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Exclusive: An Update on the Wizard of Oz Big Screen Sequel

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | January 4, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | January 4, 2010 |

It was first announced way back in 2007 that Todd McFarlane — the creator of Spawn and a twisted line of Wizard of Oz toys (one of which included Dorothy in bondage) — was developing an Oz sequel for Warner Brothers and Thunder Road pictures. Details were scant at the time — all we knew was that it would be a modern retelling focused on Dorothy’s granddaughter. As McFarlane stated at the time, “My pitch was ‘How do we get people who went to Lord of the Rings to embrace this?’” say McFarlane. “I want to create [an interpretation] that has a 2007 ‘wow’ factor. You’ve still got Dorothy trapped in an odd place, but she’s much closer to Ripley from Alien than a helpless, singing girl.”

Interestingly, the project remained quiet until last August, when a few rumors suggesting that Dakota Fanning would play Dorothy’s grand daughter came to light. Those rumors, however, turned out to be false, at least according to McFarlane.

Then, in September — around the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the original Wizard of Oz — McFarlane gave an interview with MTV discussing his pitch for the Oz retelling, claiming that, in his original pitch for the Oz retelling:

[Dorothy is] up in the Antarctic, and there’s bad weather,” McFarlane said. “The point is that when you’re in bad weather in a s—tty place up north, it is completely gray. That would be our ‘black & white [sequence].’ Then she falls into her Shangri-La, called Oz, where suddenly everything’s in color.”
“There’s still a thing called Toto, except its the biggest thing in the movie and not the smallest thing. [The beast called Toto] basically ate the first dog, and it’s this big thing that [the inhabitants of Oz] ride. They’ve given this generic word… so instead of horses, [people] ride Totos.”

Now, let’s back up a little. In 2007, Josh Olson (A History of Violence) was hired to write the screenplay for the Oz retelling. However, in that interview with MTV, McFarlane suggested that he was unsatisfied with Olson’s script:

“Josh came in [on the project] and I read the first draft. I told [Warner Bros.] I was curious about how we went from what I pitched to what I called ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.’”

Harsh words. Harsh words that were, in fact, thrown back in McFarlane’s face in subsequent days when Olson fired back, also in an interview with MTV:

I was never hired to write anything based on “The Twisted Land of Oz.”

The project I pitched to Warner Brothers was based entirely on my own ideas, and the works of L. Frank Baum, the brilliant creator of “Oz.” My goal was to create a feature film that would be faithful to both Baum’s wonderful books, and the classic MGM film.

The project came out of a meeting I had with producers at Thunder Road, who had recently been pitched an “Oz” story by Todd, based, I gather, on his line of toys. For various reasons, they were not interested in moving forward with that version, but were intrigued by the idea of a new “Oz” film. When they brought the subject up to me, I came up with the idea of a straight-up sequel that they loved. We then went in to Warner Brothers, and the studio bought my pitch. I have no idea if Warner ever heard Todd’s pitch, but I can emphatically tell you that I never did.

So, according to Olson, there were two different Wizard of Oz movies in development, one of which was based on McFarlane’s Twisted Land of Oz line of toys, and one of which was a more family-friendly version written by Josh Olson. (It’s possible that Fanning was attached to Olson’s version, in which case McFarlane would not have been privy). The McFarlane version, obviously, was the one getting all of the attention, but where is the project now?

From what we can gather, using background information provided by The Hollywood Cog, it is Josh Olson’s version — and not McFarlane’s — that is going forward at Warner. Although we don’t know that with absolute certainty, the evidence we do have certainly suggests it, namely 1) the fact that the movie currently in development over at Warner Brothers is called, Oz: The Return to Emerald City, and 2) the movie’s synopsis sounds a lot more like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory than Dorothy in Antarctica. Here’s the working synopsis, provided to us by The Hollywood Cog:

It’s a modern-day sequel. The story centers on Dorothy Neil, a bright and ambitious young lawyer for a prestigious law firm in Chicago. Neil is the grand-daughter of Dorothy Gale, who is now an old woman living in Kansas and telling her tales about her time in the land of Oz to a new generation of kids. However, trouble is afoot in Oz, as a new witch is destroying the magic that keeps the entire place running. While babysitting her boss’ kid, the kid and Dorothy Neil are brought back to Oz and united with the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow and tasked with killing an evil witch and restoring order in Oz.

The existing Josh Olson script, however, is still not up to snuff, so the project is currently out for a rewrite — ironically, Warner Brothers is now looking for a slightly darker version of what Olson provided, which itself seems to be a much lighter version of what McFarlane originally pitched. However, it does appear that — though he got the ball rolling on the new Oz — McFarlane’s original pitch is dead, and Warners has decided to go with a tamer, more family-friendly approach, which is likely a wise business decision. I suspect there’d be a much larger audience for Olson’s “Willy Wonka” version than a more twisted, dark version that has Dorothy in Antarctica. And while I don’t encourage either idea — I’m all for leaving well enough alone — I actually agree with the decision. You just don’t take one of the most popular family-friendly films in the history of cinema and turn it into one that will scare the intestinal stuffing out of your kids.

Also, Spawn was a terrible movie.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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