I did not grow up with The Wizard of Oz. Sit on that for a second: like Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz feels like one of those movies that stands in for an entire mythology entrenched within the American childhood imaginary, rather than a movie that produced that mythology in the first place. How could one escape it? Yet not growing up in middle-class America meant that I wasn’t exposed to that rite of passage where Oz screenings roll around at the same time each year, permeating the holiday atmosphere. It meant that I had to make the deliberate choice to seek the movie out.
When I came around to watching The Wizard of Oz, what surprised me most was how deliriously stagebound it looks. This wasn’t a painstakingly populated Lord of the Rings or even one of those studio-set concoctions of the 80s that have become the fixture of Universal’s theme parks. Oz prides itself on painted backdrops, plastic flowers, candy-colored costumes and sets barely thirty feet wide. There aren’t even that many locations, if you consider that much of the screentime gets spent on wayside encounters with the three “friends of Dorothy” that our protagonist bumps into. But the movie barrels forth with such gusto and fairytale conviction that it’s hard to turn down.