced with the following junk polluting our theaters in the future (taken from this article from moviefone):

•’Surrender Dorothy’
Who’s behind it? Drew Barrymore’s production company, Flower Films
What’s it about? According to Pajiba, the latest version of the script, by Zach Helm (‘Stranger Than Fiction’) is an ‘Enchanted’-like story that sees the Wicked Witch of the West still alive and threatening to take over our world as well as Oz. It’s up to Dorothy’s great-great-granddaughter to figure out how to use the ruby slippers to defeat her.
Status: Barrymore’s been developing this project since way back in 1999, when she was still a fresh-faced ingenue who’d just played Cinderella in ‘Ever After.’ Today, Pajiba says, the 35-year-old is unlikely to star in it, but she would direct it as her follow-up to her directing debut in last year’s ‘Whip It.’ Pajiba imagines she might cast ‘Whip It’ star Ellen Page, who would indeed make a fine Dorothy. Still, with 11 years having gone by, it doesn’t seem like Barrymore’s exactly in a hurry to get this off the ground.

•’Oz the Great and Powerful’
Who’s behind it? Disney and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ producer Joe Roth
What’s it about? The script by Mitchell Kapner (‘The Whole Nine Yards’) tells the backstory of how the wizard went from earthbound carnival mountebank to becoming the fearsome and mysterious sorcerer of the Emerald City.
Status: Given the success of the Roth-produced ‘Alice,’ Disney is likely to fast-track this movie, which was formerly titled ‘Brick’ (as in “yellow”?), according to the Los Angeles Times. Now that the next James Bond movie has been postponed and his schedule freed up, Sam Mendes has been approached to direct and Robert Downey Jr. to star, reports FirstShowing. Neither has yet said yes.

Who’s behind it? Temple Hill, the production company behind the ‘Twilight’ movies
What’s it about? According to the Los Angeles Times, the script by Darren Lemke (‘Shrek Forever After’) is a faithful retelling of L. Frank Baum’s first novel in the saga, ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.’ Imagine the Judy Garland movie, but with more action and no music.
Status: Coming from the New Line division of Warner Bros., this has the potential to launch a vast franchise based on the 22 ‘Oz’ books. Which is why it’s the most likely of the three competing ‘Oz’ projects at Warners (see below) to see the light of day.

•’The Twisted Land of Oz’
Who’s behind it? Comic book gorehound and toymaker Todd McFarlane (‘Spawn’)
What’s it about? Based on McFarlane’s own decidedly R-rated ‘Twisted Land of Oz’ line of figurines, his Oz includes a Scarecrow who’s torn apart by ravenous birds, a Tin Man who’s a junkpile of Edward Scissorhands-like limbs, a flesh-eating Lion who’s not at all cowardly, a Wizard who’s a gas-mask-wearing mad scientist, a carnivorous creature dubbed Toto after it eats Dorothy’s dog, and a nubile Dorothy who’s bound and molested by depraved Munchkins.
Status: There was confusion in the trade press (including some strewn by McFarlane himself) between this project and Josh Olson’s, (see below) since both were pitched to production company Thunder Road, with an eye toward distribution by Warner Bros. Last we heard from McFarlane (via MTV), back in September, he was grumbling over Thunder Road’s apparent decision to go with Olsen’s more family-friendly script instead of his own. McFarlane also claimed at one point that Michael Bay was interested in directing, but we imagine he’s a little too busy making movies based on another line of toys.

•’Oz: Return to the Emerald City’
Who’s behind it? Screenwriter Josh Olson (‘A History of Violence’)
What’s it about?In a plot that sounds a lot like ‘Surrender Dorothy,’ a descendant of Dorothy Gale (this time, her granddaughter) living in contemporary America (she’s a young associate at a top Chicago law firm) is called upon to defeat a new witch making trouble in Oz. Aiding the young woman are the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion that she’s been hearing her grandmother talk about for years.
Status: Olsen has denied ever being affiliated with the McFarlane ‘Oz,’ telling MTV in January that the script he delivered to Thunder Road and Warner Bros. was based on his own original pitch. Dakota Fanning was rumored at one time to be up for the younger Dorothy, but that rumor proved false (makes sense, since Olsen’s granddaughter character is an adult). Of course, both Olsen’s and McFarlane’s projects have to compete with Temple Hill’s for Warners’ favor.

Who’s behind it? Universal
What’s it about? It’s a film version of the Broadway smash about what Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West were like when they were schoolmates, well before Dorothy showed up. (Think ‘Mean Girls’ with green face paint.) Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book for the musical, has also written the screenplay.
Status: Universal is a co-producer of the stage show and has owned the film rights since the play opened seven years ago. Despite an IMDB listing that cites a 2012 release date, there’s been no sign of progress beyond script stage. No one has been cast, though let’s hope this gets rolling before original stars (and recurring ‘Glee’ guest players) Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel are too old to reprise their stage roles.

9 thoughts on “Look What They’ve Started…”

  1. Well, as for myself, I would like to see the new “OZ” movie, and possibly the “Wicked” movie. The rest can stay away from the screens as far as I’m concerned.

    The 1939 movie is a classic, of course, but did not hold true to the books. Most movies do not. I would like to see one that did with these books. As far as “Wicked” goes, I think that is an interesting take on a time in OZ that Baum never did write or much less hint about. You have to think of that as not really OZ, I guess.

  2. Offended… no. Expert, fanatical… Definitely not. The ’39 movie is and will always be a favorite of mine. Hard to explain, really. Reminiscent of Star Trek and it’s myriad incarnations. In my opinion, anyway. Many fans of the original wanted nothing to do with the Next Generation when it premiered in ’87. When the new movie opened last year there were many who cried foul because of the changes it made to the original series… new actors inhabiting the iconic characters for one. That could be another post itself.

    I do see where you are coming from but I guess I am just more open. There was an animated version of a classic musical that I found totally blasphemous.

  3. I think it would be interesting to see a movie that was more faithful Baum’s book, as well. Were there Baum fanatics in ’39 who snubbed the movie? I think you have raised a great debate.

  4. The “Twisted” version can go back to the domain of the one who “spawn”ed that idea, and I don’t mean McFarlane. I agree that the Oz one does sound intriguing, but I have no interest in the others, though I would probably watch the Josh Olson one. Hey, I watched Hook which is to Peter Pan as that one is to Oz…

  5. HOOK! Now that is an interesting comment. How could I totally forget Smallville? That is even closer to Wicked. Taking all kinds of liberties with the young man who would be Super. Some totally crazy liberties!

  6. Where to start… Lots of good comments here – some interesting points have been raised.
    I honestly don’t know if people were upset in 1939 with MGM’s movie. I know that the movie was not initially successful enough to warrant such a huge budget for that time period, although I’ve also seen pictures of people lined up for blocks to get into the movie. I also know that the Judy Garland version was the most true to Baum’s novel when it came out; there had been others before that were even further from the original novel, so perhaps people were just happy that this one was closer – or maybe they didn’t care about Baum’s books, I don’t know. I know that when I read Baum’s first Oz novel, I was not impressed; I am more of a fan of the movie. But I also think that if Baum didn’t cover the backstory of his characters in his novels, there was a reason for that. There were 22 of the books after all, so there would have been plenty of time for this. And it’s another thing to write a backstory about the witches being in school and making them humanesque – that to me doesn’t fit with the tone of the characters. It’s difficult to say what Baum would have thought – as it was, the good witch was actually a character that had been merged from 2 characters from the book. I guess the bottom line is that we have lots of freedom in this country – freedoms to take others’ ideas and make them your own. And it’s been happening in pop culture frequently for a long time as has been pointed out. Not everyone is going to like all of the takes, and that’s ok. It’s just unfortunate for me that my personal favorite is the one with all the terrible versions getting the most publicity and are constantly being shoved down our throats.
    I did not realize that Smallville was not true to the Superman character… and I thought Superman fans enjoyed Smallville for the most part? Maybe not…
    At this point, I think I should just be happy that there isn’t a Tim Burton version of the Wizard of Oz in the works starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Wizard – for that, I am truly thankful.

  7. Smallville and its tangents from the source material would take a post and then some. After 9 and the upcoming 10th season, I guess people are willing to forgo the breaks with tradition. You raise an interesting question. How much backstory is necessary? The creators of Superman focused very little on his younger years.

  8. Jamiahsh, conflict in comic book history? Just throw it in an alternate universe. Everything is ok then. It even gives you a plot for later works. Can we say “Crisis on Infinite Earths”?

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