Hollywood has Wizard of Oz on the brain. Today another Oz-inspired film was announced - a stop motion film from The Corpse Bride ‘co’-director Mike Johnson that sounds really awful. Variety reports that his film, Oz Wars, is a contemporary feeling story that finds Dorothy mixed up with “warrior witches, black magic, martial arts and monsters”. Yuck.
It’s just one of many, many Wizard of Oz spin-offs, reimaginings, reboots or riffs that are out there (and that’s not even counting Anne Hathaway’s possible Judy Garland biopic, which will be heavily Ozed). Warner Bros has been desperate to do something - anything! - with the property, and they’ve bounced around an S&M version based on hideous hack Todd MacFarlane’s Twisted Land of Oz toys, a semi-reboot that would have Dorothy’s granddaughter come to Oz to fight yet another witch, a more faithful adaptation of the original book from the production company that brought us Twilight and, it’s been rumored, a word for word remake of the original 1939 script. Then there’s Dorothy of Oz, a cartoon sequel to the original (making this the second cartoon sequel to the original and probably the third movie sequel to the original) featuring the voices of Lea Michelle, Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammar and Martin Short. Sam Raimi is directing a prequel called Oz the Great and Wonderful, to star Robert Downey Jr as Professor Marvel when he first comes to Oz and is enshrined as the wizard. Oh, and John Boorman has a CGI Wizard of Oz movie that’s stuck somewhere in development or production; it’s unclear what has happened to that film.
So that’s four or five Oz films in development - and I’m not counting cheapie movies, of which there are plenty, as Wizard of Oz is in the public domain. And just to add another possibility to the mix, Andrew Lloyd Webber has a new stage version of the Wizard of Oz movie hitting the West End next year. The big news there is that Webber has written new songs, especially ones for the witches, so maybe that could become the new Wizard of Oz that Warner Bros has been so desperate to get underway.
Lost somewhere amidst all of this is Wicked, the only Oz-related movie I want to see. The smash hit Broadway show, based on the Gregory Maguire novel of the same name, has been in development forever. This summer there was some movement, with Universal putting together a team to meet with directors, but things have been very quiet on that front.
Wicked is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West; it envisions the witch as a misunderstood hero fighting against an asshole Wizard and falling out with a snobby Glinda the Good Witch. It’s a nicely subversive take on the story of The Wizard of Oz, and it also features some truly great musical numbers.
(For the record, there’s another possible Oz movie competing with Wicked - author Gregory Maguire sold the non-musical rights to his novel to ABC TV a couple of years back. They could make a more straight ahead adaptation of his story)
To me Wicked plays with the expectations of Oz in great ways, and I think it’s the most fully formed and true to Baum vision out there right now. And we always need more musicals. But where is it in the development process? Will Universal abandon it if Disney’s Oz the Great and Wonderful - a competing prequel - moves ahead quickly? Or would the success of that film (assuming it’s a success) only help Wicked’? I feel like there are only so many Wizard of Oz movies that can be out there at one time, so whoever gets to theaters first probably owns the field.
The lack of Oz movies has always been one of the great Hollywood mysteries to me. L Frank Baum wrote 22 novels set in the world of Oz, and they’re public domain. Anybody could adapt them - and many of them are insane and weird and cool and would make great films. Instead everybody is scrambling to reimagine the same nonsense. At least Wicked uses the geography and politics of Baum’s later Oz books to great advantage, including many kingdoms and races that didn’t make it into the classic original film. Honestly, I’d kind of like it if someone took a straight shot at the Oz novels (which is what the Twilight production company is trying to do, but I can’t help but mistrust them), but barring that Wicked seems the best way to go.
So what’s next? Will the playing field continue to be overcrowded? Will a winner finally emerge from the fray? Or could we be in for competing Oz films, just as we’ve had competing asteroid films in the past? I’m getting impatient over here.