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Monday, October 11, 2010

Movie #21: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

"Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said come back tomorrow."

Believe it or not, I know people who still have aversions to little people, after having watched this and Willy Wonka as children.


  • Rating: G

  • Minimum Recommended Age: 5.5 (Common Sense Media: "On for ages 6 and up", Movie Mom: All Ages, Kids First! Recommended Age: 5-18)

  • Quality Rating: 94.7% (Parent Previews Overall Grade: A-, Common Sense Media: 5 stars, Rotten Tomatoes rating: 9.2)

  • Number of Lists Recommend: 3

  • Sex/Violence/Profanity: None

  • Main Child Character Age: Preteen

  • Running Time: 101 minutes

  • What does it have to do with Halloween? Nothing, but there are a couple of witches in it


Dorothy Gale is swept away to a magical land in a tornado and embarks on a quest to see the Wizard who can help her return home.

Watch Out For

Common Sense Media: "The Wicked Witch of the West is quite creepy and menacing, as are her scary henchmonkeys. Very young children may be frightened during the twister scene."

Movie Mom: "There are a number of different scenes in this movie that may be scary for children. Many adults still remember the flying monkeys or Dorothy looking into the crystal ball and seeing her aunt turn into the witch."

Parent Previews: "Some children may find the tornado sequence frightening (even though the depiction contains many comic elements, like the old Grandma in the rocking chair who knits while riding the winds of the storm). Other anxious moments in the Land of Oz center around the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) as she does her best to regain the coveted (and magic) red shoes Dorothy is wearing."

IMDB: "The Scarecrow is briefly seen holding a gun. A house falls on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. No blood is shown at all, but we do see her lower legs sticking out from under it. They curl up and disappear at one point, which is shown close-up. The Wicked Witch of the West sets the Scarecrow on fire twice. (He is saved both times.) The flying monkeys might be considered scary to some kids. They capture some characters and fly away with them, including Dorothy."

Talk About It

Common Sense Media:
* Families can talk about elements of the classic movie that 70 years later can be found in contemporary films. What other popular movies follow a main hero and his supportive friends on an important journey?
* Discuss the way that the movie combines several genres. How does the change from black-and-white to color affect the movie's tone?
* How does the Scarecrow demonstrate his intelligence, the Tin Man his heart, and the Lion his courage? How does each one find what they need within themselves?

Movie Mom:
Talk with children about the way that the Scarecrow demonstrates his intelligence, the Tin Woodman demonstrates his heart, and the Lion demonstrates his courage. Even the humbug Wizard finds that he had the means to go home all the time. Dorothy, who in the first part of the movie runs away from home to try to solve her problems, spends the rest of the movie trying to get back. Even if the story is just a dream (in the book, it is a real adventure), this makes a great deal of emotional sense, a way of working through her inner conflicts.

It is also worth talking about the scene in which Dorothy and her friends disregard the Wizard's plea to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" and discover that he is really just an ordinary man. This can be a touchstone or metaphor for many kinds of challenges children face. It can help them recognize that the overpowering figures in their lives (parents, teachers, adults, sports figures) are just imperfect human beings. And it can also help them recognize attempts, by themselves as well as others, to distract people in hopes of hiding our imperfection and vulnerability.

Parent Previews:
When Dorothy and her friends began their journey to Oz, they were counseled never to leave the Yellow Brick Road. What happened when they forgot that advice? How could this metaphor apply to real life?

What did it take for each of the characters to discover they already possessed the traits they wished they had? What can you learn from their example?

Of Note

  • AMC's Filmsite lists the "dispatching of [the Wicked Witch's] Flying Monkeys to stop the progress of Dorothy Gale's (Judy Garland) companions to free her" as one of the Greatest Scariest Movie Moments and Scenes
  • In Baum's books, Oz is no dream. By contrast, the movie makes it clear that Dorothy dreamt the whole thing up. Of course, children of all ages refuse to accept that the vivid, colorful Oz is a dream, while the dull sepia-toned Kansas is reality. Audiences of the day were leery of fantasy and demanded this cop-out.
  • Many of the Wicked Witch of the West's scenes were either trimmed or deleted entirely, as Margaret Hamilton's performance was thought too frightening for audiences.
  • Judy Garland had to wear a painful corset-style device around her torso so that she would appear younger and flat-chested.
  • Terry (Toto) was stepped on by one of the witch's guards, and had a double for two weeks. A second double was obtained, because it resembled Toto more closely. Judy Garland very much wanted to adopt Terry after the two spent so much time together shooting the film. Unfortunately, the owner of the dog wouldn't give her up, and Terry went on to a long career in films. She died in 1945 and was buried in her trainer's yard.
  • In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #10 Greatest Movie of All Time.
  • The name for Oz was thought up when the creator, Frank Baum, looked at his filing cabinet and saw A-N, and O-Z, hence "Oz."


Watch It

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