When I was little, I didn't look forward to the annual showings (on NBC) of the 1939 "classic" the way my brother and our cousin from next door did. They thought it was an amazing event, something to be thought about and savored and experienced as close to the TV screen as possible.
Frankly, it scared the living crap out of me, and I dreaded it.
But as I got older, and the prospect of finding a green scary witch in a crystal ball when one was expecting a protective parental figure (that was the moment that got me most) was no longer as frightening as it had once been, I realized I still couldn't stand that movie. When I got married and had children, and the inevitable "need" for them to see the thing was pressured upon me by others, I got it over with as quickly as possible and never took the tape out again.
I consider it one of the most overrated films of all time, and I honestly and truly don't understand why it seems everyone else believes Oz to be a cherished film they could--and do--watch over and over again. If I never have to see it for the rest of my life, I'm totally fine with that.
From a storytelling standpoint, let's analyze:
1. We start out with a "little girl" who appears to be about 20. She's living on a farm in Kansas with her aunt and uncle (the parents we never even hear about), and we can tell it's drab because Kansas is in black and white. Oddly, actual people from Kansas don't see this as a slight to their home state and have embraced this movie. Go figure people from Kansas.
2. The girl is upset because some hag from down the road is going to take her dog away. This is accomplished with the consent of the aunt and uncle, who are such dishrags it's hard to understand why the girl is so attached to them. She goes out in the back and sings a rather tedious song about how she can't fly up into the sky and change her life. Since her life consists of hanging around in black and white, arguing with nasty women about dogs and singing tedious songs, it's easy to understand why.
3. Waddaya know, the girl gets her wish. Kansas is beset with a "twister," which you think means everyone has to put their left foot on red and their right hand on green (and that's going to be a problem, since Kansas is in black and white), but no, it's a tornado. The aunt and uncle flee to safety, but the girl isn't bright enough for that and endangers her dog and herself by staying in the house, which goes for a ride in the sky. Helen Hunt is nowhere to be seen, but the house lands somewhere the girl doesn't recognize. You'd think she'd sing some less tedious song about how happy she is now to be out of Kansas. No such luck. She's going to complain the whole movie.
4. Once she opens the door (to an "effect" that's as special as a guy changing the reel of film in the camera to color), she is beset upon by exposition. Characters pop out of every nook and cranny to explain what's going on and set out the plan for the rest of the story. You'd think there'd be a great song to go with this. Instead, they chant about a road made of yellow bricks until you want to throw yellow bricks at everybody to get them to shut up. Worst part: They never even tell you why they built a road out of yellow bricks to begin with. Overacting abounds. There are also unfortunate jokes about short people.
5. The girl, who has apparently committed negligent homicide, is told to go to the nearest city and seek out an authority figure who will fix all her problems. The idea that she solve her problems herself is never raised, nor is she given bus fare--she has to hoof it. She does meet three compadres along the way, each with a lugubrious scene in which the compadre of the moment sings an identical song complaining about something he doesn't have. Once again, the plan to go to the deus ex machina and ask for magical solutions is put in play, and nobody says, "Suck it up and work out a solution yourself." There are also unfortunate jokes about gay lions.
6. The midpoint is reached when the group of vagabonds arrives at the big city. You'd think the three guys would go off in search of tin, straw, and lionine women (or men), but they stick with the girl and get dolled up--three guys in a makeover scene while the girl looks exactly the same--to go see the authority figure who apparently runs the place. This is sort of like sending a girl and three oddballs to Chicago in the 1920s to see Al Capone, who would grant them clemency in the bootlegging wars.
7. Problem: Capone's not so quick handing out favors. You want something from him, you've got to show your loyalty first. And how does a mob boss define loyalty? He puts out a contract on an enemy, and orders the girl and her pals to do the hit. THEN they'll get what they want, he implies. So you think the girl and her posse in this children's film would tell Al to forget their requests; they'll work out their own solution that doesn't involve bloodshed. No chance--they set out to liquidate the Boss' competitor, another purveyor of magic.
8. This is accomplished with the oldest trick in the screenwriting book: The accidental murder. The girl gets mad enough to splash the witch--who looks suspicously like the old hag who wanted to put her dog to sleep--with a bucket of water, and waddaya know, she's allergic to water and melts into the floor, all the while complaining. This leads one to believe the witch is made of sugar, because my mother always told me that I could walk through the rain and it wouldn't kill me because I wasn't made out of sugar. You'd think the powerful sorceress would use her last moments to lash out with some magic aimed at her assassin, but no, she just whines and complains like everybody else in this movie. And you have to wonder why someone who can die from water would have a bucket of the stuff lying around within flinging distance in her own home. Does Superman keep a Kryptonite room in the Fortress of Solitude? I think not.
9. The girl, her dog, and the three odd men trudge back to their capo's hideout, and demand all the stuff he said they'd get after they whacked the old lady. Sure enough, he goes back on his word, is shown to be a fraud, and tries to buy them off with Seaside Heights boardwalk prizes he says are special because of the thought behind them--the very argument every kid is asked to swallow when given socks as a birthday gift. You expect them to fling all this garbage back in the guy's face, but no, they thank him for the wonderful gifts of self esteem.
10. The girl, who has been complaining the whole time about trying to get to black and white Kansas, is now told--by someone who could have said something 20 minutes into the picture and saved us a lot of grief--that she's been able to do that whenever she wanted by clicking her heels together and chanting that she wants to go home, clearly a pitch for some Hollywood religion of the time. Once again, a reasonable viewer might expect that the girl would pull off one of those shoes and beat the speaker senseless with the heels after all the tsuris she's been through, but she thanks her "benefactor" and follows the instructions.
11. The cheapest trick in the screenwriting book--the "it was just a dream" cop-out. This ENDS the movie. No song, no big twist, just "What you just saw all took place in the fever dream of a 20-year-old pretending to be a little girl." There is some hogwash about not looking for your dreams anywhere but in your own backyard, which is apparently meant to dissuade children from ever going out on their own and following their dreams. People should be throwing popcorn at the screen.
Instead, it's considered one of the great classics of Hollywood. People dress up in costumes. They go to actual theaters for singalong revival showings. They buy the props from the movie for exorbitant fees. Some of them find "alternate takes" on the story and make bad Diana Ross movies or blockbuster Broadway musicals.
Not me. I think it's a lousy movie, and I don't care who knows it. Demand more from your storytelling, people. You deserve it. Flying guys in monkey suits? Please.