Surrender, Dorothy! For the 100th episode of When We Were Young, Seth, Becky, and Chris have clicked their heels together three times and summoned a twister to whisk them all the way back to 1939, when the ultimate Hollywood classic landed on the big screen in glorious Technicolor. Watching The Wizard Of Oz has been a childhood rite of passage for several generations now, its characters and quotable dialogue known to just about every man, woman, and child this side of Munchkinland. But does the film itself still have the brains, heart, and nerve to dazzle discerning modern day viewers?
First, Oz aficionado Chris recounts his history with the original fantasy series by L. Frank Baum, which is much more robust than you might think. Then, strap on some sparkly slippers and skip down the yellow brick road with us once again as we revisit the classic film — going gaga over Toto, debating the best and worst tracks from the iconic soundtrack, and marveling at the film’s unforgettable makeup, production design, and special effects. Plus, discover who has the hots for the Tin Man, who thinks the Scarecrow is the ideal life partner, and who thinks the Cowardly Lion is due for a poaching. (We don’t dodge the tough questions on this podcast!)
Repeat after us: there’s no podcast like When We Were Young!
My feelings on MGM’s classic 1939 musical The Wizard Of Oz shouldn’t be complicated. They aren’t, really — it’s a gorgeous, sumptuous, delightful film that I adore every minute of. It’s a sterling example of classic Hollywood, the epitome of the magic of movies. I can’t imagine a world without it. I know it by heart.
And yet, it’s not really “Oz” to me. Oz is what L. Frank Baum dreamed up for his children’s fantasy books, a series I devoured as a youngster. I spent hours upon hours in his version of Oz, which is charming and colorful but not nearly as musical as MGM’s version. The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, Baum’s first Oz book, was published in 1900, when Baum was just warming up as a children’s book author. It’s a brilliant American fairytale and completely deserving of its place as a classic, but it’s less playful and witty than the rest of the series. Baum’s characters would become even more imaginatively conceived, and the land of Oz would become much more fleshed out as a feminist utopia where young girls could rule over a land where (almost) everyone is content — a land without money, where (almost) no one dies, but is still full of mystery and adventure.
The book is a classic. The movie is a classic. Their stories are essentially the same, but they’re pitched completely differently. The movie Oz is theatrical, all wide-eyed and earnest — and framed as just a figment of a yearning girl’s imagination, ultimately. The Oz of the books is a place that’s comfortable for a child to visit and revisit for hours on end, filled with wry humor and some meta commentary as Baum speaks directly to his readers, his “loving tyrants.”
For what it is, The Wizard Of Oz movie is essentially perfect. And yet it isn’t really Oz to me — it’s Hollywood. That’ll do as a substitute wondrous land of make-believe, but I’m afraid I know a place that’s even more magical, and I’m not sure the movies could ever successfully bring Baum’s vision to life. For that, I guess there’s no place like the original books. (But I really do love the movie!)