Fairy-tale fever seems to have struck Hollywood, with all signs pointing to the hallowed green halls of the Emerald City. Oz has suddenly become the premier destination for a battalion of producers, directors and studios stampeding to stake their claim for the next lucrative franchise from the lands of children's literature.
An avalanche of sequels, prequels and just plain freaky distortions of the original material looms just over the rainbow, including live action, CGI, stop-motion animation, classically adapted, steampunk renditions, dark takes and contemporary visitations. Nothing is sacred in the magical land of Oz anymore.
Warner Brothers just won a copyright infringement case on Oz-related merchandise that could give them the upper hand as these icons return to the screen. The ruling states that filmmakers who wish to create a new version of a literary work—even one in the public domain—must be careful not to use copyrightable elements of characters that first appeared in protected motion picture versions of the works, meaning screenwriters and directors will have to craft their characters carefully without trading on previous renderings. Easier said than done, Dorothy.
As with our feature on Frankenstein projects in the laboratory, many of these Oz projects will get lost, trip or stumble, never making it to the screen. Whatever the results, that swirling crystal ball is showing there may be a whole lotta Oz in your future. One thing is certain ... ruby slippers, flying monkeys, charlatan wizards and feuding wicked witches are steadily marching toward Tinseltown.
Here's Hollywood's current Oz lineup so you can click your heels and keep score at home ...
OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
The most visible of all Oz projects in development. Disney swung hard and hired Spider-Man director Sam Raimi to command this prequel centering on the legendary wizard (James Franco), telling the story of a carnival barker who accidentally discovers the magical land of Oz and is mistaken for a sorcerer.
Robert Downey Jr. was attached to star, but commitments to Sherlock Holmes 2 and The Avengers delayed production and he exited. Rachel Weisz is negotiating to play Evanora, the wicked broom rider of the East opposite Black Swan's Mila Kunis as Theadora, the nasty one of the West. (Who knew they had names?) Michelle Williams plays sugary-sweet Glinda, and affable Zach Braff is the great Oz's faithful assistant.
Danny Elfman does the score! Shooting starts July with a planned March 2013 release.
DOROTHY OF OZ
Set to open in theaters in spring 2012, this lavish animated version comes from indie studio Summertime Entertainment and is directed by Disney animation veteran Dan St. Pierre. An awesome voice cast includes Glee's Lea Michele as Dorothy, Dan Aykroyd as the Scarecrow, Kelsey Grammer as the Tin Man and James Belushi as the Cowardly Lion.
The cartoon outing is based on an original story by Baum's grandson Roger S. Baum, as Dorothy returns to Oz to help her friends defeat an evil entity known as the Jester. Sappy Canadian pop star Bryan Adams has written songs for the project. Ouch, that cuts like a knife.
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
John Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur), whose 1974 sci-fi film Zardoz was inspired by Baum's book, enters the mix with a big-budget CGI-animated version of The Wizard of Oz with no catchy dance numbers, primed for a 2012 release. The British director states they're still deep in production and word is the story is dark.
This will be Boorman's first animated feature and the script was written by Ron Mita and Jim McClain (Robots). Baum's material is ripe for creative interpretation and Boorman, who deftly adapted Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur for his visionary King Arthur epic, may strike gold again.
OZ: RETURN TO THE EMERALD CITY
Here's the second of Warner's two Oz flicks in the works. In this modern-day sequel, Chicago lawyer Dorothy Neil, granddaughter of the original Dorothy, is whisked away to Oz with her boss's daughter where they team up with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion to take down a tyrannical witch who threatens to destroy all the magic in Oz. (Why do they ALWAYS do that?)
This project originated back when comic artist Todd McFarlane offered Thunder Road Productions an Oz film based on his "Twisted Land Of Oz" toy line. Thunder Road passed but decided to develop an Oz update of their own. Screenwriter Josh Olson (A History Of Violence) pitched them a family-friendly fastball right down the plate and Warner was in love. Producer Basil Iwaynk (The Town, Clash of the Titans) could direct.
TWISTED LAND OF OZ
This is one we'd truly sign away our immortal souls to see. It's a project based on Spawn-daddy Todd McFarlane's disturbingly cool line of Oz action figures that debuted in 2003. The horrific playthings feature a sexy, S&M Dorothy, monstrous Tin Man, a savage Cowardly Lion and demonic Scarecrow along with an entire demented host of supporting characters. This one is definitely somewhere WAY, WAY over the rainbow.
According to McFarlane, the script is currently getting some second draft revisions but thinks his sick toybox might be a little too scary for Warner Brothers to embrace. Scary? Wait, we love scary!!
Gird yourselves for Universal's musical adaptation of Gregory Maguire's best-selling novel. It's an origin story that tells how the Wicked Witch of the West became Oz enemy number one. Wicked opened on Broadway in 2003 and is still packin' 'em in every night. Kristin Chenoweth originated the glittering role of Glinda in the stage show and will surely reprise it in the big screen version with Wicked star Idina Menzel.
Wicked writer, Winnie Holzman has finished the screenplay but no casting choices have been finalized. JJ Abrams, James Mangold (Walk The Line) and Rob Marshall (Chicago) have been discussed as directors for the girl-power gala.
The sinister Caliber Comics Oz series was first optioned way back in 2008, with Pearry Teo set to direct and Pras Michel of The Fugees lined up to star. Teo has visions of giving the film a decisive steampunk look, distinguishing the project from the scrambling mob of similar versions. Scriptwise, Dorothy returns to Oz to find that it is under the spell of three evil kings- the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man! This production is currently on hold pending financing and distribution issues.
We first heard of this project in 2002, with Drew Barrymore attached to star from an Oz-inspired script written by Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction). Similar to Oz: Return To The Emerald City, Barrymore would play a descendant of the original Dorothy Gale, who has to stop the original and still-living Wicked Witch of the West from taking over the kingdoms of Oz and Earth, using the atomic power of her ruby slippers.
It was announced last year that Barrymore was thinking of directing the film as a follow-up to 2009's Whip It. Munchkins on rollerskates? Hmm, she may have something there.
LAND OF OZ
The other Wizard of Oz film being developed at Warner Brothers under their New Line banner. Shrek Forever After screenwriter Darren Lemke is adapting the original novel in the series as a faithful, non-musical version.
Brought to you by Temple Hill, the production company behind the Twilight saga, Oz skips back to where it all began and reportedly follows the book page for page. Rumors say this one's head may be on the emerald chopping block if Warner passes.
This one has a high salivation factor. Oz Wars is a new stop-motion animated film set within the vast fantasy world first visited in The Wizard Of Oz. The project is fronted by The Corpse Bride co-director Mike Johnson and merrily joins the crowded competition.
Variety reports Vanguard Films will be producing the movie. Johnson was quoted as saying: "It's an animated action-adventure story, but unlike most animated films, it's not just for kids. The Land of Oz will be reimagined using stop-motion to create a world that's dark, slick, sexy and dangerous." Really? You had us at dark!
THE WITCHES OF OZ
This baby is in the can and awaiting a distribution deal. Originally set for television, it may get a 3-D release in theaters or be destined for the direct-to-video bin. It's another sequel to the first book and follows successful children's author Dorothy Gale as she discovers her stories about a magical land are actually repressed childhood memories. Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Christopher Lloyd and Lance Henriksen star opposite newcomer Paulie Rojas as Dorothy. Writer/ director Leigh Scott is known for his cheap, knockoff films like Transmorphers, but behind-the-scenes clips show there were a few bucks spent on the production.
Exhausted? That's an army of Oz assaulting us over the next few years. Which one do you think will move on down the yellow brick road?