The first commercial Wizard of Oz release, never shown in theaters

April 1, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Thanks to reader Barry to alerting me to this 8½-minute cartoon, highlighted in a short piece at Boing Boing. That piece largely draws on the Wikipedia article about this 1933 cartoon, The Wizard of Oz, which came out six years  before the famous movie. According to the article, the cartoon version never made it into theaters because it used Technicolor, which was at that time licensed only to Walt Disney. In fact, what you see below didn’t appear for sale until 1985.

But we can watch it now.  A few words about this version:

[This] is a 1933 Canadian-American animated short film directed by Ted Eshbaugh. The story is credited to “Col. Frank Baum.” Frank Joslyn Baum, a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army and eldest son of writer L. Frank Baum, was involved in the film’s production, and may have had an involvement in the film’s script, which is loosely inspired by the elder Baum’s 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It runs approximately eight and a half minutes and is nearly wordless, working mainly with arrangements of classical music created by Carl W. Stalling.

It’s a lovely cartoon with a plot considerably different from that of the 1939 movie. There are no witches, no Cowardly Lion, and very few words spoken. Nor is the Wizard a little man behind the curtain. But there are a lot of pictures of bloomers and underwear—even the Wizard’s, as well as two salacious honeybees.  But what the cartoon and movie have in common is the initial monochrome setting in Kansas that becomes multicolored when Dorothy and Toto arrive in Oz. I wonder if the movie’s director, Victor Fleming, got the idea from this cartoon.


15 thoughts on “The first commercial Wizard of Oz release, never shown in theaters

  1. Eight years before this cartoon there was yet another version of The Wizard of Oz starring comedian Larry Semon as the Scarecrow and Oliver N. Hardy as the Tin Woodsman. Yes, that Oliver Hardy. It’s not a very good movie but it has some obvious historical interest. The 1933 cartoon is far more interesting and entertaining.

    1. I saw that one; it was lousy. However, there was one bit that anticipated the MGM version: the actors playing the Tin Man (Ollie), the Scarecrow (Semon) and the Cowardly Lion (a Stepin Fechit-type billed as “G. Howe Black”) also played Kansas farmhands. Someone at MGM must have seen this one.

    2. There is a 1910 version as well that mostly survives, only about 2 of 15 minutes are believed to be missing. The 1914 Patchwork Girl of Oz on the other hand has survived complete (~81min runtime). It’s not the main WizOfOz story though but based on a later book.

  2. Richly saturated colors. Pretty well done for the 1930s. I notice an element of Fantasia in this one. The wizard loses control and nature gets out of control. Sounds like a recurring theme. Frankenstein? Science has so often been the villain.

  3. Phenomenal colors!

    And @ 4:48 gives a sense that there might have been some subsequent footage that was left in the cutting room.

  4. For a truly amusing read, check out Gore Vidal’s review of, ” The Complete Works of Frank L Baum”, in “The New York Review of Books”—way back, I think, in the early 1980’s. It might be behind a pay-wall now, but certain interested readers might yet find their way unencumbered to it.

  5. I wonder if the movie’s director, Victor Fleming, got the idea from this cartoon.

    There were actually a lot of fingers in that pie. Directors Richard Thorpe and George Cukor were involved in the early filming. Then, after Victor Fleming left (to replace Cukor as director of Gone with the Wind) before principal photography on Oz was complete, King Vidor came on to do the mopping-up.

    1. That’s right—King Vidor directed the final three weeks of principal photography, encompassing most of the black and white frame story (including “Over the Rainbow”) and a few bits of the technicolor center (such as the last section of the Yellow Brick road, when the travelers fall asleep by enchantment.)

  6. If anyone would like to own this gorgeous cartoon, make sure to purchase the Blu-ray “Technicolor Dreams and Black and White Nightmares.”

    It was assembled and produced by animator/animation professor Steve Stanchfield, who digitally restored all the cartoons on it. I own multiple Blu-Rays produced by his company Thunderbean and they are all delightful reminders that there’s more to classic animation than Disney and Looney Tunes!

    Also keep in mind that “Technicolor Dreams” has two other cartoons by Oz animator Ted Eshbaugh: “Tea Pot Town” and “The Snowman.” The latter is one of the greatest Christmas/Winter cartoons. The titular Snowman is an unforgettably perverse force of evil!

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