How does the soundtrack to Filmation’s seminal animated feature connect with Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack, Astro Boy, a Congo airline and a plate of bad shrimp?
JOURNEY BACK TO OZ
Original Soundtrack Musical Story Album
Texize (Morton Norwich) Premium Record S-7243 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono & Stereo)
Album Released in 1980. Producers: Lou Scheimer, Norm Prescott. Dialogue: Norm Prescott, Fred Ladd. Music Arranger/Conductor: Walter Scharf. Running Time: 38 minutes.
Voices: Liza Minnelli (Dorothy); Mickey Rooney (Scarecrow); Milton Berle (Cowardly Lion); Danny Thomas (Tin Man); Ethel Merman (Mombi); Paul Lynde (Pumpkinhead); Herschel Bernardi (Woodenhead); Jack E. Leonard (Signpost); Rise Stevens (Glinda).
Songs: “Faraway Land,” “Signpost Song,” “Keep a Happy Thought,” “Horse on the Carousel,” “B-R-A-N-E,” “An Elephant Never Forgets,” “H-E-A-R-T,” “N-E-R-V-E,” “You Have Only You,” “If You’re Gonna Be a Witch,” “Return to Oz March,” “That Feeling for Home” Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen.
Instrumentals: Overture, Entr’acte Overture by Jimmy Van Heusen.
Few single animated features parallel the early history of a studio like Journey Back to Oz. It was the project that initiated Filmation’s founding; its various starts and stops between 1960-61 and its limited theatrical release in 1974-75 went hand-in-hand with the growth of the studio.
In 1962, as Producer Lou Scheimer and Director Hal Sutherland were forming Filmation in Hollywood in 1962, producer/co-screenwriter Norm Prescott and co-writer Fred Ladd were completing Universal’s Pinocchio in Outer Space in Belgium. In the superb bonus features for the DVD release, Ladd told Filmation historian Andy Mangels: “Norm had the idea… that we could overlap some production with another picture, which turned out to be Journey Back to Oz. The European studio… was too small to accommodate this, so… it was moved to Yugoslavia. They couldn’t cut it and the picture was pulled from them. After a year, they still hadn’t completed the six-minute prologue before the titles.”
At the Paramount commissary, Prescott met Scheimer and suggested bringing the Oz project to Hollywood with funding he was acquiring from a airline that was flying resources into the Congo—but the airline folded and production was again halted. Having become partners at Filmation in the process, Scheimer, Prescott and Sutherland sought funding for the Oz until 1969–when TV successes like The New Adventures of Superman and The Archie Show and the studio’s purchase by TelePrompTer made it possible to bring Journey back into production.
The voices and songs had been recorded in 1960 with the exception of Mickey Rooney’s performance as the Scarecrow. He replaced Peter Lawford, whose aristocratic voice was deemed unsuitable for the character. As Filmation was to do for subsequent cartoons like their Star Trek series, the voices for Journey Back to Oz were recorded wherever the actors happened to be available at the time, in New York, Hollywood and Las Vegas (Walter Scharf recorded the musical score in Paris).
Lawford’s presence in the cast, along with Milton Berle and others associated with Frank Sinatra’s “rat pack,” became available through the efforts of Sammy Cahn, a friend and musical associate of the performers. Judy Garland herself signed the contract for Liza Minnelli, who was 15 at the time.
Ladd (who was preparing Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy and Gigantor for American TV while working on this film) recalled that Minnelli had dined on a plate of spoiled shrimp the night before the recording session and required a facility to be nearby in case she needed a quick retreat. A trouper even at that young age, the soundtrack betrays not a clue to Minnelli’s discomfort. Months later, Minnelli had developed a more individual style for her maturing voice. She wanted to record again so she wouldn’t sound so much like her mother. “She got really upset with us when we said ‘no,’” recalled Scheimer in the commentary. “But it was done and we liked what was done.”
To a lesser degree, Journey Back to Oz shared a similar path to success with its 1939 counterpart, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. Wizard did well in its initial release and reissue in theaters, but to MGM execs, it was not a phenomenon on the level of Disney’s Snow White.
Journey was only shown in eleven theaters between 1974 and 1975, using the “four wall” system of self-distribution that made millions for such low-budget films as Billy Jack and The Adventures of the Wilderness Family. The initial box office results for Journey Back To Oz were disappointing.
Both The Wizard of Oz and Journey Back to Oz benefitted from television. Wizard became an institution in its yearly presentations starting in 1956. Journey, of course, cannot claim anything close to such fame, but was aired as a Christmas special in 1975 (for the ABC broadcast, Bill Cosby, then of Filmation’s Fat Albert series, appeared in live-action wraparound segments with Dal McKennon voicing a parrot puppet). In syndicated airings on the SFM Holiday Network, it became the crown jewel of SFM’s annual film packages.
The star-studded cast was certainly a draw in these cases, especially with the daughter of MGM’s Dorothy taking the lead role. Historically, Journey can be considered the first animated feature with an extensive voice cast of big-name celebrities.
In 1980, Texize sponsored a TV broadcast of the film, hosted by Milton Berle. Texize made the soundtrack album available as a premium. The LP is described as a “Musical Story Album” on the cover, but the disc contains songs, music and short dialogue excerpts rather than a complete narrative. The story is printed on the back cover with song lyrics. There was never a traditional retail issue of this album. (An “unofficial” LP had been floating around among collectors that included several alternate versions of the songs as well as Lawford’s original voice work.)
There were several VHS and DVD releases, though a Blu-ray is overdue—the film may have its flaws, but the art direction and color styling would benefit from high resolution.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Peter Lawford & Mickey Rooney Sing “B-R-A-N-E”
Peter Lawford gave the Scarecrow role his trademark suave sophistication, which would have been fine for a character other than the Scarecrow. Scheimer recalled Mickey Rooney to be an incorrigible personality in the studio but a total pro as a voice actor.