I’ve always loved the story of the Wizard of Oz. The original film was a constant in my home when I was growing up, so I’m pretty familiar with both the world of the original and the subsequent adaptions. So I thought I’d make a handy guide to my favorite prequels to the Wizard of Oz.
As far as I’m concerned the musical ‘Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz’ is, hands down, the best adaptation of the Wizard of Oz out there.
The musical is based on a series of novels by Gregory Maguire; Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Amongst Men and Out of Oz. The musical very loosely follows the plot of the first book but a lot of it is adapted to make the characters more likeable. The biggest example of this is the relationship between Elphaba and Fiyero. In the musical, Fiyero has a sort-of relationship with Glinda, so when he falls in love with Elphaba it’s more like the drama you would see in a high school sit com (which admittedly, makes sense in the highschool setting). Whereas, in the book, Fiyero is married with three children, so it’s more of an affair and it’s a bit harder to cheer on him and Elphabas relationship.
The story predominantly deals with the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, the antagonist of the source material, during her time at school. But it also includes the back story of all of the other Oz characters. So we see Nessarose (Elphaba’s younger sister) becoming the Wicked witch of the East. Glinda fulfilling her role as the good witch. The Cowardly Lion appears as a cub who is saved by Elphaba. Fiyero (Elphaba’s boyfriend) becomes the scarecrow. And Boq is turned into the tin man by Nessarose.
Unlike other adaptions of the story, Wicked has a strong focus on the political, social, and ethical issues with Oz. The characters are fully developed and a lot more human than they are in the source material. One of the most feared villain in the fairy-tale world becomes the heroine. The Wicked Witch isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil, she was driven to it after trying to do everything she could to be good but failing, which isn’t a twist you expect when you watch the original film.
The musical does, unfortunately, leave out a lot of the commentary of race which appeared in the novel. For example Fiyero is an Arjikis and as such, he is dark-skinned and tattooed with blue diamonds, which you never see in the musical. In fact, they rarely get the ‘dark skinned’ part right. I’m all for racially-blind casting, but at least give him his diamonds.
Fiyeros character is designed to introduce a whole other culture to the Oz mythology, which is unfortunately ignored in the musical adaption. However, there is the oppression of the munchkin people by the dictator Nessarose (which we see in the original Wicked of Oz) and Elphaba remains a brilliant metaphor for racism and a symbol for how prejudice can harm an individual.
The music of Wicked is also a gorgeous addition to the story and if you get the chance to see the musical, you should definitely take it!
2. Lion of Oz (2000)
The Lion of Oz is a children’s animated film which deal primarily with the backstory of the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard. The film is based on the book “Lion of Oz and the Badge of Courage” which was written by Roger S. Baum, the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum.
In the opening sequence, the lion lives in a circus where Oscar Diggs (who later becomes the wizard) works. Both the Lion and Oscar were taken to Oz. during a tornado (just like Dorothy, tornados are clearly the only way to get into Oz) after the wizard stupidly decides that a hot air balloon trip with a lion is a brilliant idea. The main antagonist of this film is the Wicked Witch of the East, who claims to have kidnapped Oscar. She explains that she will release him when the lion brings her the “flower of Oz”. It’s essentially the same set up as the original film. The Lion is given a quest by a witch and collects his companions along the way. On his travels, the Lion is sent to a girl named Wimsik (Get it? Because she’s whimsical) who knows all about flowers. Wimsik is an eternally cheerful child with the most ridiculous fake accent you will ever hear. Interestingly, no-one seems to find it weird odd when Wimsik can magically grow flowers or perform magic just by singing. It’s not really much of a surprise when it transpires that Wimsik was the flower all along.
The Lion’s characterisation in this film is pretty odd. He thinks that his bravery is intrinsically linked to the badge Oscar gave him at the start of the film. The Witch of the East steals it during the climax and he supposedly learns that he doesn’t need the medal to be brave. But he then decides to go on a new quest to find his medal and Oscar (who he’s been told arrived at emerald city in his balloon). The film ends with the lion landing on the yellow brick road and coming across Dorothy and co. Because of the Lions new motivation, the film doesn’t really work as a prequel. If we’re to assume that this is immediately followed by the events in Wizard of Oz, then the lion quickly loses track of his goal of finding Oscar, doesn’t recognise his friend when they do meet again and instead asks if the wizard can just give him courage.
Overall, the animation in this film is what you’d expect from something designed solely for children and the storytelling is pretty cheesy. The songs are also painfully cheesy in comparison to Wicked but you can put that down to their production budget and their primary audience. This is probably best exemplified by the first song in which the wizard sings about how he and the lion have the “courage to be friends”.
3. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Oz the Great and Powerful deals with the back stories of the Wizard and the Witches. Basically, somebody saw Wicked and thought that it was a good idea so appropriated the concept and turned it into a film. I’m not saying that Gregory Maguire has the monopoly on Oz back stories, I’m just saying that he did it a lot better.
Most of the film is spent mimicking the classic Wizard of Oz film. The black and white beginning is interesting but it drags on for far too long. The transition doesn’t have the impact that it did in the first film because it’s not a surprise. Literally everyone was expecting it. It worked so well back in 1939 because the technology was new, now it’s common place and not nearly as special as it was back then.
Like the Lion of Oz, this film mimics the plot of Wizard of Oz. Our hero is given a quest by a witch (that quest being to kill the witch), and collects companions along the way. These companions represent people he knows in real life. Finley the flying monkey represents his assistant from the Circus and the China Doll symbolises the little girl who asked him to help her walk.
The film is set up to trick you into thinking that Evanora is the bad witch (she wears a green dress, what more evidence do you need). There’s also a different character referred to as the ‘Wicked Witch’ which turns out to be their Glinda. I didn’t mind the twist of the wicked witch being Theodora, but I was disappointed that the cause of all of her evil was a boy. Yes, in Wicked Fiyero partly caused Elphaba’s path into wickedness, but that’s only a small part of it. Wicked is more of a political commentary and Elphaba is represented as being the hero whilst the Wizard is the truly wicked one. In Oz the Great and Powerful, Theodora’s heart is broken and she chooses to remain green simply to ‘punish the wizard’. Seems legit.
In this film, the wizard is presented as being a good sympathetic character. But he’s just plain awful. Like Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, the wizard tricks and manipulates women into (presumably) sleeping with him, and yet he’s still our good guy. The Wizards lose morals are far better represented in Wicked, where the Wizards misdeeds begin with him drugging Elphaba’s mother to sleep with him.
Overall, I wasn’t particularly impressed by Oz the Great and Powerful.
So that’s all for now. I was considering doing a post about the prequels to Wizard of Oz, but to be honest all I would be able to talk about is how much those Wheelers creeped me out. Those things were awful.
Let me know what you guys think. Do you love these prequels? Hate them? Were there any that I missed out? Leave me a message to let me know.