John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, the editors of Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond , which goes on sale tomorrow, have been thinking about an upcoming film that, well, reimagines Oz.
L. Frank Baum’s Oz is probably the most famous American fantasy of all time. So saying that the bar has been set high for Disney’s forthcoming movie, Oz the Great and Powerful, might be the cinematic understatement of 2013.
Even with its estimated 200 million dollar budget, one would imagine a brand as beloved as Oz will result in Disney easily recouping its money. But since the definitive cinematic version of The Wizard of Oz was released by MGM in 1939, the subsequent Oz movies have been massive failures.
The Wiz was a successful Broadway musical that fused The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with African-American culture. The 1978 movie version brought some star power with it, with Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson playing the Scarecrow, but it took in just 13 million dollars on a budget of 24 million while getting panned by critics. Then there was Disney’s first foray into Oz cinema back in 1985 with Return to Oz, an unofficial sequel to MGM’s classic film. As with The Wiz, it flopped, taking in 11 million dollars on a budget of 28 million. Reviews to this one were mixed at best.
To be fair, the current Broadway musical Wicked—based on Gregory Maguire’s bestselling novel that tells the classic story from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West—has proven a smashing success, becoming the top grossing Broadway show for the past nine years. So perhaps there is reason to hope the cinematic curse that has befallen Oz will be lifted.
Regardless, reviews and audience reaction will prove every bit as critical as the financials in determining whether Disney’s latest Oz film is a success, because in this case, the movie needs to be great (and powerful) on all levels. Like Harry Potter, Oz is that rare creation where it’s perfectly acceptable for adults to openly like a work of children’s fiction. In fact, when the original novel came out in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the Harry Potter of its time.
2014 will mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the release of the 1939 classic Wizard of Oz film, which may very well be the most popular film ever. All these years later, Oz has become more than just a book or a movie or a children’s story. It is part of American culture.
Hopefully the filmmakers have learned from the mistakes of their forebears. They’ll have cutting edge special effects that put 1985 to shame, a massive budget that cuts no corners, and an audience hungry for another Oz movie …but only if it’s great. Many would argue that no one is better than Disney at spinning children’s stories into gold. But Oz has become the iconic
mother-lode, the Grand Poobah of American childhood and imagination. To do this franchise justice, even the all-powerful Disney is facing a considerable task. Let’s hope they rise to the occasion.
--John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen