Thanks to Google and an oddly-timed anniversary remembrance of The Wizard of Oz (August 12 was the 71st anniversary of its theatrical debut, so of course it had to be celebrated on the Google homepage), seanax.com received a record number of visits: over 4,000 hits on August 12, and more than 3,000 of those via Googles searches for “the wizard of oz.” I couldn’t figure it out at first, since very few of them ended up at at my article “Over the Rainbow with The Wizard of Oz,” until I did a little Google searching myself and discovered that the image I used to illustrate article appeared in the top ten results, with a link back to my blog.
The cheese loving inventor and energetically eccentric entrepreneur Wallace and his silent but astute canine companion Gromit have become one of the most popular comedy duos in the movies after only three animated shorts (two of which won Oscars) and one feature film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Not bad for a couple of plasticine creations brought to life through the painstaking process (and increasingly neglected art) of stop-motion animation. A Matter of Loaf and Death (Lionsgate) is their first screen appearance in four years and only their fifth film longer than three minutes since their debut twenty years ago, which makes it all the more exciting for fans young and old. Creator Nick Park is back at the helm for this “bread-based murder mystery,” which casts the pals and partners as bakers with a delivery business based out of an urban windmill that powers yet another magnificent collection of mechanical devices and Rube Goldberg contraptions. While Wallace falls in love with a former bakery pin-up girl, someone is killing the bakers around town and Gromit has a pretty good idea who… not that grinning goof Wallace will pay any attention to him in his starry-eyed infatuation.
It’s another half hour comic classic, with marvelously intricate bits of comic choreography and visual gags with the invention of Charlie Chaplin shorts and Bug Bunny cartoons, all rooted in the comfortable character of the moldable clay heroes. Fans of the series will be delighted. The DVD features the twenty-minute “How They Donut: The Making of a Matter of Loaf and Death” (it’s always a treat to see the models and the animators bring them to life) and a bonus “Shaun the Sheep” short, and it debuts in Blu-ray on a special edition disc featuring the Blu-ray debut of the previous three Wallace and Gromit shorts, A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1998), plus making-of featurettes for each short and all ten Wallace and Gromit: Cracking Contraptions of adventures in inventing (each under three minutes).
Lions and tigers and bears and … flying monkeys? Oh my!
When gingham-clad farm girl Dorothy Gale rode the tornado out of the somber, sepia-tinged black and white of her Kansas dust bowl farm and into the sparkling Technicolor fantasy land somewhere over the rainbow, she changed the lives of her audiences (both then and now) as assuredly as she changed her own.
The Wizard of Oz was adapted from the first book in L. Frank Baum’s series of Oz adventures, but MGM’s bright incarnation has a life all its own. MGM was the dream factory of the 1930s and 1940s and this was its most imaginative screen dream, but it is Judy Garland who grounds the fantastic sights and delirious imagery in the human story of a winsome, plucky, melancholy girl who dreams of visiting lands outside her humdrum neighborhood and, when that dream comes true, wistfully yearns for home.
Garland’s Dorothy embodies the fantasy of all children who dream of leaving the cocoon of their protected lives and spreading their wings. With her companions — the clowning but clever Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the compassionate Tin Man (Jack Haley) and the blubbering Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) — she journeys along the yellow brick road through a land of magic and wonder, a butterfly blossoming in a candy-colored phantasmagoria.
More than a movie classic, it’s an essential part of the popular culture, thanks to film revivals and the annual TV ritual that, sooner or later, captured every kid growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. The love has since spread, with lavish DVD sets preserving the glory of the singing munchkins (“We represent the Lollipop Guild … “), the cackling, green-faced Wicked Witch of the West (“I’ll get you my pretty. And your little dog too!”), the flying monkeys and the merry, merry land of Oz for generations to come.
The moral of the story makes for a strangely conservative tribute to fantasy and imagination: “There’s no place like home,” Dorothy chants as she clicks the heels of her sparkling ruby slippers. But was anyone fooled by this sop to rural integrity and homespun values of modesty and restraint? Or did kids and grown-ups alike walk away from this scary, funny, thrilling, singing and dancing Technicolor blast of flying monkeys and talking scarecrows and melting green crones with a passion to break out of their monochrome lives and follow their own yellow brick road?
Originally published as part of the “MSN Cadillac” series.