It seems that in the wake of the financial (though debatably not artistic) success of Alice In Wonderland, every studio is scrambling to find a public domain children’s fantasy classic to turn into big bucks at the box office. Right now there are nine possible Wizard Of Oz-based projects in the works - some prequels, some sequels and some retellings of L. Frank Baum’s original fantasy classic. Here’s a scorecard to help you keep track of them.
Dark Oz – Caliber Comics Oz series was optioned back in 2008, with Pearry Teo set to direct and Pras Michel of The Fugees lined up to star. Teo’s ambition to give the film a steampunk look sounds promising, if at least different from other iterations of The Wizard Of Oz. Storywise, Dorothy returns to Oz to find that it is under the thrall of three evil kings- the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man! It is unknown if the project has gotten further than just being announced and having a teaser poster released.
Dorothy Of Oz – Probably the Oz project in development closest to actually being realized is this entry from the indie animation studio Summertime Entertainment. The studio has already assembled an impressive voice cast including Lea Michele of the popular television series Glee as Dorothy, Dan Aykroyd as the Scarecrow, Kelsey Grammer as the Tin Man and James Belushi as the Cowardly Lion. (See character sketches below.) Based on a story by Baum’s grandson Roger S. Baum, Dorothy once again returns to Oz to help her friends stop the menace of someone known only as the Jester. Canadian pop star Bryan Adams is writing songs for the project, which is hoped to be completed by the end of next year.
Oz – One of two Wizard of Oz films being developed at Warner Brothers, this project is actually under the Warner-owned New Line umbrella. Beyond the fact that Shrek Forever After writer Darren Lemke is scripting, there is nothing really known about this project.
Oz, The Great And Powerful – Certainly the Oz film with the most amount of public action happening right now. Last week, Disney signed Spider-Man franchise maestro Sam Raimi to direct this prequel telling the story of a carnival worker who gets swept to the magical land of Oz and mistaken for a wizard. Robert Downey Jr. is currently attached to star in the project and Mitchell Kapner’s screenplay is being tailored to him. However, Downey’s commitments to Sherlock Holmes 2, The Avengers and Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity may either delay the film getting in front of cameras or cause the production to go with another lead.
Oz: Return To The Emerald City – The second of Warners’ two Oz films in the works, and one we know a lot more about. In this version, Chicago lawyer Dorothy Neil, the granddaughter of the original Dorothy, is transported to Oz with her boss’s daughter where they team up with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion to stop a new witch who threatens to destroy all the magic in Oz. Reportedly, this take originated back when comics artist Todd McFarlane pitched the production company Thunder Road on an Oz film based on his “Twisted Land Of Oz” toy line. Thunder Road passed on McFarlane’s take but where still interested in the basic idea on an Oz-update when A History Of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson pitched them a similar idea in a meeting. Thunder Road approached Warner Brothers, who snapped up the project. It is currently being rewritten and has no director attached.
Surrender Dorothy – This has been knocking around since 2002, when it was announced that Drew Barrymore had been attached to star. Much like Oz: Return To The Emerald City, Barrymore would play a descendant of the original Dorothy, in this case her great, great grand-daughter, who has to stop the original and not nearly as dead as we thought Wicked Witch of the West from taking over both Oz and Earth. Time passed and everyone thought that this project had died quietly in development hell until last month when it was announced that Barrymore was now looking at directing the film as a follow-up to last year’s Whip It. It is not known if Barrymore is still planning on starring in the film or if she’ll be casting a new lead.
Wicked – A musical adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s best-selling novel that looks at how the Wicked Witch of the West became the most hated and feared person in Oz, the show has been playing to packed houses since it opened on Broadway in late 2003. Universal is one of the investors in the show, so I would imagine that at some point the studio will be the ones to make the film. All there was some talk about it making a transition to the big screen back in 2008, Kristin Chenoweth, who originated the role of Glinda in the stage show, was of the opinion that everyone would want to make sure that they milked all the stage productions for as much cash as possible before a film version is attempted. With both Chenoweth and Wicked star Idina Menzel having made appearances on Glee, now might be the time to capitalize on their high visibility and get them together on screen.
The Witches Of Oz – Another original sequel to the first book, The Witches Of Oz sees successful children’s book author Dorothy Gale discovering that her stories about a magical land are actually repressed childhood memories. Sean Astin, Christopher Lloyd and Lance Henriksen star opposite relative newcomer Paulie Rojas as Dorothy. Principal photography on the film has already wrapped, though it has no distribution deal set. Writer/ director Leigh Scott is a veteran of many of those direct-to-video knockoff films from Asylum like Transmorphers, but the preview/behind-the-scenes video below makes it look to be at least a bit more ambitious than those low budget, cash grab affairs.
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz – Considering that The Wizard Of Oz directly inspired the title and some of the visuals of John Boorman’s trippy 1974 film Zardoz, it should come as no surprise that he is currently overseeing development of a CG animated, non-musical version of Baum’s original book. Although currently set for release in 2012, there hasn’t been much heard about the project for some time, though presumably it is still in active development. At left is some old concept art of Dorothy.
Out of all of these projects I would guess that at best we may see four, maybe five, of them at some point in the near or far future. As Witches Of Oz has already completed filming, it is a definite. Though with no distribution deal set for it already, I have a feeling that it will probably go direct to video and then show up on the SyFy Channel. Wicked is a dead certainty to get a cinematic adaption, though the question remains as to when that will happen. Out of the two animated version being prepared, Dorothy Of Oz certainly seems to have the edge over Boorman’s Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. In a way, that’s a shame, as I’m really interested in seeing what a Wizard Of Oz film from the director of The Exorcist II would look like. Surrender Dorothy and Oz The Great And Powerful are the two live action projects that I think have the most chance of materializing. In fact, as one is a sequel and one a prequel, I don’t think it too far outside the realm of probability that both versions could find their way to your local cineplex.
That’s a lot of Oz coming at us over the next couple of years.