So I watched The Wizard of Oz…
I think the last time I actually consciously sat down to watch this movie was about seventeen years ago. I haven’t watched it since but when I watched it now, it felt so familiar to me. It’s one of those movies that is so ingrained in pop-culture that the only way to avoid its presence is to live under a rock with no TV or internet. Now, while I did find a few flaws, it’s definitely worth its classic status.
Okay, basic plot: Doroty (Judy Garland) and her dog – Toto – set off to run away from home after Toto is scheduled for euthanasia after biting one of Dorothy’s neighbours. Their plans are interrupted when a twister hits their town and Dorothy (along with Toto) is transported to the magical land of Oz. To return home, Dorothy must journey to Emerald City and consult with The Wizard about a way back to Kansas. On her way she meets three companions who join her quest: a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Man (Jack Haley) and a Lion (Bert Lahr) who are all in need of something they hope The Wizard can provide. Dorothy’s journey is constantly besieged by The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) who is after revenge after Dorothy accidentally killed her sister – The Wicked Witch of the East.
I think the best thing about this film is its aesthetics. The film starts out with a drab sepia tone and then, when Dorothy lands in Oz, explodes into beautiful technicolour. It literally took my breath away. It’s not only the visuals but also the tone and freedom between the two worlds that highlight this transformation. Dorothy’s home – Kansas – is bleak and boring filled with chores and rules; whereas Oz is vibrant and full of wonder and the impossible. The contrast between the two is wonderfully displayed and makes the dream world of Oz all the more remarkable.
The story also feels warm and entertaining. I have my problems with it (which I’ll discuss in a moment) but the film’s cheer and boundless imagination transformed me into a child again. This film calls out to your inner child and asks them to walk its journey with it. A journey not hassled with logic and sense but with fun and carefree glee. At the heart of everything to be admired about this film is Judy Garland’s wondrous turn as Dorothy. She’s entertaining, she’s charming and has this wonderful child-like innocence to her that will capture your heart.
Unfortunately, the writing behind the character of Dorothy doesn’t match the quality of Garland’s performance. The problem with Dorothy’s character is a problem I had with this entire film’s plot – there’s no development or resolution. The film begins with Dorothy wishing to run away from home to save her dog’s life and ends with her back at home with her dog still in danger. Nothing in Dorothy changes. She doesn’t learn, there are no great epiphanies to be had and this leaves the story feeling hollow. In contrast, everyone around Dorothy is changing. Scarecrow learns to think, Tin Man begins to feel and Cowardly Lion realises his courage. Everyone is left different at the end of the story than they were at the beginning, except for Dorothy.
She’s a great character but her journey to Emerald City seems to have zero impact on her. She’s also gleefully indifferent to the fact that she kills two people along her quest to return home. I’m not looking for her to have some deep, introspective review of her life but she could at least look bothered or even affected by the events transpiring around her. The film’s main plot point – Toto’s euthanasia – is also left unresolved by the end of the film. Is he going to die? Is he not? I guess we’ll never know because the film has no interest in telling us. So the grand adventure that Dorothy completes is left hollow because it brings with it no change to her personally or the story as a whole.
Another problem I had with this film was its music. Before you sharpen your pitchforks and light your torches, let me finish. “Over the Rainbow” is a magnificent song and truly a classic. The way Judy Garland brings it to life is majestic. It’s been stuck in my head ever since I watched the film; problem is that I suspect it was also stuck in the head of Herbert Stothard, the man who created the film’s score. The melody of “Over The Rainbow” is repeated throughout the film and while cute at first, becomes annoying and has you wishing the composer could have come up with another tune. Literally, any other tune would have sufficed. I also found the singing of Bert Lahr (Cowardly Lion) to be extremely annoying. There’s a little bit too much in the way of vocal gymnastics and – while I acknowledge that this film is campy and over-the-top – his over-acting was not appreciated.
Overall, The Wizard of Oz is a lovely film. It has its flaws but what is does well is capture the spirit of childhood and imagination. It also has a great moral at its heart, which is that what makes you special doesn’t come from someone or something else but rather from within. It’s a classic and deserves watching.