Updating Oz

Better than The Four Tops?

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Unfortunately updated from the original Wizard of Oz fantasy setting for a younger, more contemporary audience, the yellow brick road became the very urbane yellow brick road, in the very modern sounding The Wiz (1978), there was a lot of heart if not much else in Dorothy’s latest journey, incarnated as a dullish production.

On the street, ’78 to be sure; gritty urbane real, but with a flavor of My Christmas Story for the wholesome set in all of us, Dorothy (Diana Ross, the famous singer) makes an entrance as the kind of kindergarten teacher who in this movie’s representation is timid, uncool, and awkward, caught up in what others require of her, the kind of family who want more.

Then, as fate as they say would have it, not that I believe in fate, whatever it was, it was something to change her life…The eye of a whirlwind takes her up, and when she comes back down to an altered reality she in the meantime got lessons to learn, girl. As you follow the yellow brick road, and take that U-turn to find the Wiz (Richard Pryor) who will show her the way back home, this is what you got to think about:

If you ever get back home, Dorothy, before you do, if you do, tell yourself to get a better job than working in a kindergarten; do not settle for less is the message the world is sending you.

That’s right. You heard it here. This shy, timid kindergarten worker is told she is undervalued for her work, but should believe in herself and take on the world, but not at the expense of losing newfound friends she found on the yellow brick road.

These are the lessons she may learn on the journey back home and reality. But what is wrong with working in a kindergarten?

The Wiz was an all-black musical written by Joel Schumacher, who adapted the play The Wiz, from the story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Expensive, the film was reportedly made for $15million at the time. The outlay is done at the studio and the expense shows.

However, for an expensive looking film, the Emerald City set piece and one other towards the end of the film have only slightly more bounce than the other numbers, he says with nonchalance. The songs and music adaptation (supervised by Quincy Jones), the singing, and choreography (by Louis Johnson) are only okay on film, better on a soundtrack. The camera points at the key performers – Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as the Tinman, Ted Ross as the Lion, and Diana Ross – with a wide shot sensibility. It is up to them to save this movie, but this they do not.

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