Not many people know this, but Walt Disney really, REALLY, wanted to do an animated
version of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. The company had many opportunities to achieve this goal, but history had other plans.
Walt originally planned to have The Wizard of Oz be the company’s second animated feature film after Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but he missed his opportunity when the film rights were scooped up by MGM, who went on to produce the Iconic 1939 film starring Judy Garland.
After failing again to get the rights to make an animated version he instead made the 1951 classic Alice in Wonderland, another story about a Girl traveling to a magical world. Despite the film being a hit for the company and being called a classic, Walt did not like the final product.
Later in 1954, Disney acquired the film rights to Baum’s remaining thirteen Oz books,
and planned on making a live action film called “The Rainbow Road to Oz”. A number of Mouseketeers were set to star in the film, Darlene Gillespie would have been Dorothy, Anette Funicello as Princess Ozma, Bobby Burgess as the Scarecrow and more.
However, after a couple years of planning, the production was abandoned due to the script being “unsatisfying” as they felt it didn’t meet the quality needed to compete with the success of the 1939 MGM film.
However the project morphed into the often forgotten 1961 Live Action production of “Babes in Toyland”.
In the mid 1960s and 1970s Disney released a lot of records and read-along books based on a number of their animated films, but one book in particular was very… unusual.
Disney made a storybook and vinyl telling of The Wizard of Oz. Some have speculated the illustrations were based on early designs from the canceled Walt Disney adaptation of the story, but this rumor is unconfirmed.
Disney did Finally make a film set in Oz, but it wasn’t something many expected. In 1985
Disney released the Cult Film “Return to Oz”, a dark story that serves as a semi-sequel to the 1939 film.
The biggest connection to the 1939 film were the ruby slippers. MGM had created the ruby slippers for their version, because they are simply “silver shoes” in the original book. Disney paid MGM a fee to feature the ruby slippers in their film.
Return to Oz, though a box office failure, is seen as one of the many 1980s dark kids films along with Black Cauldron, Labyrinth, Secret of Nimh etc., that have now gained a cult classic status among people who grew up in the 1980s.
In 2005 Disney co-produced “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” with the Jim Henson Company for Television.
Though the film isn’t as well remembered as other adaptations it does stand out with its strange celebrity cameos in its “Extended Edition” with Kelly Osbourne and Quentin Tarantino.
The final time Disney tried something with Oz was 2013’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” film
directed by Sam Rami.
The film serves as a semi-prequel to the 1939 film, with inspirations taken from the Broadway Musical “Wicked”, though not a direct adaptation. Though the film wasn’t received well by critics it did make almost $500M at the Box office.
Most criticisms of the film stem from the poor casting choices of some of the characters, and a “rushed story” that attempt to replicate the success of Tim Burton’s 2010 film “Alice in Wonderland”.
Even with the box office success no sequel or follow up has been announced or are likely. At least the film was better than “Legends of Oz”, that came out the same year.
Though Disney has never directly adapted the Wizard of Oz story, they have a LONG
history with the property.
Some people are speculating with Disney+ needing more original content that Disney could make some animated films exclusively for the service.
Well, here is the opportunity to finally attempt something, especially with the original story now in the public domain. Who knows if Disney will attempt something like this, I personally think if they want it to make a big impact it should feel like something you’d get from the Classic Disney era of the 1950s.
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