This weekend, while some of us are being entertained by Jerry Lewis doing his bit for "the cause", I'd thought I'd change the subject for a bit and talk about the Wonderdul World of Oz. Next year will be the 70th Anniversary of the MGM classic "The Wizard of Oz", but did you know there was a sequel made to the film that put Judy Garland on the map?
"Journey Back To Oz", a production of the legendary Filmation animated studio (a company best known for Archie and Fat Albert), is an animated masterpiece that sadly has been underrated and underappreciated over the years since it first was released in 1971. Given the project's difficult history, that is.
"Journey" was one of the first projects for the groundbreaking Filmation company who would be best known for making its mark in Saturday morning television. The sequel finds our heroine Dorothy (voiced here by Garland's daughter, Liza Minnelli) whisked back to Oz only to find it being ruled by Mombi (Ethel Merman), cousin to the late Wicked Witch of the West, and her wild herd of elephants. Dorothy must enlist the help of her old friends Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man, along with some new ones, to conquer Mombi and save Emerald City.
The film was, as I said, a difficult project that took almost a decade to make, and even longer to find an audience. Production began in 1963. Most of the animation and voice tracks were completed before Filmation ran out of cash to finish the project. It was only after its successes with their subsequent television series that they finally came up with the money to complete "Journey" for theatrical release in 1971. But virtually no one came to see the movie.
It took network television for "Journey" to find its audience. To re-market the film as a potential Christmas TV event, Filmation filmed live-action segments with Bill Cosby as the Wizard, a character otherwise not seen in the original theatrical cut. These segments added to the film's 88-minute running time. "Journey" premiered on television in 1976 on ABC, and in subsequent years aired in syndication on the old SFM Holiday Network, and it is there that "Journey" finally achieved its cult status. Incidentally, when the Cosby segments were filmed, the legendary comedian was at a career-transition point, between his original "Bill Cosby Show" in the early '70s, and the "Cosby Show" that would resurrect a ratings-slumping NBC.
"Journey Back To Oz" has now been released on DVD (I rented it out for the weekend), and while it's great to see this animated film again after so many years, it does have its flaws. For one, the feature presentation is time-compressed (it has been said that the former owners of Filmation digitalized the backlong only for PAL, primarily for UK audiences, not giving any thought to their value for North America, and discarded the film elements). And also, not all of the Cosby segments are represented in the supplemental sections (this leads me to believe that some of the original network master to the extended cut has been lost). Yes, it would have been great to see the network TV version represented on DVD, but...
The rest of the supplemental features are OK, with the commentary track and brief interviews with the filmmakers.
I tried to E-mail Andy Mangels, the producer of the "Journey" DVD, but so far has not returned my query.
I wish there would be someone around who could track down a high-quality copy of the TV version for me to see again. It would shed new light on an animated classic that certainly deserves to be re-evaluated, and one that has its place in the history of the world Frank Baum created so long ago. If anyone out there has it, please let me know.
There's no place like Oz. Click those heels three times...