Hollywood Returning to Oz Again...and Again


We all know there's no place like home, but is there a place big enough for seven - yes, seven - more cinematic follow-ups to that classic musical it's okay to like, The Wizard of Oz (1939)?

L. Frank Baum's classic novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has had its fair share of screen adaptations since it was released way back in 1900, but it appears as though a spell has been placed on Hollywood, with producers seeing big pots of gold somewhere over the rainbow.

It was revealed in April that a prequel titled Oz The Great and Powerful, which details the Wizard's early life, was gathering momentum, and came hot on the heels of news that two sequels - one about Dorothy's granddaughter, and the other about Dorothy's great-great granddaughter - were in early development.

WizardOfOz1Of course, these mooted projects are not even the half of it, with two animated features guaranteed to be hitting theatres in 2011. One is a direct retelling of Baum's original work, and uses the same title, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, while the other is an Alice in Wonderland-style sequel called Dorothy of Oz.

And while Broadway musical Wicked appears destined for the big-screen in the not-too-distant future as well, Dark Oz, based on the comic book series that certainly lives up to its name, could follow suit - and could very well be the most interesting offering of the lot. More on that later.

Ironically, two of the modern-day comeback kids, Robert Downey Jr and Drew Barrymore, have been heavily linked to two of the aforementioned productions that, when combined, could be one hell of a return for that merry old land full of height-challenged residents and flying monkeys.

Oz The Great and Powerful centers around a young wizard charlatan who is part of a traveling circus but gets whisked away to Oz. Downey Jr. is apparently at the top of the hit list when it comes to the role of the Wizard, while Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead) was is in talks to direct a Mitchell Kapner script, but now Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) could be the most likely man for the job.

drew-barrymore-directingWhile she was once attached to star in Surrender Dorothy, Barrymore is now attached to direct the film that focuses on Dorothy's great, great granddaughter who has to learn how to use the power of those sparkling ruby red slippers to keep (a resurrected) Wicked Witch of the West from taking control of both Oz and now Earth.

The film had its origins in 2002 from a script by Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction) which apparently had the Witch faking her death in the original The Wizard of Oz and returning to seek revenge on Dorothy - via her distant relatives in present-day New York - and also regain the slippers.

It would be Barrymore's second directional outing after last year's Whip It. Incidentally, the star of that all-girl rollerfest, Ellen Page, is now linked to Surrender Dorothy.

The other sequel in development is from a screenplay by Josh Olsen (A History of Violence) called Oz: Return to the Emerald City, and focuses on Dorothy Neill, a hot shot lawyer from Chicago.

While her grandmother, Dorothy Gale - the original Dorothy - is content to sit back in Kansas and tell of her adventures in Oz, the younger Dorothy is herself whisked away to Oz (with her boss's kid who she is supposed to be baby-sitting), and must team up with her grannies' old friends, The Lion, The Tin Man and the Scarecrow, to stop a new and powerful witch.

oz2Wicked has been slated for film treatment since early last year after its amazing success around the world - and may have taken a step forward recently. Based on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, Wicked focuses on the friendship between a young Wicked Witch of the West and a young Good Witch of the North and their ultimate falling out.

Neither a sequel nor prequel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is primarily an adaptation of Baum's original work. In fact, apparently it will follow it much more closely than Judy Garland's The Wizard of Oz did. Most remarkably it is being directed by veteran John Boorman, the man behind Deliverance. It is his first animated film ever.

Long-time Walt Disney feature animator Daniel St Pierre is the man directing a film using state-of-the-art (whatever that is) 3D effects, Dorothy of Oz. It has Dorothy thrust back to Oz to try to restore order after a crazy, albeit powerful, Jester has taken control and Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow have gone missing. Martin Short is providing the voice of the Jester, Dan Aykroyd is the Scarecrow, Kelsey Grammar is the Tin Man and Jim Belushi is the Lion. See the official website here.

If all of these fail to tickle your fancy, then Dark Oz might, and more. Moves were afoot two years ago to bring the dark (obviously) and disturbed Caliber Comics series to life. A screenplay was penned from the original source creators Aaron Deneberg, Ralph Griffith and Stuart Kerr. The plan was to begin production at the end of 2008.

Midway through 2010 we're still no closer to seeing Dark Oz on the big screen, but it could be worth the wait. Dark Oz focuses, again, on Dorothy's return to Oz, but it is a very different place than the one she left behind. Namely, with a new group of allies, she must try to defeat the Three Evil Kings of Oz ... the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Lion. Shock. Horror.

darkozposterbigIf any of these actually get off the ground, they of course won't be the first attempt at rediscovering the magic of Oz. Return to Oz was a direct sequel from 1986, and hit a yellow brick wall when it came to public and critical reaction.

Then there was of course The Wiz (1978), an 'urbanized retelling', which saw Diana Ross as a schoolteacher from Harlem called Dorothy who is transported to a New York-style Oz, and Michael Jackson co-starring as the Scarecrow. Like the later Return to Oz, it was mauled by critics.

There has been a number of other adaptations earlier. Even 1939's seminal The Wizard of Oz was the third moving picture incarnation of the Baum's work, following The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) and The Wizard of Oz (1925).

Will it ever end?



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