Movies That Everyone Should See: “The Wizard of Oz”

In my first post in this series, “The Breakfast Club”, I told you this series would focus on the “no brainer, mortal lock, absolute shoo-in, first ballot hall of fame type movies that there’s absolutely no excuse for not having seen.”

So, I had to think. Well, what are those?

Immediately – the first thing that came to mind –  was “The Wizard of Oz”.

Can you think of another movie that epitomizes the phrase “EVERYONE should see” better than this one does?

The year was 1939. Batman was born, but he still only appeared in “Detective Comics”. Lou Gehrig considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” is published. And Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, invades Poland. World War II begins.

In America that year, we were enjoying what many would later call “The Greatest Year in Film History”. It saw the release of two epic motion pictures, “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”, along with “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” all of which would eventually become to be listed amongst the greatest films of all time (Numbers 6, 10 and 26 respectively on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary)).

“The Wizard of Oz” is a fantasy story revolving around a young girl from Kansas named Dorothy, and her dog, Toto, who get caught in a tor…. Awwww, listen, look. If you haven’t seen “The Wizard of Oz” here’s the deal. Put it in your netflix queue right now, or get in your car and go buy the dvd, or hop on your bike and borrow it from your library or whatever you’ve got to do, but just stop reading this until you make yourself right with the world and then come back and read the rest of this essay, ok? Post a comment up as if you’ve been watching this movie for years and there’s no way any of us here will know the difference. You can thank me silently to yourself afterwards if you want, cause honestly, even if I’m hooking you up right now, you shouldn’t admit to anyone you’ve never seen THIS movie.

How did we get here? How did this movie become SO ingrained into the fabric of our society that almost 75 years after its release I would still readily chide someone for not having seen it? I mean, this is an old movie, people should have a built-in excuse, right?

No, I don’t think so, no. Nope.

“The Wizard of Oz” is inarguably one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. (Inarguable. You cannot argue it.) It takes song and dance and fantasy elements and uses them all to tell a charming story which imparts a valuable lesson in the power of believing in yourself. It appeals to young and old alike. When AFI announced their vaunted list series in 1998, I was certain that this movie would be number one. It is widely and deeply beloved, and rightfully so. It’s 75 years old, yet still looks as beautiful as the day it was first released into theatres, and its timeless message and wonderful songs still hold the power to enchant no matter how old the viewer is.

The effects in the movie are entirely practical: Makeup, fancy sets, matte paintings. As such, they age well. They’re tangible. The cap above is a good example of what I mean. it’s still easy to get lost in Oz because for the most part, they built it! You may catch a wire on a monkey or something, but by then your disbelief will be more suspended then they are.

Running through the movie like its lifeblood is the singing and dancing. Now… I’m not exactly a musical buff. But in the “Wizard of Oz”, its all just so magical and joyful that I go with it. There’s all these fanciful creatures and characters and once the all get going they’re all like hopping an skipping and dancing down the road… you’ve got to love it! The songs themselves are classics. Who doesn’t occasionally whistle “If I Only had a Brain”, or sing the first verse of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” as social commentary now and then? I’ll even catch myself doing the flying monkey tune sometimes when it’s called for. You know, some kind of impending trouble coming? dun nuh ne nuh ne nen na, dun nuh ne nuh ne nen na…

But of course, the song of all songs in the movie, and a forerunner for song of all time from a movie is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

I can’t think of a superlative sufficient for this song. Timeless, Classic, Beautiful? I don’t know. It’s a song that’s so simple and sweet and pure that it becomes elegant. The world has come to hold it in a place of reverence. I’m still amazed that it was written for a movie. It was sung beautifully by Judy Garland, and wound up winning the Academy Award that year for Best Song. It should have won about ten of them.

Providing all of this singing and dancing aside from Dorothy is a colorful cadre of characters that are unparalleled in cinema. The Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion accompany and assist Dorothy, but more importantly, they become trusted friends. I bet everyone reading can recall easily what each of them was missing (and the reason they personally had for seeing the Wizard) with no help at all from Google or Wikipedia or what have you. Eventually they meet the infamous Wizard, who winds up being a bumbling puffed up charlatan, who’s looking to get home, just like Dorothy is! The message? No one is better than anyone else, you just have to believe in yourself! 

And as if this all weren’t enough… As if this embarrassment of riches wouldn’t already qualify “The Wizard of Oz” for legendary greatness… Atop of everything I’ve already mentioned… the movie has one of the greatest villains of all time, the Wicked Witch of the West. 

Coming in at number four on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains, the Wicked Witch of the West is an unforgettable, menacing, nightmare of a woman. Flying on her broomstick, cackling crazily, brandishing fire, painted green, curling and uncurling her fingers like claws as if she were some evil gypsy grandmother… This movie character set the high bar for villains forever. People still recall her “Catchphrase” if you will, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!” which narrowly made the list of greatest quotes. Who can forget her unleashing her flying monkey army “Fly, Fly!” or her wailing, flailing, smoking demise “I’m melllltttiiiinngg!!! I’m melllltttiiiinngg!!! ” Good god. There is no questioning it whatsoever. This character gave nightmares to children for generations, and deserves her place in the annals of screen villainy for all time.

“The Wizard of Oz” is one of the crown jewels of history’s treasure chest of films. It’s a shining example of the human imagination, creativity and spirit. It has a sweetness and an innocence to it which would almost be impossible to create today. It has lasted 75 years, and I have no doubt it will continue to last for as long as films are shown.

There’s no place like Oz, and that’s why it’s a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.

19 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “The Wizard of Oz”

  1. I love this movie. Now, let me tell you about me and movies. I fall asleep. Sometimes it’s right at the beginning, sometimes, it’s before the climax of the movie, sometimes it’s right before the credits but out of the bazillion movies I have seen, I have slept thru about 1/2 a bazillion. INCLUDING THIS ONE! (For the record, I cannot ever not sleep through Holy Grail, Fogs, much to the shame and embarrassment of my brother yet I can throw out random quotes thanks to his soundtrack cassette that i think we wore out!)

    I am so glad that this movie is shown 4 times a week all year long. I think I have seen just about all of it now that I am about to reach 42. This is one of those films that spans generations. I love it, it creeps out my daughter and my Mom, she shudders when I call her every time it’s on TV. Mom hates it and I am still not sure why.

    • dan,you rock..lovin your stuff bro…..’nother must see movie…MONSTSTERS inc. wayyy more than a kid’s movie to me…

      • There he is! The man himself, LOL

        I agree (on Monsters Inc) Here’s the problem though. Almost EVERY Pixar movie is like that. I mean, the only movie they’ve done that isn’t completely awesome is Cars 2.

        So, agreed. But it waits in line behind Toy Story, Nemo and The Incredibles. To me.

        Next week will be Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, I’ve got it 90% done…

        Great to see you here brother.

  2. Good take, Fogs. At this point I’d be more shocked if someone didn’t love The Wizard of Oz rather than somehow managed to never see it. And see it several times.

    Remember when we were kids, long before cable and home theaters, it was only on television once a year? The Scarecrow is my favorite. I love that the guy that wanted a brain ended up being the one that came up with the plan to kill the witch. The witch is pure evil from beginning to end. Favorite scene is when the house crushes the witch and it switches to color. I love those crumpled up little feet sticking out from underneath the house.

    For me, the main message is “There’s no place like home.” Everyone, at one time or another, has thought it just has to be better “over the rainbow.” In the end, no matter what you’ve said or done or how long you’ve been gone, you can always go home.

    It’s the greatest movie of all time.

    • Oh yeah, I remember. That was appointment viewing! Pre-VCR you HAD to catch it then or you couldn’t see it. I think it was on for one of the Holidays, right? Like thanksgiving or whatever?

      I picked up on “There’s no place like home” too, obviously. LOL kinda hard not to. But I always focused on the “You always had what you needed all along” aspect.

      Glad to see you man, thanks for the feedback! Stop back… I’ve got a backlog of stuff I’m going to be powering up here!

  3. And let’s not forget that its one of the first, if not THE first major films where women call the shots. There’s dorothy and glinda and the witch….all the other characters are silly, bumbling and male. Im just sayin’…..

  4. Love it or hate it, this is one of the handful of films that need to be seen just for cultural literacy’s sake. There’s just so much material out there that refers back to Oz that if you don’t at least know the characters and story that you are just going to miss out on references and allusions.

  5. One of the things that really impresses is how well they made use of the medium and the “effects”. The transition from monochrome Kansas to technicolor Oz is still striking, after all these years. Anybody younger than, say, my parents’ generation isn’t just familiar with color TV and films, they’re accustomed to it. It’s the norm, it’s expected. It shouldn’t be possible to shock us with color. And yet, “The Wizard of Oz” pulls it off, every time. It’s an effect unrivaled in cinema, and all the modern movies with their modern techniques, 3D included, fail utterly at any similar attempts. The one success I can think of at pulling off a similar effect was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, and that was by no means as dramatic (which is not in any way a knock on that great film.)

    • C.O.

      My old friend. I was just tellin’ Jay yesterday how I wished you’d stop by. This is like getting a Comic-Con bonus.

      We’ll have to catch up, shoot me an email at the contact page address?

      Yeah, RR isn’t the Wizard of Oz, that’s for sure! I love that switch to color… One of these days I’m going to try to sync it with Dark Side of the Moon, LOL, but I have a feeling that only works if people do drugs!

      So good to see you dude!!!

      • Yeah, WFRR and WOz are definitely very different movies… both 5 stars from me (though I should probably rewatch WFRR to make sure it truly earns that 5 and not a 4), but for very different reasons. But the link there, is that both of them — and no other movie I can think of — successfully use purely visual effects to pull off that revelation of “This movie isn’t quite the movie it pretended to be for the first few minutes.”

        And yeah, I’ll definitely fire you an email. I was glad to see you had a blog going, your opinions on movies and other things are always interesting.

  6. I can’t believe I’m just seeing this now. Wizard of Oz is one of my favourites, and you really did the film justice. Great film, and a great review. Sorry it took me almost a year to comment :P

    • LOL… we probably hadnt even crossed paths back then man… This was REAL early on, I think it was like my second MTESS.

      It is a great movie. It epitomizes what the series should be about. It was literally the first movie that came to mind when I asked myself “well, what movies SHOULD EVERYONE see?” The Breakfast Club started this whole thing, but that was by chance. Wizard of Oz was the first movie I picked.

      Thanks for checking back in on this one buddy, I appreciate it!

  7. Pingback: Oz the Great and Powerful « Fogs' Movie Reviews

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