I’ll admit it – I’m probably the only person out there who can’t stand The Wizard of Oz. What was meant to enchant, enlighten, and entertain just leaves me endlessly edgy. While I know that the film has been a classic since its 1939 inception – and while I get how the transformation from black and white to full-blown, glorious color (especially back then) is a magnificent achievement – for the life of me, I don’t understand how the events captured on screen don’t scare the living daylights out of everyone. But maybe that’s just me. To wit:
For starters, we’ve got the tornado that lifts Dorothy’s house up, up and away – until it comes crashing down on a person. A person! Okay, a witch, but still. That pair of legs that sticks out from the house’s foundation and then just rolls up and disappears – am I the only one that finds that event the least bit disturbing? (Of course, I also shiver whenever I pass Halloween decorations depicting fake hands reaching out from the grave, so that might explain my discomfort.)
Once she “lands” in Oz, who comes to greet Dorothy but a singing, dancing mob, crowding around her and accusing her of witchcraft, followed by the Glinda the Good Witch (again with a witch?) dispatching her on a journey down the yellow brick road in order to find her way home. Are you kidding me? I’ve just crash landed in a strange, strange place, all I want to do is get back to Kansas, and you’re sending me on a head trip to figure it out by myself. Really? And before she leaves, Dorothy is given a dead witch’s shoes to wear? Just ugh (although those ruby slippers are super sparkly).
Then, of course, there’s the Scarecrow of if-I-only-had-a-brain-fame. (Am I the only one seeing a clown face here? Yikes.) The if-I-only-had-a-heart Tin Man. (Right, like seeing a humanized oil can talk isn’t too scary.) And the inexplicably Brooklyn-accented, if-I-only-had-the-nerve Cowardly Lion. (Watching the King of the Jungle reduced to a big crybaby in what looks like a bad onesie is frightening in its own right.) Not exactly the three magi. Not exactly inspiring confidence. Not exactly cute and comforting. But exactly what I’d imagine to find on a bad acid trip.
And, obviously, the Wicked Witch, clearly one of the scariest female characters captured on celluloid, right up there with Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) in Misery, Baby Jane (Bette Davis) in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction. And you’re turning her loose on children? Her “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” scared me to tears decades ago and still does today. (B. has no such problem here. He’s an adult.) But as evil as she is, the scene of the Wicked Witch melting away is pure horror, her “I’m melting…” lingering in my mind long after lights out.
Speaking of Her Evilness, let’s look at the archetype for all evil spirits everywhere – those terrifying, soulless, black-hearted Flying Monkeys. Just writing about them here scares me into thinking I’ll conjure them up. The embodiment of fear, the Flying Monkeys are enough to keep any child (or, in my case, adult) from thinking twice before misbehaving. Nightmares of being carried off in the claws of one such creature have followed me for weeks each year after watching the movie.
Let’s consider this for a minute – who puts wings on monkeys from hell and thinks that that’s okay for a children’s story? For this one I blame the author, Mr. Baum. Just reading about these creatures is bad enough – a kid’s imagination will do the rest. But we’re talking about the movie here, and MGM has certainly done its share to ensure that lots of little kids require therapy as adults (no, you can’t blame it all on overbearing mothers).
Of course, no children’s movie would be complete without a universal political statement. Think about it. The idea of a little man behind the curtain, a coward himself, pulling all the strings to control his world and make everyone afraid – it’s a theme as old as time. Brilliant as social commentary. Beyond upsetting to little-girl me (the whole idea of someone hiding behind a curtain – really?) and monumentally scary to grown-up me (art imitating life is not always pretty).
So there we go. Sure, Dorothy finally figures it out at the end with the help of Glinda (couldn’t the so-called Good Witch have told Dorothy how to get back home at the start?). With three ruby-slipper clicks, Dorothy is back in Kansas. Looking up at clown-faced, scarecrow-now-farmhand Zeke. No. Just no.
Sorry, but I’ll take my children’s movies a bit less on the sociopathic side. The world is a scary enough place without having to worry about a stray Flying Monkey swooping down.
Adieu, yellow brick road.
©2022 Claudia Grossman