20 April 2006 | nineandthreequarters
Maybe not the best Oz adaptation, but certainly not the worst
Before I say anything else, I must make it clear that this review is based on viewing the 90 minute movie version of this cartoon. Since the 'movie' was a splicing together of a series of 10-15 minute cartoons that I haven't seen since the late 1980s, my comments may or may not be truly judging this on its own merits.
The nature of the original cartoons perhaps gives the movie version its only real glaring weakness. Since everything was serialised and shown in short blocks, there's a lot that has to be crammed into each episode. So there we are left with Margot Kidder's narration (brilliant as it is - gotta love that woman) and the characters who have to scream out every single thing that they think and feel, and to state the obvious about what's going on. That said, I do believe that child and adult viewers do get to feel for the characters, and the voice artists have the right balance of quirkiness and compassion to be believable.
Sadly, as with most screen adaptations of the Oz stories, one of the most important layers of the stories is completely UNDER-stated. This is the quirky social commentary that peppers L Frank Baum's original stories. The real shame is that there are so many events in the cartoon that could use it so strongly. Lion's failure to live up to social perceptions of him, the main winged monkey having a surly New York accent, the crows who recommend to Scarecrow to "find a new line of work", the former mayor of the Winkies who is only safe from the witch because a mayor has no real powers to 'conquer and destroy', and (of course) the discovery that the wizard only has 'power' because the Ozfolk believe in him. I'm not saying that these messages should have been shouted from the Wizard's hot air balloon, but if there had been some effort to have characters respond to or comment on these elements, so much material could have been given extra special depth that wouldn't have detracted from the main focus.
The bottom line? It's maybe not the best Oz adaptation, but it's certainly not the worst. There's plenty of magic, plenty of passion, plenty of quirkiness to draw out the right emotions at the right times. It's also one of the Oz films that's more faithful to the original story despite the rapid jumps over certain parts of the story. If you're an Oz fan, check it out but be aware that it leans more towards sentiment than fantasy or comedy.