Cartoon Research Books
September 1, 2018 posted by Kevin Scott Collier

The Animated Worlds of “The Wizard of Oz”

Growing up in the 1960’s, my first true exposure to The Wizard of Oz tale by Lyman Frank Baum came via television broadcasting the 1939 MGM classic as an annual tradition. I had seen an Oz book or two at elementary school, but I thought they were books based on the movie.

I was soon corrected. The book came first, then Judy Garland. Then, in my teens, I became aware that the famous film was based on the first book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” in a series. A series? How many books did this guy write? Fourteen in all. Thus, I began collecting various editions of the books, and upon reading them all, became an Oz fan.

In my new Cartoon Research mini-book, The Wonderful Animated World of The Wizard of Oz, I focus on Oz in cartoons. The starting point is the 1933 color cartoon short by Ted Eshbaugh (posted below). What’s amazing is that the cartoon originally had to be released as a black and white print due to not obtaining the proper licensing agreement from Technicolor. The film had a troubled origin, but the good news is it survived and in brilliant, restored form on DVD.

As a young boy, I became a fan of The Tales of The Wizard of Oz cartoon series by Crawley Films and Videocraft. NBC broadcast it in 1961. I even owned the Rusty, the Tin Man, hand-puppet, part of the vast merchandising associated with the show. While some like to make fun of the program for its simplicity, that’s precisely why I like it, and how it was an early representation of what became Rankin/Bass.

I have always thought one of the most stylish depictions of Oz characters surfaced in “Off to See the Wizard,” the 1967 MGM wraparound cartoons that showcased live-action films. That look had a lot to do with Chuck Jones as supervisor of MGM’s Animation/Visual Arts Division.

Journey Back to Oz (1971)

I must admit, watching Oz cartoons produced for theater, television, and home video, I am most entertained by how various artists depicted the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman, in particular. While some model the two after the MGM classic, or William Denslow’s art in the first Oz book, the majority do not. Thus, you never know what to expect with the Scarecrow and Tin Man, and many are very creative.

The worst Oz cartoon award typically gets placed on “The Magic of Oz,” the 1963 George Litchfield production. Jerry Beck includes it in his “Worst Cartoons Ever” Comic Con presentations. But, I’m going to give it a pass, as it looks like a presentation reel, a cartoon that was never completed, looking for investors. When you see it, you know why no one hurried to open their wallets.

I think the worst Oz cartoon is “Dorothy Meets Ozma of Oz,” produced by The Kushner-Locke Company for Lorimar, in 1987. It began and ended with a live-action segment with host Michael Gross, the actor who starred on “Family Ties.” I bet when he saw the cartoon, he choked. It’s so bad I won’t even get into it. It’s on YouTube. They could use this cartoon in terrorist interrogations to get them to talk.

“The Oz Kids” 1996 cartoon series wasn’t worthy of “the worst” category, but certainly makes the top of the list for most pointless twist on Oz. It rode the wave of turning adult characters into kids at the time.

The Wonderful Galaxy of Oz (1992)

One of my favorite Oz cartoon series is “The Wonderful Galaxy of Oz,” produced by Enoki Films, in 1992. It puts a “Star Wars” spin on Oz. While the writing isn’t the best, the entire feel of it is entertaining. The Tin Man is a robot, much like C-3PO, and the Lion reminds you of Chewy.

Many of the most popular television cartoon series have featured an Oz-themed adventure. “The Simpsons,” “Futurama,” “Family Guys,” and others have all included parodies of Oz more than once. Perhaps one of the most unusual Oz transformations takes place in a 1979 episode of “Super Friends.” It’s truly bizarre.

In recent years, Oz has maintained a presence in animation, both theatrical and on television, in broadcast and on streaming networks. Turner Entertainment’s “Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz” has received praise, and other production companies plan numerous works coming in the next few years.

I wonder what Lyman Frank Baum would think of all of this? The money alone would send him off screaming, running down the yellow brick road.

To order this new book – click here!

15 Comments

  • I don’t know if you addressed it in your book, but there’s also this obscure one animated by AKOM sometime in the 2000s: http://www.akomkorea.com (under the Production tab)

    I’m still unsure where this aired (or even IF it aired- it’s entirely possible it could’ve been shelved). The info out there is so scarce.

  • Does this Book cover the recent WB Animation Studios Series Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz ,As well as the infamous 2015 CGI Animated Movie Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return ????

  • Let’s not also forget “Lost in Oz”, streaming over on Amazon. Mention could also be made of the three different animated productions based on Baum’s non-Oz book “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus”. The first was one of the last Rankin-Bass animated specials, in 1985; a 2000 direct-to-video movie from Sony; and an early 2000s anime produced for Japanese television.

  • Ian, I didn’t include the AKOM “Adventure in Oz World” in the book for the reasons you give. Ben, the book does include entries on both of the titles you mention, two pages on “Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz,” and a little over half a page about “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.”

  • “Tales of the Wizard of Oz” did not appear on the NBC network. (However, the station that ran it in this author’s market might well ave been an NBC affiliate.

    Here in the Los Angeles market, this series was picked up by KTLA (Channel 5), which dropped it into Skipper Frank’s show (which ran from four to five in the afternoon).
    They had some luck with the same packager’s stop-motion ‘New Adventures of Pinocchio”, so it makes sense that they would go with this one, too.

    Then there was “Return to Oz”–not the Disney picture of the 1980’s, but an animated special that did run on NBC–twice in the 1960’s. (I seem to recall it was 1964 and 1965).
    A good deal was made of the fact that Liza Minnelli (whose career was then just starting to get on its way) was tapped to play (and sing) Dorothy in this one, which, if memory serves, was from Rankin-Bass,

    • The version with Liza Minelli was titled “Journey Back to Oz”, produced by Filmation Associates. Originally to have been released in 1964 if not for budgetary matters, the film was released 10 years later.

  • oh, but, i think you’ve missed the best one, “the wizard of oz” (1990), huh?

  • Reminded Japan has made numerous adaptations of Oz over the years. One I could think of at the top of my head was Toho’s version from 1982 that had a English release featuring Aileen “Annie” Quinn as the lead while Lorne Greene played the Wizard.

  • Fainting over the thought of a Rusty the Tin Man puppet. I’ve never even seen a photo of such a thing. What was it like? The Dandy Lion doll is on my short list of Holy Grail Oz collectibles.

    • Jane, if I recall, it was a plastic head on a really flimsy cloth-like glove you slipped your hand into. They did make the Lion and Scarecrow puppets, too, I remember seeing them, and probably for the rest of the toon’s characters, too.

  • What about Will Vinton Studios’ animation of the Nome King in Disney’s live-action film, “Return to Oz”?

  • Enjoyed your “Tom Terrific” book, so I’m sure this will be great too, especially about animated OZ. What a joy it is to learn something I didn’t know before! Looking forward to reading it.

  • Kevin, can I assume your book also covers the HBO Family animated series from the late 80’s?

  • There are a also Soviet/Russian made animated works, some based on L Frank Baum, others by books by Alexander Volkov who retold THE WIZARD OF OZ and wrote five more sequels. There was also a 1980s Polish animated series based on Baum’s books. If you haven’t included them (all are on Youtube) perhaps they can be in a future edition?

  • Again I must bring up the subject of “Journey Back To Oz” here on this page.

    Here is a sad note…although we do not know if the current rights holders, Universal Pictures, has done any remastering on this title (since we know all that exists of this film in high quality is an HD PAL transfer of the theatrical cut, and a master of the TV version may be hidden in either an ABC or SFM vault), we are not likely to get a proper SE treatment on blu ray anytime soon. Not because of the rights changing hands again, but because of what has happened with Bill Cosby, and I need not elaborate on his fate here on this forum.

    What I will say though is that starting this year “Journey” will be very tough to watch, even in its expanded TV version. So, as far as we fans are concerned, any reissue of “Journey” is in indefinite limbo.

    That is not to take away from all the great work the animators did on this film in whatever time it took to finally get this done.

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