In August of this year, The Wizard of Oz will officially become 80 years old. Incredible isn’t it? A masterpiece that was certainly decades ahead of its time, The Wizard of Oz has enjoyed an almost unprecedented amount of popularity and praise throughout its 80 years of existence. The Wizard of Oz has been an essential piece of pop culture in America now for close to a century and billions of children across the world have grown up watching the musical fantasy film. But it is no coincidence why The Wizard of Oz has stood the test of time.
“…why is it considered to be one of the greatest films in cinema history?”
Films come and go, some stay in our memories for years whilst others are barely worth a second thought,The Wizard of Oz is special; it has appealed to so many generations of audiences, but what makes The Wizard of Oz so unique and why is it considered to be one of the greatest films in cinema history? If you can, just for a second forget the jaw dropping and first of its kind technicolor that audiences were treated to when Dorothy opened the door Munchkinland in the land of Oz, one of the several things that makes the film stand up to the test of time is simply good old-fashioned story telling.
The film was adapted from Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy and her dog are caught in a tornado and are suddenly transported to the land of Oz. A place where witches rule, monkeys fly, and munchkins sing. The film is a mix of horror, drama, comedy, suspense, conflict, the victory of good over evil and of course, a happy ending. The moral of the tale is subtly obvious, that what we are looking for can be found within ourselves. The storyline to The Wizard of Oz was ground breaking in as much that it has formed the basis of so many film narratives that we see in films today. A young protagonist must brave the world and defeat evil with the help of friends on the way before a final showdown against the villain, who is eventually and inevitably defeated. All the good characters in the film have characteristics that we all recognize in ourselves. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion are all looking for what is lost in their lives, something that a lot of us can relate to. Dorothy wants to return home, the Scarecrow wants a brain, the Tin Man desires a heart and the Cowardly Lion wants courage – they all want to become better versions of themselves.
“Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion are all looking for what is lost in their lives…”
The story tests the will of these characters and takes audiences on an adventure through doing everything you can possibly do in order to become a better version of yourself. Friendships are vital to the tale and are key to moving forward in life. In the end, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion all helped each other, and their journey could not have been completed without one another.
Casting makes perfect
Make no mistake about it, the casting director deserves a life-long round of applause for casting the then relatively unknown Judy Garland to play the role of Dorothy. The voice of an angel said the film critics of the time when The Wizard of Oz was released at box office. To this day, one of the most memorable moments in film remains when Garland sings Over the Rainbow as she leans against the haystack with her dog Toto looking up at her. At the time of filming Garland was 16 years old but she was playing a 12-year-old Dorothy. But Garland’s Dorothy was a perfect portrayal of a brave, strong and determined yet innocent girl doing everything she can in order to get home to be with her loved ones.
“…every line uttered by The Wicked Witch of the West sounded as evil as it should have sounded.”
The villain of the movie, the grotesque and evil hag – The Wicked Witch of the West – was played wonderfully by Margaret Hamilton. Although Hamilton was second choice for this role – she was cast just three days before production began – after Gale Sondergaard turned down the role, every line uttered by The Wicked Witch of the West sounded as evil as it should have sounded. Everyone who has ever watched The Wizard of Oz has rooted for Dorothy over the Wicked Witch, and that is down to Hamilton’s portrayal of the Witch. The rest of the casting was spot on too, Ray Bolger as the lovable Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man and the fantastic Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion. Everyone has their favorite character which goes to show the fantastic portrayal of all the characters in the film.
The Wizard of Oz supplied us with some of the most memorable film songs of the 20th century. Over the Rainbow, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead and of course the absolute classic, Follow The Yellow Brick Road. The whole soundtrack has helped to contribute to the success of the film – once you hear Follow The Yellow Brick Road for the first time you do not tend to forget it. The soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz was composed entirely by Harold Arlen, an American composer whilst the lyrics were written by Yip Harburg. Over the Rainbow has been ranked first by numerous lists as the best song of the past 100 years. The song has been covered by various artists since garland sang the original. The most popular recent covers of the song are probably versions by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, the Hawaiian who recorded the cover on his ukulele. Ariana Grande also sang a highly emotional version of the song at her One Love concert in Manchester. The concert was dedicated to the victims of the Manchester terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert one week prior. The One Love concert was organized in response to the bombing.
“The soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz was composed entirely by Harold Arlen, an American composer whilst the lyrics were written by Yip Harburg…”
It is often forgotten how important a fantastic soundtrack is to a film’s longevity, a memorable song is just as important as a memorable script or memorable acting performance. Fortunately, The Wizard of Oz has a perfect soundtrack, a perfect cast and a perfect storyline.
Visuals, merchandise and Disney World
The Wizard of Oz’s underlying story strikes into the deepest depth of the human heart, it brings out all our childhood insecurities before stirring them and finally reassuring them and it is sometimes easy to forget that The Wizard of Oz is ultimately a fantasy film. The visuals in the film were several decades ahead of their time and the florescent colours and fantasy elements in the film were indisputably original and unique for their time. I can’t even imagine how cinema goers of the time must have reacted upon seeing The Wizard of Oz for the first time.
Since the original release, the film has inspired countless other Hollywood blockbusters as well as songs and books. The Wizard of Oz was a large feature of Disney World’s The Great Movie Ride where visitors, upon an encounter with the Wicked Witch of the West, were told to follow the yellow brick road by the Munchkins in order to get home again. Not only that but the films distinctive images and props have given The Wizard of Oz fabulous merchandise potential.
“The legacy of The Wizard of Oz can be attributed to a whole number of factors…”
You will find Dorothy and Tin Man outfits at costume stores throughout the USA, whilst Wizard of Oz slot games are amongst the most popular in Las Vegas and Reno. The Yellow Brick Road will forever be a stamp in the minds of many-a-generation who see it as a metaphor of the road to their dreams which is why movie posters of the Yellow Brick Road are a common wall decoration across the States even today, eighty years on. Lovers of The Wizard of Oz will forever associate a pair of ruby red slippers with Dorothy.
The legacy of The Wizard of Oz can be attributed to a whole number of factors, from a masterpiece of choreography to fantastic use of movie techniques, music, set design, lyrics and imagination. There will certainly be anniversary screenings across cinemas as we get closer to The Wizard of Oz’s 80th birthday on August 25th – perfect if you want to re-watch the film in all its cinematic glory.