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Wicked Is Fun, But L. Frank Baum's Oz Books Are An Untapped Cinematic Fantasy Universe Waiting To Happen

It's hard to ignore the sheer influence that "Wicked" had over Broadway. As an adaptation of the popular Gregory Maguire novel of the same name, it opened the gates for numerous other musical adaptations to follow in its footsteps, to say nothing of how it inspired so many similar takes in the world of film — see "Maleficent" for one example, and the dark (but no longer villainous) "Cruella" for another. However, as Hollywood stands on the precipice of turning "Wicked" into movie magic — and potentially putting out the definitive "Oz" story for this generation — it's hard not to lament how we've lost out on film adaptations of the wonderfully wild source material that is L. Frank Baum's "Oz" books.  

Sure, we're all familiar with Baum's first book, which famously became the classic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," but Baum's stories about that magical land didn't end after Dorothy Gale tripped her way back over the rainbow — in fact, the best stuff was packed into numerous sequel novels. 

Thus far, the closest we've gotten is 1985's remarkably dark "Return to Oz," and if you saw that movie as a kid, you certainly still carry the mental scars from it. While "Return to Oz" did finally bring some iconic Oz characters into live-action, darkness was never the point of Baum's work. And what a work it was: there are 14 "Oz" books and four short story compilations, not even getting into the volumes written by other authors after his passing. Throughout these novels, Baum crafted dozens of characters deserving of movie treatment, from Polychrome to Button Bright. That's why it might be a wiser idea to venture further into the Oz universe, instead of remaking Dorothy's classic yellow brick road sojourn over and over again.

Among Baum's many characters, Ozma of Oz deserves her due

There are dozens of heroic, interesting, brave, and lovable creatures whose "Oz" stories have not been told on film. Perhaps the most obvious origin point for any giant "Wizard of Oz" reboot, though, is Princess Ozma of Oz, who did appear — in altered form — in "Return to Oz." 

In the novel "The Marvelous Land of Oz" — the direct sequel to the original book — Ozma is first introduced to readers as a boy named Tip: she has been disguised in this form by the evil Mombi of the North, to hide Ozma's true origins as the rightful ruler of Oz. Tip doesn't know he's Ozma, though, which makes for a very interesting journey. In the book, he shows an immediate flare for magic, creating the lovable Jack Pumpkinhead from scratch with a little of Mombi's Powder of Life. Jack and Tip spend years together happily, until Glinda the Good Witch finds out who Tip really is. She forces Mombi to turn Tip back into Ozma, who is returned to her rightful place on the throne of Oz. 

Ozma's adventures don't end there, as ruling over Oz turns out to be quite a complicated matter. As time passes, Ozma becomes friends with a returning Dorothy Gale, and the twosome grow very close in the later books when Dorothy moves to the royal palace permanently. 

Ozma's complex return to the Emerald City, and her life as a royal ruler, gives any potential moviemaker a lot of material to work with. While "Return to Oz" gets credit for bringing her to film, it'd be nice to see a more book-faithful adaptation that put Ozma's journey of self-reclamation at its center. 

Ozma's just one of many unique characters Baum created

Beyond Ozma, there are hundreds of Oz denizens who deserve their time in the sun, instead of continually falling back on the same old ones. The shining, bird-loving fairy Polychrome is one notable example. There's Button-Bright, who actually managed to beat Dorothy to Oz and ended up being stranded in the kingdom, constantly repeating the phrase "don't know" until Dorothy rides to his rescue. That's not even getting into the fun dynamics of "Marvelous Land of Oz" characters like Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Gump interacting with old standbys like the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Woodsman.

A series of Oz films could go in hundreds of different directions, and never cover the same territory twice. What of the seafaring adventures of Mayre "Trot" Griffiths, Cap'n Bill and Trot's father? Betsy Bobbins, another American girl who finds Oz and comes along with the Shaggy Man, an important figure in Oz history? The living Patchwork Girl, Rags? An Oz series could comb the desert, swim the seas and spelunk into deep caves without leaving the sprawling kingdom. The potential here is limitless, and it's truly astonishing that Hollywood has barely dared to look beyond an adaptation made in 1939, classic as it may be. 

Baum added a lot of rich worldbuilding to his post-Dorothy tales

Fans of "The Wizard of Oz" might be aware of how incredibly expansive Oz is just from watching Dorothy travel from Munchkinland to the Merry Old Land of Oz. But there are hundreds of creatures that L. Frank Baum created for his book universe that have never been adapted. Oz has an entire territory dedicated to gargoyles. Imagine that. An Oz-related Gargoyle movie! Gargoyles fighting with munchkins! There's no way audiences wouldn't turn up. What the general public thinks of as Oz today is just a tiny, tiny piece of a much greater whole.

There is a universe in Oz that's subterranean and entirely populated by people who are made out of vegetables. A whole location dedicated to robots. An ice-covered ocean. The notoriously impassible Shifting Sands that separates Dorothy's Kansas from the world of Oz. A 10-film Oz series would never have to feature the same locales but would always carry the surrealistic feeling of having experienced a world that lies quite beyond the norm.

New Oz movies could also show Dorothy growing up

Even if the rich characters and incredibly deep worldbuilding of a "Wizard of Oz" series doesn't interest you, what might fascinate you is this fact — as previously mentioned, Dorothy Gale's story takes her back to Oz. That's right, she doesn't stay in everyday Kansas forever. Furthermore, not only does she manage to return to the magical land of her dreams, but she brings Uncle Henry and Auntie Em to Oz, and the whole family decides to settle there. 

Dorothy becomes an honorary princess of Oz and ends up working as an assistant to Princess Ozma. She makes a crew of new friends. She even gets a cat, that ends up turning pink when she takes it to Oz with her. So while it's fair to say that the Oz universe, at least in the books, revolves more around Ozma than Dorothy, there is also more than enough material to make a full series of films with her journey as the heart of the story. 

With all this in mind, there's no reason to just remake "The Wizard of Oz," when so many new stories could be on the horizon. Hopefully someday, a passionate filmmaker will take a new version of Dorothy beyond the yellow brick road and let her explore the universe she's chosen to make her own.