Nine Reasons Why We Love The Wizard of Oz from an Early Age
A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of seeing the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz on the big screen. Even more thrilling was having my two nephews in tow. The younger one is only a few months old, but sat quietly for the duration. The older one is two-years-old and this was this was his first time seeing this beloved film. Sitting with him, I watched it through new eyes, witnessing his rapt attention and his visible excitement. It suddenly occurred to me that there is a reason why this movie musical sucks us in at an early age and remains ensconced in our hearts for a lifetime. Through my older nephew’s responses, I saw exactly which ingredients facilitate this life-long love affair with The Wizard of Oz.
“Over the Rainbow”
The whole score of The Wizard of Oz (Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg) is a masterpiece. The Academy Award-winning song “Over the Rainbow” towers above the rest of it thanks to its earnest lyric, lilting melody, and the never-to-be-topped performance by Judy Garland. I was surprises. However, when I looked over at my nephew and saw him swaying gently with the music with a smile on his face, and right around the word lullaby he laid his head on my sister’s shoulder and sighed. For many of us, this song is our favorite lullaby and its cradling promise of a better world sticks with us.
The Special Effects
Long before George Lucas and his posse blew our minds with Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz special effects team achieved some pretty amazing stunts for the day. The deadly tornado is particularly effective, but everything from appearing and disappearing witches, to the imposing disembodied head of the Wizard and a tilting, tooting Tin Man is believable (and often impressive). They created magic that was unlike anything Hollywood had seen before, and more importantly, that holds up by many of today’s standards. It was easy to feel the wonder my nephew enjoyed seeing this film for the first time, not noticing how the tricks were done, suspending disbelief wholeheartedly.
It’s so simple, yet so magical. A sphere glides gently through the air, growing larger and larger as it reaches the ground, it glows as if it is going to catch fire, then fades away to reveal the fairy queen-like Glinda the Good Witch. The effect was achieved with a simple camera trick known as double exposure, It works like a charm. When the entrance began, my nephew said “Bubble!” and repeated this mantra until Glinda appeared and he said “Ahhhhh” and clapped his hands.
What could be more relatable to a child than a village full of people who are roughly the same size as they are? Let’s not forget, too, that the denizens of Munchkinland are all dressed in colorful, eccentric garb festooned with enormous flowers, oversized hats and pocket watches, and clothing in every color of the rainbow. The sing, they dance, they celebrate. My nephew was pretending to march in his seat during “Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead!”.
The Wicked Witch of the West
Let’s be honest: The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz is both terrifying and standard by which all other witches are judged. Margaret Hamilton gives an indelible performance, iconic in the echelons of Hollywood villains. From her first appearance in Munchkinland to her untimely death from a bucket of water, my nephew was glued to this character. Each time she appeared, he hopped up on his chair and pointed saying “Witch! Witch!”. Whether they love her or shake with fear, children remember her as their first and most formidable villain.
Three Hammy Vaudeville Stars
The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion are only as good as the actors bringing them to life. Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr all hailed from Broadway and the vaudeville stage where they were well-known as singers, dancers and comedians. Each one had their own special bag of tricks that they infuse their characters with: Bolger his lanky dancing and comforting warmth, Haley his sly sarcasm and lovely voice, and Lahr his blustering comedy and operatic tenor. Watching my nephew’s face as each one had their moments in the spotlight is a testament to their effectiveness as Dorothy’s colorful companions.
The Flying Monkeys
Honestly, my nephew didn’t give two figs about the flying monkeys other than to say “monkeys fly!”. The other kids in the audience, however, screamed In horror when these simian nightmares appeared at the Witch’s side. The Flying Monkeys leave an awfully big impression on children who watch this movie, and I am told by several adults that they are still petrified of being scooped up and carried away by these agents of evil.
Kids love animals (my nephew is particularly fond of cats who likes to hold just a little too tightly) and at the very center of The Wizard of Oz there is a lost little girl and her beloved dog. Toto, played by Terry the Cairn Terrier, is the embodiment of childhood innocence. He is often in jeopardy because Dorothy loves him so much, so he becomes a target of The Wicked Witch of the West. Kids relate to that little dog and feel the urgency when he is being threatened.
The Physical Production
From the opulent art design by Cedric Gibbons, to Adrian’s otherworldly costumes, and Jack Dawn’s stunning makeup, everything about The Wizard of Oz is both mesmerizing and of one piece. The sepia-toned stark reality of Kansas, the fairy tale village of Munchkinland, the art deco-inspired Emerald City, and the imposing draconian Witch’s Castle are just a few examples of how the world of Oz not only comes to life, but becomes imprinted upon our brains and stays with us forever. To listen to a two-year-old gasp with elation as each new picture presents itself and each new character arrives, is to witness another lifetime love affair with The Wizard of Oz beginning.
Now…what does the child in you love most about this film?