I bet you’re wondering why are we discussing an 81-year-old movie, like The Wizard of Oz? Well, it’s always great to appreciate the classics, especially when you are faced with unfortunate circumstances.
In early June, I was told my aunt passed away. In a year full of sadness and loss like we have all experienced in 2020, that day was the lowest for me. Ever.
For the past few months, I’ve attempted to watch her favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, but sadly, I couldn’t do it. Today (Nov. 19, 2020 at the time of this post) would have been her 71st birthday.
The Legacy of Oz
Usually when people talk about The Wizard of Oz, they mention its extremely troubled production. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring all the sad things surrounding the film’s production considering its rich legacy and what it has meant to Hollywood — and fans — for generations.
There are few movies like The Wizard of Oz. And even less are as iconic throughout the decades than The Wizard of Oz. This is one of those movies everyone on the planet has seen and holds in some regard. Do you?
It is consistently ranked among the greatest movies ever made. Not to mention, when a collegiate study singles out this as “the most influential movie of all-time,” it did something right.
From its music to dialogue, those amazing characters to every aspect of The Wizard of Oz is iconic. Why has the film endured for more than 80 years? Why is it so influential? What made it my aunt’s favorite movie of all-time? And now, one of mine?
This post discusses all those things surrounding the everlasting legacy of Oz.
The Greatest Fairy Tale of All Time
It would be dishonest to not at least mention L. Frank Baum, the author of the original novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Published in 1900, Baum’s novel is “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairy tale.” The keyword is fairy tale.
Fairy tales are becoming more difficult to find these days. Modern cinema tends to lean a little too heavily on subversion, cynicism, and pure darkness. While there’s nothing wrong with that in movies, it’s a little sad that fairy tales in the traditional sense are becoming rare.
I fully believe that’s why The Wizard of Oz has endured for so long. It never abandoned its fairy tale roots. The filmmakers embraced them in every scene. Even the scenes that aren’t in Oz have an otherworldly aspect to them.
Victor Fleming (who also directed Gone with the Wind) deserves a lot of credit for directing the film with an incredible sense of wonder and flair.
His direction complements the film’s screenplay, as well as Arnold Gillespie‘s visual effects.
Did you know King Vidor replaced Fleming during the last three weeks of filming? Vidor filmed the movie’s opening and Judy Garland’s iconic performance of “Over the Rainbow.”
I’ll put this here and you can play it in the background for that special touch.
The Magic Memories from The Wizard of Oz
One can’t talk about the memories left from The Wizard of Oz without talking about the visuals in The Wizard of Oz.
Who can forget being dumbstruck when you go from a black-and-white coated Kansas to the colorful, magical kingdom of Oz? I distinctly remember the tornado sequence leading into Dorothy and Toto’s entrance into Oz.
I’ve never seen anything like it before and still get a kick every time I watch it. The transition is so iconic, even Sam Raimi did his own version in Oz: The Great and Powerful.
I can’t use the word “iconic” enough, especially when describing the film’s music. “Over the Rainbow” truly represents the timelessness of the film. It is the gold standard for what know today as the “I Want” song.
Dorothy singing about a life beyond Kansas is emotional and relatable. Haven’t you dreamed about being whisked away from your mundane life only to arrive in a place beyond imagination? (Or, at the very least, in a place where your bills are paid?)
That sense of desire and fantasy travels through the entire movie, which really helps the mystique of the “homegrown American fairy tale.” The emotional strings and Judy Garland’s soothing vocals make the song an easy one to listen repeatedly.
And what about the film’s other iconic tunes: “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and “If I Only Had a Brain.” This isn’t even to mention the iconic score by Harold Arlen and Hebert Stothart, who won an Academy Award.
The Timeless Cast of Characters
In my opinion, the best aspect of The Wizard of Oz is its iconic cast of characters.
Dorothy Gale ties only Luke Skywalker as the greatest cinematic protagonist ever put in film. Judy Garland delivers a performance as nuanced and phenomenal as any of the legends during that period.
Keep in mind: Judy Garland was only 17. She managed to hold her own against some of the most successful character actors of the era. Ray Bolger (The Scarecrow), Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion), and Jack Haley (The Tin Man) are all fantastic and some of the greatest supporting characters in film history. And let’s also give props to Frank Morgan, who brilliantly plays the titular Wizard.
As great as Dorothy and the gang are, the film’s villain is more iconic than all of them. Margaret Hamilton‘s portrayal of The Wicked Witch of the West is delectably evil and frightening. Her look, voice, and motivation to destroy Dorothy…and her little dog too… make her a massive force to be reckoned with in The Wizard of Oz. Hamilton’s performance helps the famous witch stand next to Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, and HAL 9000 on the Mount Rushmore of iconic cinematic villains.
The Heart of Oz
It takes a lot of effort to get Hollywood’s greatest actors, directors, composers, and writers to come together to make movie magic. It takes even more effort to have the audience buy what you’re making. The reason massive undertakings like The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, The Lord of the Ring Trilogy, and Black Panther stick with critics and audiences is because there’s a level of sincerity to them.
The Wizard of Oz is never fantastical or colorful just for the sake of it. We don’t love the movie just because it looks pretty; we love it because we believe in it.
For a big magical fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz just feels real. That’s why it’s so timeless, because that sense of magic has never died in the 81 years this movie has existed. The movie is pure magic despite all the trials and tribulations it took to make it.
I think that’s why my aunt always went back to this movie. She loved reading different kinds of books throughout her life. She could sit anywhere and spend countless hours being sucked into a story. No film appeals more to people like that than The Wizard of Oz.
It never drags, never talks down to the audience, and never loses its sense of wonder. Speaking from experience, you can watch it over and over again and still find something new. And what movie doesn’t benefit from that?
In times like these, time is precious. Our friends and family mean more to us than they ever have before. We’re connected through our media and pop culture. It can be music, literature, or even video games. There’s always something that connects us to someone we love. And while my aunt is no longer here, The Wizard of Oz is my way of connecting with her whenever she pops into my mind. My family and I will always love her, just as much as we loved her.
The Wizard of Oz will always be timeless because its heart is worn on its sleeves. Anyone of any age, race, or gender can enjoy it. Even the most cynical of people can’t help but be touched by Dorothy’s quest to return to her family. We’ll always enjoy singing the songs, quoting the dialogue, and following the Yellow Brick Road. Hell, we’ll even always enjoy ignoring the man behind the curtain.
The Wizard of Oz will always remain a cinematic classic because it will never lose its heart, even when we’re all gone. Because no matter where we are or how we feel, we’ll always remember one important thing. There really is no place like home.