The Wonderful Reinvented World of Disney

Toto and Dorothy (Judy Garland) in “The Wizard of Oz”

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Poor Toto… his fate is still as much up in the air as a bunch of flying monkeys. You’d think that between The Wizard of Oz‘s five directors and twenty screenwriters (credited and not), some bright bulb on the MGM set might have noticed that the movie’s inciting incident, the plot point that starts the whole story a-twisting, was never resolved.

In case it’s been awhile since some viewers have seen this 1939 classic – deemed #10 in AFI’s Best American Movies, #1 in Fantasy and #3 in Musicals — here’s the issue: Dorothy runs away from home with her cherished Cairn Terrier Toto in an attempt to flee nasty neighbor Miss Gulch, who, suffering a bite from said canine, is intent on destroying him. But when a threatening cyclone forces Dorothy and Toto to return home, the wind’s kicking up too hard for Dorothy to open the storm cellar door; instead, she and Toto rush inside the farmhouse in the hopes of riding out the storm. Off they fly, house and all, to the Land of Oz. Adventures ensue. At the end of the film, Dorothy and Toto are back home, happily reunited with family and friends. But the terrible Miss Gulch isn’t mentioned … leaving us to wonder when the neighbor will once again be knocking at the door, ready to rid the world of Toto for once and for all.

(Note: Miss Gulch is not a character in L. Frank Baum’s original 1900 children’s tale. Instead, Dorothy is waylaid when she tries to coax a frightened Toto to come out from under the bed, and ends up inside the house when the storm hits.)

While Walt Disney had planned to snap up the rights to Baum’s book as a follow-up to the success of 1937′s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, MGM’s Samuel Goldwyn beat him to the punch. And though the beloved MGM film is firmly Technicolored into our collective minds’ eye, if the project had landed at Disney, purveyor of happy endings above all, the Toto/Miss Gulch problem would have melted away quicker than a water-soaked witch. After all, look what the sanitized wand of Disney has eradicated and re-fabricated over the decades:

Sleeping Beauty and Prince

- Sleeping Beauty. Centuries before Princess Aurora dealt with a prick to her finger, she had to contend with a wholly different kind of prick … in the guise of a rapist prince. Written by Italian poet Giambattista Basile in 1634, his seminal Sleeping Beauty tale of “Sun, Moon and Talia” recounts the story of a beautiful maiden named Talia who falls into a coma due to a virulent piece of flax. Overwhelmed by Talia’s beauty, the prince violates her while she sleeps. Since condoms probably weren’t the rage in the seventeenth century, Talia, still dead to the world, gives birth to twins. (Begging the question: Who pushed them out?) The spell lifts when one of the bastard kids, searching for a nipple, sucks on Talia’s finger instead, inadvertently removing the poisonous flax splinter. Finally awake, Talia and her children travel to visit the prince, now king, who’s married to an evil queen. The queen attempts to cook and eat the children, and throw Talia into the fire. But good news, the queen dies instead.

- Cinderella. In the original 1812 tale by the Brothers Grimm, Cinderella suffers humiliating abuse at the hands of her family. The gruesome comes into play when the wicked stepsisters attempt to fit their feet into the glass slipper; one sister cuts off her heel while the other cuts off her big toe. When the now-bloodied slipper fits Cinderella’s foot perfectly, all is well. Except that the lame stepsisters get their eyes plucked out by pigeons and must live out their days as blind beggars.

Ariel from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”

- The Little Mermaid. Hans Christian Anderson’s 1837 story is perhaps the most disturbing of all. Here, the mermaid rejects her oceanic life for a landlubber prince who she hopes to marry. A sea witch gives the mermaid a potion that replaces her tail with human legs. While they look perfectly normal, they make her feel as if she’s walking on knives. Additionally, the sea witch cuts out the mermaid’s tongue. If, now mute, she can’t win over the prince, her eternal soul will be lost to the ages. The prince does indeed marry another, and the Little Mermaid ultimately throws herself into the sea, where her body dissolves into the sea foam.

Gee. Given Disney’s reinvention of the above, how would the studio have handled the ending to Sophie’s Choice?

This time around, it’s not just a happy ending that’s required. With Oz the Great and Powerful releasing on March 8, Disney isn’t simply tasked with scrub-a-dubbing some centuries’-old children’s story clean of gruesome mythology, blanding it down for the PG crowd. This week, Disney is going where no lion, tiger or bear dare: to the hallowed yellow brick road. Can the studio truly succeed in taking on new adventures in Munchkinland? While the movie steers clear of a remake, the story will still hearken back to deeply ingrained memories of Dorothy and her friends. And her little dog, too.

Frankly, Frank (Baum), the venture seems as scary as some of those aforementioned fairy tales. The Toto problem notwithstanding, it’s going to take some huge crystal balls to revisit the land of Oz.

Maybe the Lion has a little extra courage to spare.

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About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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