|Map of Oz|
L. Frank Baum wrote 13 additional "Oz" books before his death in 1919, and they were all enormously popular, although sales declined gradually over the period. Many of the greatest characters of the Land of Oz were introduced in these sequels, and would have been familiar to anyone growing up in the first half of the twentieth century: Jack Pumpkinhead, The Nome King, the Sawhorse, Professor Wogglebug, and Tik-Tok the Royal Army of Oz (he had his own modestly-successful Broadway show). Unbeknownst to many, Walt Disney acquired the rights to all the post-Wizard sequels back in the 1950's, but it wasn't until the early 1980's, when these rights were about to expire, that the Disney company showed much interest. The Disney producers brought Walter Murch, Francis Ford Coppolla's longtime film and sound editor, aboard to direct, and engaged the services of stop-motion animator Will Vinton (famous for his commercials featuring the dancing California Raisins), along with some of the Jim Henson company's muppet designers and puppeteers. Murch had in mind a much darker tone than the 1939 film, and Disney grew alarmed as they saw the production designs and early tests. It was, according to Much, only because of George Lukas's personal intervention that he was not fired from the film. Fairuza Balk, a young actress who would later become well known for her roles in indie films such as Gas, Food, and Lodging, was cast as Dorothy, and Nicol Wiliamson -- known for his role as Merlin in John Boorman's Excalibur -- was cast as the Nome King.
The movie did poorly in its initial release -- I remember seeing in at a multiplex where I was one of only two or three people in the audience -- but has gained an enormous following on VHS and DVD; many Oz fans consider it to be, by far, the most faithful adaptation of any of Baum's books for the screen.
Since then, of course, Gregory McGuire's Wicked -- a book which brilliantly re-cast and re-shaped Oz and its denizens (who else would have suspected that the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda were college roommates?), and the resulting Broadway musical has been the highest-grossing of any theatrical Oz adaptation to date. More recently, 2007's Tin Man miniseries and 2013's prequel Oz the Great and Powerful have shown that, once again, Oz is a realm capable of continual reinvention.