I had a visceral reaction to last week’s news that there was a remake of “The Wizard of Oz” in the works. It’s pretty much how I feel every time Hollywood announces plans for a “retelling” of a classic. In my view, the 1939 film starring a young Judy Garland is one of those movies, like “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane” and “Midnight Cowboy,” that can’t be improved upon.
The 1939 musical fantasy holds a special place both in the history of American cinema and also in my little-girl heart and still stands as one of the greatest achievements in moviemaking and casting to ever come along. Though I can’t recall ever actually seeing the movie in a theater, it became a tradition in my family, as it did in millions of American households, to watch “The Wizard of Oz” on network television once a year as a TV special (it aired from the late ’50s through the early ’90s and then periodically for years thereafter).
I vividly remember my pent-up excitement when my parents made plans for us to have dinner at the house of family friends to watch the movie. The kids would gather on the rug in front of the TV set, and each year felt as though we were seeing the film for the first time. Nothing about it ever got old despite the fact that we knew what every single beat would bring along the yellow brick road. We’d always be scared to death when those terrifying flying monkeys attacked. We cowered every time the Wicked Witch of the West appeared on-screen even though we knew she’d melt away when Dorothy threw that bucket of water on her ugly green self.
L. Frank Baum’s beloved children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” has been adapted in various forms over the years, but at this point we have no idea what version to expect from director Nicole Kassell. She promises to bring a “fresh take” to the legendary story, a “reimagining,” as she calls it, while acknowledging, “These are profoundly iconic shoes to fill. … ” Right she is. It would seem incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to replicate the kind of transcendent, emotional connection many of us had to the ’39 original and to the eventized family entertainment experience we enjoyed in our living rooms year after year.