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.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.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.
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