“How do you talk if you don’t have a brain?” – Dorothy to Scarecrow
One of the ten best films ever made. The Wizard of Oz (1939) could be the first magical film many ever see, I know it was mine. Everybody is aware that the opening Kansas scenes are in black & white before it switches to painterly Technicolor. But it’s not black & white, not really. The film opens in a hypnotic, dreamscape sepia scheme emphasizing red-brownish faded photographs. In the story’s early moments, the town’s land magnate is bitten by Dorothy’s faithful dog Toto, but the dog runs away from the basket. Dorothy and Toto go on a trek, meet a magician who forecasts the future from a crystal ball, and returns home to face a Twister! The tornado picks up her house, spins it in a whirlwind, and crashes her in the Land of Oz.
“We must be over the rainbow!” is Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) first theory following her flight. Logical answers are unnecessary in an Enchanting Fantasy like Victor Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz.” I don’t always want a world that makes sense when it comes to the genre. Few movies have given us that privilege. “Pinocchio” (1940); “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971); “The Princess Bride” (1987); “Babe: Pig in the City” (1998); “Spirited Away” (2002) are a few select others. Darker visions for adults looking for a trance-out like “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976) and “Dark City” (1998) are even appreciated.
“The Wizard of Oz” is a trance-out, and just all bliss. Movies today don’t have the unabashed gusto to unleash a full musical number with Munchkins – for the heck of it (Today’s movies are too literal and mundane when often a good music number could punch things up). During this number “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” and followed by “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” it might dawn on one that more costume colors are comprised than you see in movies today. One thousand costumes were supplied for 600 actors during the shoot.
Along the way, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion (Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr). I’m pretty much ecstatic for all of them. But as a kid, the Tin Man might have been my favorite simply because I liked seeing Dorothy oil his aluminum to lube his rust. His wobbly, top-heavy dance during “If I Only Had a Heart” is imperfect, but it has me tickled. I just as much liked Scarecrow’s hay stuffing, and the Lion’s mane grooming scene upon arrival in Emerald City.
The plot is almost simple. Dorothy needs to visit the Wizard to ask for assistance to return home to Kansas. But the Wizard is introduced as a vainglorious and conceited spectral force, demanding he will grant her journey home in exchange for the Wicked Witch’s broom (the scepter of her power). Dorothy is the epitome of optimistic innocence blended with resourcefulness, and she wants Home, so she naturally goes along with it.
The adventure is exciting and forbidding without being too dark. Upon storming of the Witches’ castle, there are daunting labyrinths to swerve through – it’s a frighteningly fantastic place without the need of 3D effects whamming you in the face. The flying monkeys are real henchmen without them being computerized critters with unnecessarily gnarly faces. The witch has power without her being an indestructible CGI phantom. This is a fantasy world in “Oz” but it’s occupied by Human Beings where mortal rules still apply.
To write another plea of thanks, I’m also happy a movie like this exists that doesn’t include electricity discharge out of wizards and sorcerers’ hands. The words “termination” and “annihilation” aren’t used. “Oz” is timeless not only as film but as inspirational art because it applies to universal personal themes, contrary to today’s times for it does not try to be “relevant” with Iraq, war, North Korea, Columbian cartel, Russian mobs and whatever nonsense today’s movie “themes” seem to be over-saturated with. “The Wizard of Oz” is an everyday antidote to world chaos. The goodness sticks more with you than witches’ evil. Maybe that’s why a viewing on any given day soothes and rejuvenates your soul.
Wonderful, delightful and inspirational is not a combination I’ve used a dozen times to describe a film, but “The Wizard of Oz” continues eternally in time to be an exception. And a lush heartwarming discovery for generations of new film-watchers. There’s no place like home, but really, a trip to Oz is endlessly more desirable.
101 Minutes. Rated G.
Film Cousins: “The Wiz” (1978); “Return to Oz” (1985); “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” (2005); “Oz the Great and Powerful” (2013).