Widely considered to be one of the most iconic movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz captured the imaginations of audiences across generations. From its debut in 1939, to the subsequent annual broadcasts on American television, this classic musical comedy has wowed us with its larger than life characters, unforgettable song and dance numbers, and memorable one-liners that have been ingrained and immortalized in movie lore.
This timeless story stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, a young girl who dreams to be part of a brighter and happier world, one that’s opposite of the hard-working farm town of Kansas. Dorothy just wants to have fun and to be free, which any normal adolescence would want, but she is stuck with authoritative figures who don’t have time to indulge in her childish fantasies. However, in a twisting strike of irony, Dorothy and her adorable dog Toto get swept up in a violent tornado that takes them away from their family in Kansas. And where do they end up? Why, the fantastical land of Oz, of course! Though, in this world even an imaginative young girl like Dorothy sticks out, and she must travel to the Emerald City and find the magical wizard of Oz in order to go back home. The trip certainly won’t be a short one, as along the way she’ll meet a cheery group of friends who also seek the Wizard to help better themselves, and a Wicked Witch that is out to stop her and cause havoc across the land.
The one thing that stood out to me was how visually stunning the picture was. There was a very conscious decision to leave the early parts of the film, particularly the Kansas scenes, in black and white (or more specifically sepiatone) which is in line with how Dorothy feels about her dull hometown. But when the setting is switched into the land of Oz, the film unveils its use of technicolor. And boy, is it pleasing on the eyes! I mean, we’re talking about a film that was produced in the late 30s, but the quality of picture was still incredible! I’m sure the version I watched was a retouched version of the film (I rented it on iTunes, in case you wanted to see the same thing!), but the contrast between Kansas and the world of Oz makes the unveiling of color so vibrant.
Everything becomes grand by the time we reach the Munchkin Village, and it stays that way as Dorothy and Toto move onward towards Emerald City. The sets and the staging are nicely arranged, with beautifully painted backdrops that add to the vastness of the land. There are also huge casts of characters that greet Dorothy on this adventure, all of whom have unique designs that follow the theme of the town they are from. I have to give it up for the production crew and designers, as it was clear that a lot of work was put into crafting a brand-new world that audiences would fall in love with. And it’s safe to say they succeed in that goal. It feels like you’re watching a completely different movie once we switch settings.
And that’s the way it should be! For the latter half of the film, we momentarily break from the norms of reality and dive into the realm of dreams and imagination. Everything suddenly becomes over-the-top, from the acting, down to the amount of musical numbers that accompany the long journey. Most of the songs use the same melody and simply change up the lyrics (both Scarecrow’s and Tinman’s song come to mind), but overall the tunes are fairly catchy and fun to listen to. If anything, the melody is repetitive in order for audiences to identify the specific rhythms of these songs, which in turn makes it easier to sing-along. And the music does help push the narrative forward. Dorothy and friends have a long road ahead to meet the Wizard of Oz, but it doesn’t feel so long when you’re dancing and singing every step of the way!
Though, with all this time devoted to the song and dance numbers and the continual addition of new characters along the way, plot remains fairly simple. Maybe too simple. Things just seem to resolve themselves with one convenience after another, and there are many divine interventions that help Dorothy and her friends when they find themselves in deep trouble. But in the end, this is practically a children’s story, a story that never gets too grim on its journey.
And these lessons are told through the main cast of characters that are along for the ride. I love how everyone has a stake in the quest to see the Wizard. Dorothy, of course, wants to find her way back to Kansas. The Scarecrow wants to have a brain, the Tinman a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wants the Wizard to grant him the ability to be brave. All of them have different goals in mind, but ultimately come together as a whole in order for the benefit of the entire group. The friendships and bonds formed between this quartet add to this touching story, and also give audiences more things to pay attention to as we watch them grow and develop as characters on their way to the Emerald City.
There are many things that audiences can come away with after watching this fun-filled movie. Seriously, there’s so much to love about it that there have been many references in media and pop culture that refer back to this 1939 film. Even if you haven’t watched it yet, you’ve probably already heard about it in some form or another. So why not go ahead and see it in all its original glory? Perfect for anyone looking to have a great time, this film has everything you can want from a Hollywood classic, and is sure to continue to capture the imaginations of audiences for generations to come.
Where to Watch this Film: The Wizard of Oz (1933) is available for rent/purchase on YouTube, Amazon Video, VUDU, Google Play, iTunes, and Netflix DVD.