Remaking Fairyland: A Wizard of Oz Remake?

Hollywood news outlets are reporting that Warner Bros Studios plans to make a remake of the original Wizard of Oz—a live action film so faithful that it reportedly will be using the same script. The film is tentatively scheduled to compete with gently complement Disney’s planned Oz vehicle starring Robert Downey Jr. as well as a couple of other Oz projects in the development stage.

As a diehard Oz fan (I even have the little Wizard of Oz Pez dispensers….yes, yes, I’m pathetic, but this entry is not about me. It’s about Hollywood) I should be delighted, right?

Well, no, not really.

First, the avid moviewatcher in me had one, and only response to this idea: are we that desperate for original ideas, Hollywood? Okay, judging from this summer and fall’s movie entries, and the undoubted truth that the most anticipated movie of this weekend is based on a British novel, maybe, but to the point where we aren’t just doing remakes, we’re using the exact. same. script? Bring on more disastrous unstoppable train movies, if that’s the problem.

But moving on beyond the serious issue of a a desperate dearth of Hollywood creativity, I have some other concerns. As I earlier noted, the 1939 original was very much a film of its time. Certainly, many of the same issues of security, fear, financial stress and distant wars that aren’t really so distant are still with us, and in that context, remaking The Wizard of Oz makes some sense. Even the original film’s embrace of the bleakness of life has its historical parallels. But I am not certain that any director, even one with the time-traveling pedigree of Robert Zemeckis, can or should attempt to recreate that feeling.

A second, more minor concern is that some parts of the film, specifically the Cowardly Lion’s lengthy song/dance number in the middle of the film, were specifically designed for the actors cast to play them. The writers and director of the 1939 film had seen Bert Lahr act, dance and sing, and created a number that would showcase his very specific talents. (This is also why that particular number makes no sense in the film and works only if you decide to consider the entire film as only a dream.) With all due respect to current Hollywood talents, none of them are Bert Lahr.

And third, a part of the film’s original glory—that switch from sepia tones to brilliant Technicolor—is a point that simply won’t have the same impact on audiences accustomed to digital colorization.Just as I typed that sentence, I had the horrible thought that Zemeckis would, indeed, be updating that point—by filming the Kansas scenes in 2D, before throwing us until a swishing 3D world, like Avatar, only, brighter and more musical. Ouch. Let us hope no one in Warner Bros has the same thought.

It’s that I don’t want to see a remake, one that hopefully removes some of the awkward notes of the 1939 original (eliminating the horrific sound effects done on the Munchkin voices would be a great start.) And this being Hollywood, I greatly doubt that the 1939 script can or would be followed that closely, eliminating some of the minor qualms I mentioned. And, of course, I’d love to see what could be could be done with CGI effects in many of the Oz scenes, and with updating some of the dance numbers, and perhaps bringing back others.

I will, however, admit that I am more looking forward to the Disney film with Robert Downey Jr., if only because, well, it has Robert Downey Jr. in it. I admit it. In such matters, I can be shallow.


Mari Ness is a diehard Oz and Robert Downey Jr. fan. She lives in central Florida.

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