The cult classic "The Wiz" has received mixed reviews since it premiered in 1978. The Motown film production was based off the Broadway musical of the same name. The Broadway musical was a success. It had a four year plus run and gave an incredible, 1,672 performances. With a triumph like this, it would make sense that someone would translate this into a feature film. At the same time it would be difficult to follow the 1939 classic, which starred, "Judy Garland". Viewing this film, it seems to be a miscalculation in film making.
On the surface, the film seemed to be a great idea. The star studded cast immediately grabs ones attention. "Diana Ross", "Michael Jackson", "Richard Pryor", and "Lena Horne" all star. Also, Mr. "Quincy Jones" conducted and arranged the music. The cast and crew all seemed to be masters and legends at their craft.
The story surrounds Dorothy (Ross) who is a young school teacher. Her Aunt Em (whom she still lives with) encourages her to move out and try to teach in another state. Dorothy has lived in Harlem New York her entire life, and is too passive to experience life outside of it. When her dog Toto runs away they both get swept away in a snowstorm. When they land they arrive in the Land of Oz. Dorothy is understandably frightened. People began moving out of the walls and dancing. They make her aware that she has killed the wicked witch Evermean. Evermean is the sister of evil witch Evillene ("Mabel King"). Although an accident; Dorothy has freed to people of Oz from Evermean's spell. Evermean's bright shoes have been magically put onto Dorothy's feet.
Dorothy makes them aware that she only wants to come back home to Harlem, to be with her aunt. The people make her aware that she needs to find The Wiz (Pryor) and he will get her home. They warn her never to take off her shoes.Along the way she meets the Scarecrow (Jackson). Scarecrow is being picked on by the crows that trample his confidence. Scarecrow constantly quotes famous philosophers throughout the film. The only reason Scarecrow has not come down off the pole is the crows told him he was incapable. He explains to Dorothy he has no brain so he did not think of that idea. Dorothy invites him to visit The Wiz to give him a brain.
They both trot along and come across the Tinman, who is trapped and rusted. Although the Tinman is a good person, he's frustrated because he has no heart. Dorothy invites him to visit The Wiz just as she did with the Scarecrow. As they move along they come across the cowardly Lion. The Lion scares them initially, but is quickly exposed as a fraud. The Lion admits he has a scared disposition and has been exiled from the jungle as a result. He has no courage. The group invite him to see The Wiz as well for courage.
They all make to the The Wiz. Evermean's shoes that Dorothy has on are wanted by all. The Wiz initially just wants Dorothy's shoes when they speak outside of his castle (by intercom). She makes it clear that if she cannot enter with her friends she will not move. Once they meet The Wiz each individual makes their request. Dorothy continues to remove her shoes. The Wiz then explains that he will grant their wishes if they kill Evillene the wicked witch. They are all heartbroken. In order to get what they want they put themselves in grave danger. In order for Dorothy to get home she has no other choice.
All in all, this was not a horrible film. It just seems to be mishandled. There are good aspects that can be enjoyed. The late great Michael Jackson did a great job considering it was his first film. The on screen chemistry between him and Diana Ross is evident. The music and singing are also well done. Sadly, these are about the only positives I can say about this film.
Although the singing is good at times, it seems like the songs are forced in certain areas. The dancing at times seems like it takes away from the continuity. The film by itself seems rushed even at 2 hours and 15 minutes. To play devils advocate, maybe they were not allowed the budget to make the film longer. Some musicals are 3 hours and over. The sequences with the creatures chasing the actors are strange. The idea seemed to take away from the story. With the story they left parts out that were essential to the 1939 movie. Those parts can be removed but some other scenes have to be interjected. I wish I could see the stage play to compare and contrast. Not everything can translate from the stage to the screen and vice versa.
There were so many options that could have been executed differently to make this film better. In the end it could of been screenplay writer "Joel Schumacher's" vision that hindered the film. For those who forgot, he is the gentleman who directed the abomination, "Batman and Robin." The Wiz had potential and had the correct initial elements. It's a shame. Motown Productions are capable of so much more. "Lady Sings the Blues" was a masterpiece. They unfortunately dropped the ball on this one. It is still worth viewing for the singing and dancing.