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LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN

The Legacy of Oz Continues
Producers Ryan and Roland Carroll from Summertime Entertainment were looking for a family-friendly project when they came upon the book series More Adventures of Oz written by Roger Stanton Baum, the great grandson of L. Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, upon which the 1939 film THE WIZARD OF OZ was based). Growing up on the north side of Chicago, they walked through the historic "Oz Park" every day on the way to school - and now, discovering the book series had not been optioned, they found a way to bring that childhood play land into their present day careers. Ryan knew that, in order to get the rights, he would have to demonstrate to Baum the care with which he'd treat his family's legacy. "Before we had the phone call with Roger Baum, we wrote a letter. I told him that I have seven kids, and six of them are girls. I shared a lot of stories about my kids growing up and how important Dorothy is as a role model to young girls," says Ryan. "One thing I think that Roger appreciated that I both put in the letter and what we ultimately spoke about is how kids are so rushed to grow up today. An important part of this project is trying to bring something that's a little bit sweeter, a little bit warmer, a little bit more Americana to the stage." That personal sentiment connected with Baum, who felt he could trust the brothers to preserve the legacy of his great-grandfather while bringing his books to life on screen.

"When we were lucky enough to get the project, we realized the responsibility attached to the story, because we have all grown up watching the original WIZARD OF OZ," says Ryan. Adds Roland, "We had never done anything as ambitious as this before, but we thought that it really sounded like something that would be worthwhile and certainly enjoyable if it was done the right way." No one understands the pressure of carrying the Oz torch more than Baum himself. "Kids would come over from all over the neighborhood to hear great-grandfather tell stories around the fireplace. [Great-grandmother] Maude would serve up candy and cookies and hot chocolate, and they'd tell stories. The Chicago Police Department used to come over and take the kids home in the evening, as a tradition and as a favor to the parents, but then they'd get stuck there hearing the stories for all hours," recalls Baum. "And now there are millions of Oz fans out there. Oz is over a hundred years old, so to improve upon it would be kind of next to impossible. What I try to do in my writing is make more adventures and add to that history. And what Summertime has done is take this all the way to a place where we can all be proud of. I feel very honored that our book should be a part of this."

Animating the film seemed like a natural way to bring the property to a new generation. "Having had a number of children and taking them to probably every animated feature that came out, we realized that this is a fun area and something for which there's always going to be a great demand," says Roland. Adds Ryan, "With the things that are going on today in animation, it's unlimited imagination. Anything you can possibly think or dream of, you can do in animation." The brothers knew they had to partner with someone who had the creative chops to help shepherd the project to the big screen, so they enlisted Bonne Radford to be their producing partner.

"Oz is a magical place for me, and probably was the single most profound movie experience I had when I was a kid. So if it was going to happen in animation, I wanted to be involved," says Radford. "One of the first things that you think about when you're approaching a project like this that's so beloved and well-known - which I actually consider a plus - is how to make it relevant to today's audience. What we needed to do was take it to a new level in the animation genre. Here was our opportunity to update it without sacrificing all the elements that make it originally Oz, and add to that a layer of originality and surprises that will delight people." She tapped her relationships from her years at Amblin and Dreamworks Animation and put a team in place to craft the narrative framework and artistic vision for this new adventure in Oz. "Everyone she's brought has added layers of quality to the project, far more than I ever imagined," says Ryan. "One of the luckiest breaks we had was to have Bonne come aboard."

Radford and her team were first tasked with properly adapting the book into a screenplay. "We used a lot of characters from Dorothy of Oz and a lot of locations from the book, because Baum is true to his great-grandfather's universe, and we didn't want to stray from that. But we had to create a movie narrative, because the book is an episodic, bedtime stories-style children's book. It's a wonderful book, and we really wanted it to have relevance in a way that good films always do: have a universal thematic underpinning that keeps you connected and makes you understand what the storytelling is all about."

At the helm were co-directors Daniel St. Pierre and Will Finn, longtime colleagues who mapped out the vivid new worlds - and characters - created by Baum. As Finn notes, "Oz is a really ripe world for animation. What's really rich about this story is a lot of the choices that have been made - such as a man made of marshmallow - can only live in animation. Or the Tin Man, who gets taken apart a few times in our story: he's a little bit like a modern day Transformer, where he can rearrange his parts and use them for different gags."

There are new lands, such as Candy County, made entirely of edible sweets, and Dainty China Country, conceived of nothing but ornate ceramic, which further made animation the obvious choice. Explains St. Pierre, "One of the things we wanted to do is make Oz like a character itself. We have these different environments that we go through that have their own rules, their own physics. The other thing we have is landscape that can talk to us: we have trees that can move and swordfight. We have flowering plants that have personality, and they can be alive and animated."

Not only do these story elements demand a cinematic form that can support them, but taking the filmmaking into a new technical direction is very much in line with both the history and the ongoing evolution of Oz. Continues St. Pierre, who also serves as production designer, "THE WIZARD OF OZ had a lot of technological advancements and stylistic treatments for its time, such as special make-up effects and visual effects and, in particular, the use of black and white, or sepia, versus color. So, given the tools we have now, what we are going to do is show Oz in a new light, with CG techniques, green screen techniques that allow us any kind of background, matte painting techniques, and also the use of stereoscopy. You put on the 3D glasses, and you get an even larger sense of the world. We're employing those things to bring it up a notch for our audiences to appreciate Oz in a really special way."

Early on, the filmmakers decided to develop the project as a musical so it would feel like a true continuation of the original film. According to Finn, "We truly couldn't have made an Oz movie without considering the music as an additional character." Thus began the production's own journey down the yellow brick road.

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