This isn’t Dorothy’s ‘Oz’

New York Times News ServiceMarch 8, 2013 

Glenda still travels by bubble. Sleepy-time poppies? Got ’em. “Oz the Great and Powerful,” a Disney-made prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” even begins in black and white and then switches (post-tornado) to plush color.

But there are also some important differences between the two movies — especially if you’re an eagle-eyed Hollywood copyright lawyer.

“Oz the Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi, is an original story built on material culled from L. Frank Baum’s books. But lifting from “The Wizard of Oz,” a tantalizing notion given its continued popularity, was strictly forbidden. Warner Brothers now owns that 1939 MGM film, and Warner is almost as well-known as Disney for aggressively policing its copyrights.

“The MGM film presented the story in a certain way, and it’s those things — the embellishments, the creative decisions — that Disney cannot use,” explained Bonnie Eskenazi, a leading copyright lawyer with no ties to “Oz the Great and Powerful” who has successfully battled studios on behalf of the J.R.R. Tolkien estate.

In other words, don’t get your ruby slipper hopes up. Here’s a guide to some of what you will and won’t see in “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Yellow brick Road

It unfurls in full glory, but there is minimal skipping down it — this is not a musical — and Disney, concerned about copyright, does not show it spiraling into the same stylized point in Munchkin Country. (Munchkinland was an invention of the 1939 film.) But Raimi added a twist of his own: His road changes its mood; in the Dark Forest, for instance, it’s overgrown and broken.

Ruby slippers

Because this is a prequel — the wizard’s story — Dorothy doesn’t appear. Ditto her famous footwear. Raimi couldn’t have adopted that fashion statement anyway. The slippers were silver in the books; it was the 1939 film, eager to show off Technicolor’s magic, that made them ruby.

Winged monkeys

The witch’s flying henchmen have become sharp-toothed baboons in Raimi’s movie. There is also a new character, Finley, a friendly flying monkey in a bellhop uniform who serves as Tattoo to the wizard’s Roarke, if you follow the “Fantasy Island” reference. Zach Braff provides Finley’s voice.

Munchkins

About 40 dwarfs were cast in “Oz the Great and Powerful” as Munchkins. However, their characters are more ethnically diverse than those in the original. (Efforts were made to include blacks and Asians for instance.) They still have weird hair, but Disney lawyers nixed at least one style as too similar to one from the original movie. It was tweaked in postproduction using computers.

Wicked Witch of the West

Striving for a visage different from the one Margaret Hamilton made famous, Howard Berger, an Oscar-winning makeup artist, “was finally able to come up with a shade of green which satisfied Disney’s legal team,” SlashFilm.com reported after a visit to the set. According to Disney’s production notes Berger named his custom color Theostein — a conflation of the witch’s name before she turns wicked, and Frankenstein.

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