Caught by a freak whirlwind, Dorothy (Diana Ross) is transported from Harlem
into the weird urban fantasy land of Oz with her ugly dog Toto. Immediately
upon arrival, she smashes the Wicked Witch of the East, thereby freeing the
munchkins who have been impriaoned in a grafitte by her.
So, the good witch
Miss One (Thelma Carpenter) gives her the evil witch's magic silver slippers
which she will need to return to Harlem, but tells her only the Wizard of
Oz has the power to get her back, & to find him she has to follow the
Yellow Brick Road.
Along the way, wouldn't you know it, Dorothy finds a
scarecrow (Michael Jackson) whom she saves from 4 evil crows (Derrick Bell,
Roderick-Spencer Sibert, Kashka Banjoko, Ronald 'Smokey' Stevens), who
desperately needs a brain, a Tin Man (Nipsey russell) who has been a carnival
hustler until the carnie was abandoned & now desperately needs a heart,
& a Lion (Ted ross), who is of course cowardly. She decides to take them
all to the Wizard of Oz, so he can give them brains, heart & courage,
however their path is not without dangers, as in a subway station they are
already attacked by bizarre beings (including trashcans & columns), &
only thanks to the courageous fighting of the Lion can they escape - makes one
rather wonder why he was presented as cowardly just minutes ago ... there
wasn't the least bit of character development in between.
However, when the
foursome & the ugly dog arrive at Emerald City, where the wizard lives, ,
he proves to be an impressive but also ruthless being who promises them what
they want only on the condition that they kill the Wicked Witch of the West
(Mabel King), to which they reluctantly have to agree.
The Witch runs an
underground sweatshop, & of course she awaits our heroes & sends her
Flying Monkeys to capture them. Now she wants to force Dorothy to give up her
siler slißpers, lest she tortures her friends, but Dorothy stays strong ...
until the Witch threatens ugly Toto ... but thank god the Scarecrow comes
up with the idea to turn on the fire extinguishing system, & literally wash
the Wicked Witch of the West from the face of the earth down the drain.
well that ends well ?
Not yet, because when our quartet returns to the
Wizard, they find him to be not the impressive godlike being they had expected
but a pathetic little man (Richard Pryor), who needs their help much more than
they need his ... but thank god Glinda the Good Witch (Lena Horne) arrives just
in time to fulfill everybody's deepest desire ...
The idea of
turning a decidedly rural fantasy tale like Wizard of Oz into an
urban-style all-black big-budget film is so bad it might just work.
However, despite the
involvement of prolific, respectable & respected director Sidney Lumet
& legendary record company Motown (then the main provider of urban black
music, which also provided much talent for the film), The Wiz is a total
It seems no effort was made to update the story besides some urban
settings & some mediocre soul- & R'n'B-music that is far below Motowns
best & is not helped by some of the worst lyrics imaginable. When it comes
to dance routines, costumes or imaginative scenery though, The Wiz remains
pale compared to Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz from 39 years earlier
- comparisons which the producers of The Wiz back then carefully tried
to avoid, but ironically the 1939-version ot the story has stood the test of
time much better thatn the 1978-version.
Also, Diana Ross proves to be no
Judy Garland, neither in acting, singing, charisma or dancing, & she looks
much too old for the role (she's supposed to be 24 - too old to fit the story
that is essentially a coming-of-age-tale in the first place - but looks rather fortyish..
in fact she was 34). &
Michael Jackson is every bit as bad as you might imagine.