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Film / The Wiz

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Ease on down the road!

"What am I afraid of? Don't know what I'm made of. Can I go on not knowing?"
Dorothy, "Can I Go On?"

Motown and Universal produced a movie adaptation of the Broadway musical The Wiz, an all-African-American retelling of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in 1978. It was directed by Sidney Lumet and Joel Schumacher wrote the screenplay. In addition to the Race Lifting, this added a further, big twist to the Oz tale: Instead of turn-of-the-20th-century Kansas, the story begins in modern Harlem and Dorothy is a shy schoolteacher in her 20s who has never ventured beyond it — a change made to accommodate the casting of Diana Ross (in her 30s at the time) in the role, as she had campaigned heavily for it. It's a blizzard that sweeps her to Oz, a fantasy version of the rest of New York City. The Tin Woodman is now a forgotten amusement park robot, the Cowardly Lion masquerades as a statue outside the Public Library, the Wicked Witch of the West (here named Evillene) runs a sweatshop, etc. It remains notable for marking the end of Blaxploitation in cinema, and for its All-Star Cast of African-American talent, from Richard Pryor as the Wiz himself to Lena Horne as Glinda to a 19-year-old Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow (his only major film role, not counting the anthology Moonwalker and his cameo in Men in Black II)note .

Not to be confused with The Wizard. Also, information about the 2015 TV special The Wiz Live! can be found on the same page as the Broadway musical.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Probably due to how hard it is to pronounce, Addaperle the Good Witch of the North is called "Miss One" here.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The movie depicts Dorothy as having a fear of leaving the safety of her Aunt Em's house to venture into the outside world.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Nipsey Russell's Tin Man lacks the mean remarks of his stage counterpart and is more of a compassionate Team Dad figure.
  • Adaptational Ugliness:
    • In the original Broadway production, Evillene wasn't necessarily ugly, just garishly dressed. The film makes use of heavy prosthetic makeup to give her a more grotesque appearance.
    • Similarly, Evillene's workers look much uglier here than in the play, since all of the actors wear large, exaggerated masks with buggy eyes. Once the witch is killed, however, they all turn back into normal humans.
  • Age Lift: Dorothy, in the play, is depicted as a young girl, but in the movie, is turned into a 20 something schoolteacher. It becomes awkward when Dorothy still frequently cries and behaves like someone much younger.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: Subverted: The Flying Monkeys are a motorcycle gang. Once Evillene is defeated they gladly take Dorothy and her friends back to the Emerald City. Interestingly, the biker gang concept also appeared in the Muppet version of this story in 2005.
  • Amusement Park: In the movie, the Tin Man is found at a deserted amusement park; he was one of the animatronics, abandoned when the park closed. The park is represented by Coney Island's famous Cyclone roller coaster.
  • And Starring: From the opening credits, "Lena Horne as Glinda the Good and Richard Pryor as The Wiz".
  • The Artifact: Despite this version depicting the Tin Man as always being a robot, instead of a human turned into a tin man, he still sings - or rather, talk-sings - about wanting to have human feelings "again". It might seem similarly awkward to see the grown-up Dorothy sing the lines, "And maybe I can convince time to slow up/Giving me enough time in my life to grow up", during the song "Home", but it's somewhat subverted by Dorothy's initial depiction in Harlem as a grown, working woman still living with her aunt and uncle and reluctant to strike out on her own.
  • Artistic Title: The opening credits appear over a mural of Glinda watching over Harlem from the heavens.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Undoing a change from Baum's book made for the play, Toto accompanies Dorothy on her journey through Oz, instead of just waiting with Aunt Em for Dorothy to come home.
    • In the book and the play, Glinda only appeared near the end of the story, to tell Dorothy how to use the Silver Slippers to go home. The movie gives her a larger role, by showing her conjuring up the storm that blows Dorothy and Toto away to Oz.
  • Attack the Tail: Evillene tortures the Cowardly Lion by having him painfully hung up by his tail.
  • Big Applesauce: If an American city's going to stand in for Oz, it'll be New York City...
  • Big Rotten Apple: This still being pre-Giuliani New York City, Oz is depicted as the run-down wretched hive it was in the 1970s, full of dilapidated cars, crumbling buildings, a jagged skyline and graffiti everywhere. This is magical??
  • Big Bad: Evillene. It turns out that all the characters who hinder Dorothy and/or her friends' journey on the Yellow Brick Road (the crows, the peddler, and the poppy girls) are her slaves, and when she's defeated, they're overjoyed to be free of her.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Okay, more "fanciful" than bizarre, but still quite trippy. Think Sesame Street meets Star Wars, or maybe Gotham City as imagined by Sid & Marty Kroft.
  • Boss-Arena Idiocy: Despite Evillene's allergy to water, the movie version places her lair in a sweatshop with overhead sprinklers, and uses a giant toilet for her throne. Thanks to these amenities, Dorothy defeats her by simply pulling the fire alarm.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Despite living in what has to be the late 1960s or the '70s, Dorothy never notices all the uncanny parallels between her own experiences and the 1939 movie and 1900 book that are slavishly being copied here. (Of course, if she had been, she'd have been ridiculously Genre Savvy and the story could have ended much quicker.) Thus, one must conclude that, in the universe in which The Wiz takes place, L. Frank Baum never existed - or, if he did, he never penned his most famous work.
  • Composite Character: The movie combines two murders of crows from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: One which successfully stole some corn from a farmer's field, led by a crow who advised the Scarecrow to get some brains, and one which performed the Wicked Witch of The West's evil bidding. This also counts as Adaptational Villainy for the talking crow, as the book's Scarecrow took his words as sage advice instead of an insult.
  • Crapsack World: Every aspect of Oz is redesigned to resemble the gangland that was New York in the Seventies, where not only does the Wicked Witch reign supreme but also hookers, drug dens, and killer subways.
  • Darker and Edgier: From the post-apocalyptic New York setting and general decay of the architecture, to the costuming, to the casting of Dorothy herself (changed from a young girl to an Extreme Doormat adult), the film version is a bleak (The Scarecrow is being tortured by the crows), but sumptuously shot piece of work. The Villain Song subverts this, though - it is a selfish ode to self done in the style of a Gospel number.
  • Decomposite Character: The Emerald City has twice as many guards in this movie as it does in the source material.
  • Demoted to Extra: Undoing another change from the book made for the play, Dorothy never meets the Good Witch of the North again after the Witch leaves Munchkinland.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The movie adaptation is set on Thanksgiving.
  • Dramatic Irony: After Miss One gives Dorothy the Silver Slippers, Dorothy exclaims, "I don't want these shoes! I wanna go home!" However, as viewers who read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz/watched MGM's The Wizard of Oz/saw The Wiz on stage would know, the magic of the Silver Slippers eventually takes Dorothy home.
  • Dystopian Oz: Oz is depicted as a grimy, largely colorless land similar to 1970s New York City, Dorothy is terrified by much of what she encounters as soon as she lands there and calls out the Wiz for risking the lives of her and her friends by sending them to slay Evillene, and it turns out that Dorothy was brought to Oz intentionally by Glinda... but in a subversion of the typical "manipulative Glinda" portrayal, she's a benevolent Trickster Mentor / Messianic Archetype who's done this so Dorothy can find her own inner strength via The Hero's Journey. Dorothy is ultimately glad for the experience as she returns to Harlem. (Unlike in most versions of this story, the Wiz doesn't return to "reality" because, as Dorothy explains to him, he has to take his own journey first after spending so long hiding from the world.) Between this and how all the secondary antagonists en masse are overjoyed to be free of Evillene, this movie is about as upbeat a take on this trope as it's possible to be.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: In the Sinister Subway, the heroes are threatened by a sinister peddler's puppets (that grow taller than the heroes), trash cans with sharp teeth, snake-like live electrical wires, and moving columns that almost crush Dorothy.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: What does Evillene's sweatshop manufacture? Sweat! And yet it also has sewing machines and fabrics in it, which would imply they make clothes.
  • Failing a Taxi: Dorothy sees and approaches Oz taxis on two occasions early on, but in each case, an "OFF DUTY" light switches on and it drives away.
  • Feel No Pain: While being tortured by the Wicked Witch to make Dorothy give up the slippers, the Scarecrow (who is getting cut in half with a buzzsaw) and the Tin Man (who gets his body Squashed Flat with a press) both reassure her that they aren't in pain, but it doesn't help Dorothy react with any less horror at the sight of her friends getting such disturbing treatments.
  • Gold-Colored Superiority: The Emerald City starts green, but then an announcement from the Wizard changes everything red. "I thought it over and green is dead / 'Till I change my mind, the color is red" The residents turn red and sing its praises, and then there's another announement: "How quickly fashion goes down the sink. / Last week when you all was wearin' pink / Already for me red was old. / The ultimate brick is gold." It remains gold for the rest of the film.
  • Incoming Ham: The Cowardly Lion comes bursting and roaring out of a lion statue just before his "I Am" Song.
  • In Name Only: Apart from the songs and source material this movie makes such drastic changes from the Broadway liberetto that it stands as its own work.
  • Interrupted Suicide: The Lion is so ashamed of failing Dorothy by falling into the trap of the Poppy Girls that he attempts to throw himself off the rooftop but his friends hold him back from doing so. The subsequent song number "Be A Lion" is essentially Dorothy Talking Down the Suicidal to help the Lion pull himself together.
  • Jewish Mother: Aunt Em nags Dorothy about getting a new job and moving out into her own place when she catches herself sounding like one.
  • Kick the Dog: The 1939 MGM version of the Wicked Witch of the West is a nasty piece of work, but the film version of Evillene has her beaten in terms of sheer sadism. Whether it's dismembering the Scarecrow with a buzzsaw, crushing the Tin Man with a press, hanging the Cowardly Lion by his tail or threatening to roast Toto alive, Evillene is willing to do whatever it takes to get the Silver Slippers.
  • Leitmotif: Whenever the peddler appears, an eerie flute riff is heard.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Mixed with Marionette Master, as the peddler is seen donning an expressionless mask of fabric upon approaching Dorothy and her posse in the subway before unleashing two ghastly sentient puppets on them.
  • Madonna Archetype: Glinda resembles the Virgin Mary. If the matching blue robe and veil were not a giveaway, she even wears a crown of stars. Her army of floating space babies also resembles attendant cherubs.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: The Lion acts hostile and confrontational towards Dorothy's posse after his introduction song, but all it takes is Toto nibbling his foot to make him fall into a crying mess. Later, however, he withstands the pain of being hung up by his tail pleading Dorothy to not give the slippers to the Wicked Witch.
  • Mythology Gag: The Ozites donning themselves in red during the Emerald City Ballet is probably a reference to the Quadlings from the stage show, who dress all in red, though being Glinda's helpers are probably far more cordial than the Ozites. The switch to Gold is also a possible reference to the Yellow Brick Dancers from the show. The film also contains a few nods to the 1939 MGM film, with the Wicked Witch of the East's legs rolling up when the slippers are taken off her feet and her being related to the other Wicked Witch (who takes great offense to her sister's death).
  • Named by the Adaptation:
    • The Cowardly Lion reveals his name as Fleetwood Coupe de Ville, or "Fleet" for short. However, his friends call him simply, "Lion".
    • The leader of the Flying Monkeys goes by, "Cheetah".
    • After Dorothy and her friends discover the Wiz as a sham, he reveals himself as a second-rate Atlantic City politician named, "Herman Smith".
  • Ocular Gushers: Whenever the Tin Man cries, tears SPRAY out of his eyes.
  • The Oner: "Home" consists entirely of one long close-up on Dorothy's face, surrounded by images of her family and friends.
  • Out of the Frying Pan: The Scarecrow mutters that trope directly when he realizes that the Poppy Girls are up to no good. And considering that they just escaped from the monsters in the subway only to run into these more hypnotic foes, he is probably right.
  • Polish the Turd: Because critics' reviews for the movie were so weak, a TV ad was shot featuring ordinary moviegoers raving about the film — a common promotional tactic still used today. (RiffTrax got a hold of this as part of their riffing of The Star Wars Holiday Special.)
  • Punch-Clock Villain: No, seriously... the Crow gang, the subway peddler and the poppy girls check themselves with a large clocking-in machine upon returning to the lair of their boss Evillene.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The Scarecrow has fortune cookie sayings and quotes filed into his body and occasionally breaks some of them out to read in relevant situations. The Scarecrow, quite literally, has all the wisdom he needs inside of him.
  • Rust-Removing Oil: Dorothy and the Scarecrow come across an amusement park mechanical man who is rusted. They "slide some oil to [him]" which loosens his joints which lets him move, sing and dance.
  • Scary Black Woman: Evillene, full stop. Not helping is her ugly, Gonky appearance that almost makes her look like a broken doll with a lot of missing hair on its head.
  • Scenery Porn: The movie makes a big deal out of giving a fantasy twist to landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center.
  • Screaming Warrior: The Lion lets out a Skyward Roar while fighting the sentient pillars of the subway.
  • Setting Update: Movie only.
  • Single-Palette Town: The Emerald City. In the movie, the palette changes with the Wiz's current color preference — it starts as green, then changes to red and finally to gold in the course of one musical number.
  • Sinister Subway: Sinister? Try absolutely terrifying.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: The Scarecrow speaks from bits of newspaper he's stuffed with.
  • Swiss-Army Tears: The Tin Man's aforementioned Ocular Gushers are used to awake the Lion, Dorothy and Toto after the poppy girls poisoned them.
  • Tricked-Out Shoes: The Silver Slippers. As with the main source material, they are the one thing that can send Dorothy back home.
  • Truer to the Text: The stage version downplays the famous Oz head (typically throwing it in as a Mythology Gag) and instead has the Wizard appear before the characters in-person, dressed as a magnificent sorcerer. The film reestablishes the head as his "wizard" form, and doesn't reveal that he's just a man until later, much like the book.
  • Was Once a Man: The Munchkins are introduced as having been transfigured into graffiti by Evamean, and are restored when Dorothy drops in. Similarly, Evillene's servants zip off their grotesque exterior and become Winkies, portrayed by handsome African American dancers once freed through her defeat.


Video Example(s):


Good Witch Glinda

The Wiz reinterprets the Good Witch Glinda to resemble the Virgin Mary as she's often depicted in art. Glinda wears a long, sparkling blue robe and matching veil that only reveals a small portion of her hair paired with a crown of stars. She's only ever seen on a starry backdrop surrounded by floating babies that resemble attendant cherubs. These innocent children are the only characters Glinda is even seen on-screen with, adding to her etherealness. Glinda's personality also bears resemblance to the Madonna Archetype, being a very maternal and graceful sort of character.

How well does it match the trope?

4.4 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MadonnaArchetype

Media sources: