Most people today are familiar with Dorothy’s adventure in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. The film became so famous that it immortalized actress Judy Garland and popularized the ruby slippers, now a symbol of the golden age of American filmmaking.
Oz the Great and Powerful, which came out last Friday, is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. The film tells the story of how the infamous “Great Wizard” arrived in Oz and became the character he is in the 1939 classic, while recreating the fantastical world of Oz with updated visuals.
Zooming out a bit, Oz the Great and Powerful is just the latest in a string of reworked stories of classic tales. Here are some other examples of stories that have been reimagined for current audiences.
This widely acclaimed musical tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Glinda and Elphaba, who became the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West respectively. The story focuses on the events that make each character who they are in The Wizard of Oz, sympathizing with the Wicked Witch. The play suggests that the Wizard and the Ozian’s ill-treatment of Elphaba made her into the character we see in the movie. Wicked does a beautiful job of evoking pity for the girl who became the Wicked Witch. This play helped launch the careers of actresses Kristen Chenoweth and Megan Hilty, and strengthened the career of Broadway star Idina Menzel.
Snow White and the Huntsman
In the world of post-feminism, writers have moved away from the passive princess, popularized in such Disney films as Snow White (1937) and Cinderella (1950). Last year’s Snow White and the Huntsman is no exception. In this modern reworking of the first princess’s story, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is reimagined as a woman capable of defending herself and leading others. The film still adheres to the classic markers of the Snow White story (the Seven Dwarves, the Evil Queen, the Mirror, the apple, and the temporary “sleep”), but it alters a few concepts to strengthen the importance of other characters. In this movie, the audience is given the backstory of the widower huntsman, who replaces the prince as the romantic interest. The end is different too: Snow White becomes the ruler of her kingdom, whereas in the original she simply marries the prince. In addition, the film repaints the Evil Queen (Charlize Theron) as a woman obsessed with maintaining her youth. This obsession requires that she kill young maidens and consume their hearts, a recreation that provides a legitimate (though lugubrious) reason for her actions, which was lacking in the original.
This is another Snow White remake, and it came out the same year. It had a much lighter tone, as it was marketed to families with young children. Though it stays pretty close to the original story, a few alterations are made. Julia Roberts portrays the Queen as an unstable woman who’s more desperate than evil. The writers also made the queen a romantic rival of Snow White; they both appear to have feelings for the prince. In this film, the Seven Dwarves have more flair, coming through in their snarky dialogue. Finally, Snow (Lily Collins) is reimagined as woman capable of defending herself here, too. In this film, Snow White saves her kingdom and brings her father back to life.
Prince of Egypt
This 1998 animated film is a personal favourite from my childhood. It reimagines the Bible story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt.
This Moses is a surprisingly accurate depiction of the biblical character. Here, Moses is the shy, unlikely deliverer of the Hebrew slaves, while in other reworkings—e.g., Ten Commandments (1956) and the currentlyairing miniseries The Bible (2013)—Moses is portrayed as an obvious leader.
The film gives somewhat more interesting roles to the women. It recreates Zipporah as an equal partner to Moses who knows something about the world and is capable of defending herself (a bit of a theme in female character reimagininations, I admit). Through her, the audience is presented with a love story both comical and compelling. Miriam is portrayed as the faithful older sister who encourages Moses to pursue the task God has given him. Unlike in the biblical story, Mariam is shown working (and singing) alongside Zipporah, and she becomes the film’s moral voice.
The theme of brotherhood is emphasized in the bad blood between the adopted Moses and the Pharaoah, and on the other hand Moses’ relationship with his biological brother Aaron. Aaron is presented as a doubting follower whose constant humour lightens an otherwise heartbreaking story, but highlights how serious Moses’s task is. Aaron’s doubt also nicely contrasts with Miriam’s faith.