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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the 1939 fantasy The Wizard of Oz contains several scenes that may be scary for very young children, almost all of which involve the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West and her band of creepy flying monkeys. Most parents who've seen the movie before know that the plot includes a disastrous tornado, and an enchanted forest full of red-eyed creatures and talking trees. By today's rating standards, this Hollywood classic is downright tame, but between the twister, the mild peril, and the general menacing, murderous intentions of the witch, some pre-schoolers could be frightened.
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What's the story?
Based on L. Frank Baum's classic children's book, THE WIZARD OF OZ is a fantasy musical following Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a Kansas farm-girl whose best friend is her beloved dog Toto. Distraught over a mean-spirited neighbor's attempt to have Toto put to sleep, Dorothy runs away with her pet. On her way back home, Dorothy is caught in a twister, which knocks her out and seems to lift the entire farmhouse into the sky. After the house crash-lands, Dorothy and Toto step out far, far away from Kansas into a technicolor land. Suddenly, a multitude of munchkins and Glinda, a lovely good witch (Billie Burke), hail the confused Dorothy as a heroine for landing on the Wicked Witch of the East ("Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead," they sing). But when the dead witch's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) arrives on the scene, she demands that Dorothy hand over her sister's pair of magical ruby slippers, which are now on Dorothy's feet. Unwilling to give up the slippers, Dorothy starts on a mysterious trip down a yellow brick road to Emerald City, where she hopes to find the Wonderful Wizard of Oz -- the only person capable of returning her home. On her journey, Dorothy befriends a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Man (Jack Haley), and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who desperately seek a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively. If they can reach the Wizard and outwit the vengeful Witch, all of their dreams may come true.
Is it any good?
Even 70 years after its release, director Victor Fleming's film is quite obviously a masterpiece of early cinema. Not only does it have one of the most iconic female roles and one of the finest examples of the hero's journey, which has influenced every epic quest tale from Star Wars to Harry Potter, but it is also a magical combination of drama, adventure, fantasy, and musical. This is one of the rare movie phenomena that modern-day grandparents can remember seeing as little ones, and that nostalgia can be easily shared with yet another generation of children, who can now watch it in high-definition or Blu Ray. It's a testament to the movie's universal appeal that seven decades later, The Wizard of Oz is still culturally significant -- from Halloween costumes to sing-along-shows to remixes of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Garland, who was only 16 when Oz was filmed, is inimitably sublime as Dorothy, especially when she sings. Although contemporary moviegoers are used to precocious young "triple threats" marketed by Disney and Nickelodeon, Garland stands out as one of the first. Garland's impressively mature voice soars beyond the rainbow and into the audiences' hearts. Beyond Dorothy, there's the amazing trifecta of theater-trained actors (Lahr, Bolger, Haley) who played her yellow-brick-road companions. Hamilton is deliciously evil as the green-skinned witch, and Burke is memorably comforting as the beautiful good witch Glinda. Everyone should see The Wizard of Oz multiple times in their lives; it's simply a must-see film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about elements of The Wizard of Oz 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 he needs within himself?
- In theaters: August 25, 1939
- On DVD or streaming: October 1, 2013
- Cast: Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Judy Garland, Ray Bolger
- Director: Victor Fleming
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Gratitude, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: June 22, 2020
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