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The Wicked Movie Should Skip The Broadway Play And Embrace The Weirder Wonders Of The Book

This article contains mentions of sexual assault.

Whether we asked for it or not, the "Wicked" movie is coming — in two parts, for some godforsaken reason. "Crazy Rich Asians" and "In the Heights" director Jon M. Chu is helming the adaptation of Stephen Schwartz's wildly popular musical that is set to release its first part in late 2024, and it looks like it's going to be a pretty straightforward adaptation from the stage to the screen.

For the uninitiated, the musical version of "Wicked" goes like this: Imagine if the Wicked Witch of the West, who is named Elphaba in this take on "The Wizard of Oz," had a very complicated inner life. A young girl cursed with a verdant skin tone, Elphaba constantly worries about her sister Nessa (who later becomes the Wicked Witch of the East), who suffers from chronic illness, and the two are separated when Elphaba goes to Shiz University. There, she ends up rooming with Galinda, who — you guessed it! — later shortens her name to Glinda and becomes the Good Witch. After a rocky start, the two become lifelong friends, rallying against a corrupt magical government and Elphaba's romance with the handsome Fiyero.

Putting the viability of this adaptation inside, the biggest argument to be made here is this: the "Wicked" movie should adapt the original book, instead of the musical it inspired. Why? Because the book so messed up.

The book version of Wicked is absolutely bonkers

Written in 1995, Gregory Maguire's "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" is a very bold take on the original story from "The Wizard of Oz." Many of the story beats remain in the musical, but to say the musical is a little cleaned up for wider audiences is, well, an understatement.

A perfect example is the question of Elphaba's green skin. In the musical, it's said that her mother had an affair with a traveling salesman and drank a green potion around the time of her daughter's conception. This turns out to be a lie, and the Wizard himself is her father. What they don't mention in the musical, though, is that the Wizard drugged Elphaba's mother Melena and assaulted her, resulting in Elphaba.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In the musical, Nessa is simply in a wheelchair; in the book, she has no arms. Several characters that die gruesomely in the book, including Madam Morrible, Doctor Dillamond, Fiyero, and Elphaba herself, end up living. Fiyero becomes the Scarecrow, in an impressive retcon from Schwartz. Elphaba on stage doesn't have a secret love child she conceived with Fiyero, nor does she have the razor-sharp teeth she has in the books.

This Wicked movie would be so much weirder, and so much better

Does it make sense that Chu wants to adapt the nice version of "Wicked" where people sing and fewer of them die? Yeah, definitely. Would it be cooler to instead see the novel's completely demented spin on a beloved children's story brought to the big screen? Absolutely.

Don't pretend that it wouldn't totally rule to watch Cynthia Erivo, as Elphaba, rock dagger-like teeth and then ultimately be taken down by a simple bucket of water, just like in the original film with Judy Garland. Chu should definitely be taking more cues from Maguire's book, which was conceived by the author as a study on the real meaning of what it is to be "evil." The fact that his objectively bonkers book became one of Broadway's sappier musicals is still a bit baffling — the song "For Good" shares exactly zero DNA with a single word from the original novel — but we definitely wish Chu would embrace the absolutely wild wonders of Maguire's groundbreaking novel rather than stick to the stage adaptation.

But really, why are we even adapting Wicked to begin with?

The fact of the matter is that even though "Wicked" is one of the biggest musicals in Broadway history, it's kind of a weird choice for a film adaptation. Hollywood isn't exactly known for leaving well enough alone when it comes to existing intellectual property, so that aspect of this entire thing certainly isn't surprising. The biggest issue here is, frankly, that the Broadway version of "Wicked" relies so strongly on practical effects and stage work, a lot of which has no chance at succeeding on the big screen.

Take the jaw-dropping moment at the end of Act 1, where Elphaba, accessing her full power as the Wicked Witch of the West, belts out "Defying Gravity" and flies above the stage to show that she's become who she's meant to be. The fun of that moment is that the actress looks like she's ... well, flying, in real-life. It's a big moment on the stage. In a movie theater, though? Audiences have sat through a decade and a half of Marvel Cinematic Universe films at this point, and someone flies in every single one of those. What we're trying to say here is that the impact of this huge moment — a moment that evokes the chandelier drop in "Phantom of the Opera" thanks to its sheer spectacle — will be completely flattened on screen.

The first looks at the Wicked movie aren't exactly encouraging

The first bad news about the "Wicked" movie dropped when we found out that it was going to be split into two parts, if we're all being totally honest. Trying to mimic a Broadway intermission is a nice idea, but let's face it, this is really just an obvious cash grab to split this normal-sized musical into two full-length movies, whether the plot justifies it or not. Beyond that, when we finally got two first looks at the witches of Oz, Erivo's Elphaba and Ariana Grande's Galinda, they were so dark and far away that it's arguable whether they qualify as "first looks" at all. The pictures were basically pitch black, so good luck getting any looks at anything.

Grande's photo is the bigger issue here — it looks like someone shot her from a helicopter in pitch blackness — and you can barely make out Erivo's green skin, which isn't exactly a great sign. If you're going to go full musical and ignore the novel while adapting "Wicked," at least bring some color into the proceedings. Maybe — and we're just spitballing here — some yellow or some green?

Adapting the "Wicked" musical is a weird move to begin with. Making it broody and gothic completely misses the point. If you're going to run with that aesthetic, cancel the orchestra and get Erivo fitted for a set of prosthetic knife-teeth.