You have to wonder how confused even L. Frank Baum would be today if he saw all of his “Oz” books adapted in various movies that claim to be official sequels. With crossover universes already a continuity problem in fantasy and sci-fi, the “Oz” universe is starting to get just as full and even more confusing. With “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” having a direct book connection to L. Frank Baum’s great-grandson, Roger Stanton Baum, we might have to assume this new animated sequel is an official follow-up in the line of countless sequels. Then again, what’s really official may have to turn into a more subjective experience.
What’s considered true canon and what isn’t has been completely obscured now in all the “Oz” sequels made for the big screen. The connector to it all is obviously 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” that most people consider the definitive vision over the books. Regardless, if you’ve ever spent time reading through the Oz books, you’ll see just how good they are and ultimately better than the movie’s script. While 1939’s “Oz” stands alone on its own pop culture merits, the books go into interesting detail that we still have yet to see properly adapted in the movies.
Ironically, the place where that might happen could be in the production shingle that created “Oz the Great and Powerful.” From Sam Raimi, this world of Oz was made with a real love for the books, despite the overall screenplay losing a bit of momentum at times. For those who adhere to 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” as the definitive look at Oz, the prequel about the Wizard’s arrival was considered to be near canon. That’s because with its sly nods to the 1939 film (the black and white in the opening the best part of the movie), plus references to what happens later provided the most astute cinematic homage.
Nevertheless, MGM may argue the case on what’s considered a real sequel to the 1939 movie. An official animated sequel was made 50 years ago, yet MGM has it seemingly buried somewhere where no one can find it.
What’s Happened to “Journey Back to Oz?”
In the early 1960s, MGM decided to produce an animated sequel to “The Wizard of Oz” using Judy Garland’s next of kin, Liza Minnelli, as the voice of Dorothy. Called “Journey Back to Oz”, the film ran out of money a couple of years into production. It wasn’t until the early 1970s when the film was finally finished and released. By that time, the voice recordings were already a decade old. Plus, the film flopped at the box office due to the early ’70s breeding a new outlook on family films.
Later, it established a substantial audience on television that lasted up until the mid 1980s. Since then, it had one DVD release that subsequently went out of print. Now you can only acquire it if you spend $200 to get a used DVD or VHS copy off Amazon.com. The question is why MGM has attempted to bury the film when the market for “Oz” sequels is well into the black. Having it on Blu-ray would easily complement “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.”
Then again, the answer still hasn’t been given on which movie above should be considered an official sequel. With Roger Stanton Baum writing a new series of “Oz” books, are we looking at a complicated problem of the original writer’s great-grandson creating an alternate universe spinoff?
The real problem here (and why “Legends of Oz” has been knocked so much by critics) is perhaps because the attention is being placed too much on Dorothy. Everyone should know that Judy Garland’s original portrayal is so iconic that no one else should even attempt to copy it. Disney made a similar mistake with their 1985’s “Return to Oz.” When aforementioned film flopped, it was a shock, because the film itself is actually the best “Oz” sequel ever made so far.
At this point, it’s better if the “Oz” sequels move on to all the other books in the series. Those stories are even more interesting, including Princess Ozma, who’s also a much more layered and fascinating character than Dorothy ever was. If the Sam Raimi “Oz” production arm does more films in the “Oz” series, it should start with her character rather than remake “The Wizard of Oz.” If they do the latter, then the chain of continuity in the “Oz” universe gets even more complicated and starts taking away from its deeper social and political layers.