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You know the Wizard of Oz is wonderful, great and powerful. Victor Fleming's "The Wizard of Oz" has been telling us that for generations. But what was Oz like before Dorothy and her little dog arrived from Kansas and shook things up?
The world of Oz created by children's author L. Frank Baum is so rich with storytelling possibilities that other writers have offered enchanting prequels of their own. The Broadway sensation "Wicked" focuses on the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West, while Sam Raimi's new movie "Oz the Great and Powerful" explores how the Wizard came to Oz, greatness and power.
As someone whose experienced both the thrill of seeing "Wicked" on Broadway and the exhilaration of Raimi's 3D journey into Oz, I've compiled a string of comparisons on how each of these dueling prequels tap into the iconography we all know and love.
Be warned, there are SPOILERS for both "Wicked" and "Oz the Great and Powerful" ahead.
Land of Oz
In "The Wizard of Oz," the citizens of Oz live in perpetual fear of the Wicked Witch, despite the best efforts of Glinda the Good Witch and the Wizard. Festively dressed Munchkins hide in tiny villages as she and her sister's cruel flying monkeys rain terror all along the Yellow Brick Road.
In "Wicked," we see familiar locations like the witch's castle, Munchkinland and the Emerald City. But we're also shown that Oz is changing. Anthropomorphic animals that have long talked, taught and functioned as members of the community are being caged and literally made speechless.
In "Oz the Great and Powerful," Raimi takes the opportunity to expand Oz beyond the poppy fields and Yellow Brick Road, revealing glowing-eyed Venus flytraps, a "chinatown" populated by living porcelain dolls, river fairies with razor-sharp teeth and a tribe of genius tinkers who can build anything imaginable. But it's a place terrorized by an evil witch ... though her identity is a mystery.
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In both prequels, we're treated to the Witch with her trademark green skin, pointed black hat and broom. In "Wicked" she starts out green but kind-hearted. "Oz the Great and Powerful" introduces her as beautiful and peach-skinned, but with a fiery temper that soon spurs her to change inside and out for the worse.
The former deals in moral ambiguity; the latter paints her as born to be bad. "Wicked" presents the Witch as a misunderstood outcast; "Oz the Great and Powerful" shows her as evil to her core with the cackle to prove it. Similarly, Glinda is less good/more complex in "Wicked" and nothing but sweetness and light in "Oz."
In "The Wizard of Oz," the man behind the curtain is revealed to be essentially a con man from Kansas with no powers but a penchant for thoughtful gift-giving. This approach is closely followed in "Oz the Great and Powerful," as Oscar 'Oz' Diggs starts off a as womanizing scoundrel and sideshow magician who plays the people of Oz for his own ends until he sees the light ... well, rather, Glinda.
Where Raimi's movie shows the will-be wizard's arrival to Oz, "Wicked" has him already ruling over it. At the play's start, he's an idol to the young and not-yet-wicked Witch ... that is, until she discovers his evil plan to make Oz more like his homeland, striking its animal citizens dumb and forcing conformity. Here his wonderfulness is all smoke and mirrors.
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The chattering minions of the Witch in "The Wizard of Oz" also get an origin in "Wicked." There she creates them at the command of the wizard to show him her incredible prowess in spell casting. Regrettably, it's a spell she can't undo.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" presents two forms of flying primate. The first is a chipper, chatty monkey in a bellhop's uniform who proves to be one of Oscar's closest allies; the others are big, bat-winged baboons who gleefully ravage the good people of Oz at the command of the Wicked Witch.
Dorothy & Company
"Wicked" serves as an origin story not just for the witches and flying monkeys but also for the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. The Witch creates each in a well-meaning but flawed attempt at heroism. As for Dorothy, her arrival via falling house proves key to the plot, though she's never seen on stage.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" predates "The Wizard of Oz" by at least 16 years in the connective chronology, so there's no Dorothy here (though we do meet her mom). Oscar is sort of given credit for the creation of Dorothy's friends, having declared a lion a "coward" after scaring him off with a smoke bomb, and urging the tinkers to make metal men dressed as scarecrows (these later two are more nods to "The Wizard of Oz" than thorough allusions, though). In the end, this one is all about Oscar becoming the titular Great and Powerful Oz.