1990 / Director. Jack Bender.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I am a sucker for OZ and I return to L Frank Baum's classic stories more than any other books in my collection. There's something about the world he created that transcends me more than any other... more than Narnia. More than Fantasia. More than Middle Earth... OZ is beautiful. This made-for-tv movie from 1990 tells the story of Baum's life and how he came to write his timeless classic. He lived a hard life with his wife and children, always moving for work and constantly struggling to make ends meet. He was ever the dreamer and would tell his children and their friends stories about magical lands and strange characters. Inspired by whatever was around him, he would incorporate new elements on a whim and charm whoever cared to listen. With encouragement from his wife he put his pen to paper and the rest is history, although not without hardships and countless obstacles along the way. This is a wonderful film that begins at the premiere of MGM's 1939 film starring Judy Garland. A reporter finds Mrs Baum and invites her to share memories of her husband and his life. It is definitely a little hokey and very sappy but at it's core is a charming story about a man with a heart as big as a house and a boundless imagination. John Ritter plays Baum and he is perfect in the role. His voice and mannerisms fit the bill perfectly and he embodies the essence of a child. Annette O'Toole is also lovely as his adoring wife and some other nice additions to the cast include Rue McClanahan and John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig & The Angry Inch, Shortbus). The film does wash over his life and tells his story in very romantic terms but the events depicted are all taken from personal accounts and biographies. A strange gun-slinging showdown was recreated according to a long-held anecdote that Baum had written about. What draws me to this great little film is how the story is told. We are taken to OZ whenever Baum conjures new stories. We see Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion. We see the munchkins, the witches and the great and powerful Oz. The fantasy is wonderful and the recreations of Oz cleverly represent his original books and yet they also resemble the characters that were etched in cinematic history in the 1939 MGM film. This is lovely stuff and worth a look if you're a fan of Oz or perhaps you're just a big softie. It is a rare film to find as a stand-alone item (although not impossible) but it was recently included on the supplementary disc of the 70th Anniversary release of the MGM film. Check it out.