Last summer and fall it seemed Hollywood had caught Yellow Brick Fever as many major TV networks — CBS, NBC, CW, and Syfy — were looking to adapt L. Frank Baum’s classic work of literature: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Syfy was developing a post-apocalyptic Oz with Warriors of Oz, NBC began progress on a “dark reimagining” called Emerald City, CBS was working on a medical drama titled Dorothy, and CW was in talks to adapt Danielle Paige’s, at the time, forthcoming novel Dorothy Must Die. Though none of those proposed TV series have made it to the silver screen just yet, they were being discussed around the same time as ABC’s fairy tale series Once Upon A Time announced plans of incorporating the classic good versus wicked standoff into their show.
Though fans may not be happy with the quality or quantity of Oz adaptations, the influx is indicative of a persisting love inspired by Baum’s classic tale. Since the book was released over a century ago — it was first published in May of 1900 — the beloved story has spawned numerous sequels, been adapted to film, television, and the stage many times, as well as inspired multiple retellings in literature. Throughout the past 114 years of Oz history, there have been many iconic works based on Baum’s original book, and his stories are set to hit the big screen yet again in the limited release of Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return on May 9. In honor of all the Wicked Witches in popular culture at the moment — Once Upon A Time’s season finale airs on Sunday — it seemed appropriate to talk about the best adaptations from Baum’s original book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
So far only the first book and a prequel novella, “There’s No Place Like Oz,” have been released of Danielle Paige’s young adult expansion on Baum’s original tale. In Dorothy Must Die, modern-day Kansas girl Amy Gumm is transported to Oz, but it’s not like the stories she heard growing up. Oz is more dystopian than ever and now Dorothy is the wicked one. After witnessing first-hand the horrors that have befallen Oz — as well as Dorothy’s faithful companions the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion — Amy is enlisted by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. She is tasked with saving Oz, even if that means killing Dorothy.
It’s an interesting and modern retelling of the original story that captures all the wonder of Oz while also delving into serious topics of what actually constitutes good and evil as well as the consequences of one person holding so much power. Amy is a relatable protagonist who is constantly questioning who she is, what she’s doing in Oz, and why she’s doing it. To be fair, I haven’t read the whole series, just the first installation as well as the prequel, but I’m enjoying it immensely. The prequel novella is from Dorothy’s perspective as she returns to Oz with Toto, but this time with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in tow, was both chilling and interesting — it also helpfully explains how a nice prairie girl turned into a power-hungry dictator. Though it may be an incredibly recent adaptation, the Dorothy Must Die series will entertain any fan of the original story.
Based very, very loosely on Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, Wicked The Musical follows the green-skinned outcast, Elphaba. Throughout the course of the musical, Elphaba meets Galinda, an ever-popular witch, at college. The two become unlikely friends. However, when Elphaba defies the Wizard of Oz, she becomes public enemy number one while Galinda — now Glinda — is forced to hunt her former friend. It’s a story of identity, staying true to oneself, and the loyalties of friendship that has bewitched fans all around the world for over a decade.
Although I’ve never seen the full production of Wicked, I have listened to the soundtrack countless times — enough to still know all the words — and read the book on which it’s based (though I did not like it quite as much as the musical). One of the major aspects of Wicked’s success is the talent of the cast: Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba, while Kristen Chenoweth originally played Galinda. However, what many people, including myself, found compelling about Wicked was that the musical showed the classic tale from a different perspective and gave insight into how Elphaba became the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s an innovative and fresh retelling of Baum’s original story. Plus, did I mention, the music is amazing.
The classic 1939 film adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is by far the most famous and beloved — though it may not be my personal favorite adaptation. The movie follows Dorothy Gale — and her faithful dog, Toto — as she is transported to Oz by tornado, and then sets off to seek out the Wizard in order to return home to Kansas. Along the road of yellow brick, Dorothy and Toto meet the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion who want to ask the Wizard for a brain, a heart, and some courage. However, before the Wizard will help them, they must vanquish the Wicked Witch of the West.
This year, The Wizard of Oz will celebrate its 75th birthday — that’s 75 years of adventure, wonder, and beautiful music. For many, The Wizard of Oz is the best — and maybe even the only — adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It certainly (hopefully) won’t fall prey to all the studios remaking beloved films from the 70s and 80s. Perhaps because The Wizard of Oz cannot be improved upon by Hollywood — and there would be backlash from fans and people within the industry alike. However, though I can appreciate the cinematic accomplishments of The Wizard of Oz — that transition from black and white to color film is nothing short of magical — it’s not my favorite retelling of Baum’s wonderful tale.
Back when Syfy was still the Sci-Fi network, they debuted a science fiction adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in mini series form. The story followed DG, a normal girl from Kansas who has some peculiar dreams and the feeling she was meant for something more than waitressing. Her life changes when her home is attacked and the only mother and father she’s ever known urge her to jump into a tornado. When DG wakes up, she’s in the Outer Zone, a land ruled by the evil witch Azkadellia. With help from her newfound friends — Glitch, a man whose brain was removed; Kane, a former member of the police force in Central City called the Tin Men; and Raw, a member of a race of seers — DG sets out to defeat Azkadellia.
Though Tin Man may have some faults in terms of acting and story structure, it makes up for it with imagination and originality. Nick Willing — who also created the other sci-fi adaptations of classic fairy tales, Alice and Neverland — reimagines The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in a way that will delight any fan of sci-fi. However, it doesn’t get bogged down in the science, either. Tim Man is, at its heart, a story about family and identity as well as finding your own way in life and staying true to who you are. Those are themes to which anyone can relate, whether or not they’re fans of science fiction. That being said, it’s the sci-fi aspect of Tin Man that make it so enjoyable to me.
Did I miss any Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptations that are close to your heart? Or, are you looking forward to any upcoming retellings of Baum’s classic story? Let me know in the comments!