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The true meaning of 'The Wizard of Oz'

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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Inspired by the classic story penned by L. Frank Baum, "The Wizard of Oz" is a timeless, heartwarming, and deeply emotional film that defines the very essence of imagination. The story follows Dorothy (Judy Garland) as she is taken from her Kansas home to the magical land of Oz where she must journey to the Emerald City and beseech the help of a mysterious and powerful Wizard in order to find her way home.

The companions behold the Emerald City
Warner Brothers Pictures

One element that makes "The Wizard of Oz" so remarkable is that the story’s message is a universal and timeless lesson that may be appreciated by a holistic audience. The four central characters thought that by going to the Wizard that they could obtain what they so desperately wished for: a brain, a heart, their courage, and a way to be sent home. This is an excellent illustration of the dual struggle of power against powerlessness and understanding one’s own self-worth.

The Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man (Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley) were psychological captives of their own fears and insecurities, and they wanted the Wizard to “fix” them. In the end, only when they had acknowledged their fears and insecurities and learned to overcome them, were they able to finally find what they had been searching for. The missing pieces that they yearned for were present all along. They just needed the courage to see the truth for themselves.

Dorothy’s journey is very much the same. She wasn't looking for home, but rather the missing piece inside of herself. When Dorothy initially encounters the Wicked Witch in Kansas in the form of her cruel neighbor, Miss Gulch, she runs away because Miss Gulch threatens the thing that Dorothy holds most dear: her dog, Toto. When the Wicked Witch attacks the Scarecrow with fire, instead of cowering in fear, Dorothy instead rises to protect her friend and throws water on the Witch; an act which ultimately leads to the villain’s demise. Dorothy killing the Wicked Witch is symbolic of Dorothy overcoming her fears.

The characters that Dorothy encounters in Oz are echoes of Dorothy’s life. She has an emotional connection with each of them – even the Wicked Witch – and they each play a part in Dorothy’s journey. When she comes to the end of her journey in Oz and says goodbye to her companions, she realizes that what she was searching for had never really left her; she just didn't know where to look for it. Unlike the others, Dorothy didn't really need the Wizard’s help to get her home…she only needed to see what her own heart was telling her.

The visual artistry of "The Wizard of Oz" is brilliant; a tapestry woven in intricate detail to create perfect balance between the vibrant colors of the imagination and the harsh textures of reality. When Dorothy is in Kansas, and even in the Wicked Witch’s castle, the colors are dominantly monochromatic and lifeless – as if all the vibrant joy of childhood has been leeched out and only the harsh essence of reality remains.

The only ray of sunshine in Dorothy’s life is the rainbow, and even that seems like a far-off dream. When Dorothy journeys to Oz, the scenery is transformed, and Oz is painted in vivid color and the characters are full of life and warmth. The principle elements of Oz - the yellow brick road, the Emerald City, the ruby slippers that Dorothy is given – are all intimately connected to the colorful essence of Oz itself.

"The Wizard of Oz" has been acclaimed as being a truly extraordinary film. The movie won an Oscar in 1940 for Best Music – Original Score for Herbert Stothart as well as Best Music Original Song for Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg for their remarkable work on Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The film was also nominated for Best Picture.

"The Wizard of Oz" has always been a heartfelt and nostalgic piece of childhood. The essence of what makes The Wizard of Oz such a timeless masterpiece is that while the film is rich which memorable characters familiar, heartfelt dialogue, and timeless songs, the essence of the film is a universal message that is understood by the young and the young at heart. This is truly a film worthy of being called a classic.