Yet More from the Yellow Brick Road

Follow the Yellow Brick RoadSo, there I was sitting in the theater waiting for Frozen to start (loved it, BTW), and what do I see?  Disney’s doing an Oz sequel.  Based, of course, on the world of the movie, not the books.

I can tell you this right now, it’s not going to work.  It never works.  Occasionally, you get an alternate take on Oz that runs away with it (like Wicked) or that is kind of interesting from a genre stand point (A Barnstormer in Oz), but the sequels never hold up.  In all the years “they” have been trying to do sequels to the movie, not one of them has ever even come close to success.  They all flop and the box office or in the ratings.

I even know why.

To talk about it, I’m going to have to do something difficult for me and set aside the books.  A vanishingly small number of people have read any of the books, even Wonderful Wizard, never mind any of the sequels.  This is not me judging, it just is.  For most people Oz is the movie musical with Judy Garland and friends.  And that is the primary reason none of the sequels work.

Because of all the remarkable specticles Hollywood, even The Mighty Mouse can produce, they cannot reproduce the look and feel of that movie.  Even if they could, it would probably not update well.  That movie was very much a thing of its time, from the songs to the sets.

And then there’s the ending.  It was a dream.  We all know it was a dream.  The scene where Dorothy wakes up again is one of the most famous in the movie.  It’s been parodied a thousand times.  This is not, BTW, how it ends in the book.  In the book, Oz is real and Dorothy was gone for months, much to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s distress.  When she goes back, it’s via different routes and for different reasons, but she can go back because it was always a real place.

But in the movie, for reasons I’ve never heard explained, it was turned into a dream.  This pissed me off as a fantasy-loving kid, and pissed me off later as a feminist for a whole different set of reasons.  But it’s also made making a sequel really, really difficult, because any sequel’s got to explain that famous, emotionally effective scene away, which is a tough start.  Then it’s got to recreate the same level of emotional connection as people have with the original, without any of the working material that made the original great — the performances, the songs, the totally unexamined and wonderful weirdness of those Munchkins.

An alternate take or alternate world sideways telling of Oz doesn’t have these hurdles.  They can just tap into the wonder, or the weirdness (and Oz, as I have mentioned elsewhere is PLENTY weird) and run with it, they don’t have to recreate it, or better it.

Oz is our national fairy tale.  I’ve never been sure how it got to be that way, but it is.  I’m fascinated by the rewriting and the different ways the pattern has been woven into other stories, but sequels…not so much.

Good luck folks, and good-night from the Yellow Brick Road.

7 Responses

    1. Sarah Zettel Post author

      It’s a very strange phenomenon. Oz is almost the Matter of Britain for the U.S. It’s the story everybody knows, the symbols are absolutely everywhere. It’s been told and retold, and yet none of those direct sequels has achieved any kind of staying power. You can riff on it, but you can’t follow it up. At least, no one has managed to yet. The mouse is mighty, but I’m not holding my breath.

  1. Steven Harper Piziks

    Interesting. I never noticed this before, that you can do Oz prequels at the movies, but not sequels. (I don’t count WICKED–that was Broadway.) I never liked the “it was a dream” ending, either. It invalidated Dorothy’s entire adventure, and changed the fear and challenges she faced into childish imaginings. How is that fair?

    1. Sarah Zettel Post author

      The other thing with Wicked is it’s not a straight prequel, it’s a reinterpretation of the story, and a pretty drastic one. So, it plays off familiar and emotionally powerful images, but it creates a new storyline around them, which is tough to do, but if you can do it, pays off because of that established emotional connection.

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