The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin and Clara Blandick
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Released by: Metro-Goldwyn Mayer
Synopsis: Kansas country girl Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) wishes for a life of adventure and escape the hurdles of everyday life. But a tornado transports her to a most magical place, the Land of Oz! From there, she embarks on a journey to meet the wonderful wizard and escape the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). Along the way, she meets the most colorful cast of characters to have graced the silver screen: the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) and the Tin Man (Jack Haley), all under the guidance of Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke).
Review: When Disney released his first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, little did he know that he was setting the standards very high not just for himself but for everyone else in the industry when it came to quality family films. Why do I mention this? Because if it wasn't for the roaring success of Snow White The Wizard of Oz wouldn't have been made, or so say many film experts.
Regardless of how the film began its life, I am thankful that they went ahead with it, giving us one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema ever made. The original L. Frank Baum books were ripe for the picking thanks to their imaginative worlds and charismatic characters, and this adaptation would define how all future Oz films and projects would be handled and presented to the public.
Judy Garland as Dorothy gives the film its heart in one of her first leading roles. She is able to express the curiosity and sincerity of a young child very well. The trio of misfit characters, Scarecrow, Tim Man, and Cowardly Lion, also add substance to the story in their desires. All of them wish for something, and believe that there's an easy way of getting it. But they, and we as the audience, learn a valuable lesson: that sometimes the things we most desire are right under our noses, waiting for us to have the courage to find them.
They are also magnificently played by their respective performers, creating characters that many imitate and strive to be. Even the Wicked Witch of the West shines in her evil ways, creating an intimidating and classic film villain we all love to hate (until a certain Broadway musical came along, more on that later ;) ).
The twists and turns the story takes are very clever, creating a plot that is actually quite compelling while never taking itself seriously. The Wizard of Oz is simply a fun film to watch. It manages to strike a perfect balance between comedy and drama. It's this high level of professionalism that makes the film very watchable even today. The Wizard of Oz never dumbs things down for the sake of entertainment, but doesn't strive to be anything else but an engaging fantasy film.
The Wizard of Oz is also an incredible piece of filmmaking thanks to great use of special effects, color and sets. While the film was shot in color, the first scenes set in Kansas are shot in hues of brown, in order to represent Dorothy's own dull and colorless life. When she arrives on Oz, the film becomes a showcase for the wonders of Technicolor technology. The costumes and set designs may appear to be simple, but for a film of its time they are quite impressive, especially the Emerald City and its inhabitants.
Despite how well the overall film was created, though, the team faced a lot of hurdles before the classic was eventually released. The original Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, fell ill due to the make-up they used to create the metallic look of the Tin Man. The film also had several director changes and contributions, many which aren't credited in the film at all! The Wizard of Oz has such a rich history it is amazing how many obstacles they faced before they could have a finished film.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Wizard of Oz review if I didn't talk about the music. In terms of lyrics, they are quite simple. But they reflect perfectly the emotions of the characters, such as Dorothy's wishful "Somewhere over the Rainbow" and the adventurous "Follow the Yellow Brick Road". Like Snow White, the music adds to the story rather than stopping it just to have a song and dance number. These songs would go on to become staples in film soundtracks, with their lyrics becoming anthems for justice, dreams and happiness.
It's amazing to think that on one decade we got not one but two of the best children's fantasy films of all time. The Wizard of Oz shall forever be a timeless treasure of childhood innocence, fantasy and the strengths of the human spirit. It shall forever be the treasure at the end of the rainbow.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5