What Dreams May Come: Désirée Guzzetta on THE WIZARD OF OZ

I feel the need to state up front that The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie ever. I know all the songs. I know all the dialogue. I know all the shots. I own several copies of it on various media. I have a set of Pez dispensers with all the main characters that my brother got me as a birthday gift.

And yet, The Wizard of Oz is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not talking about the well-chronicled behind-the-scenes drama and urban legends. I’m not even talking about the various allegorical interpretations of the original book by L. Frank Baum and its subsequent adaptations (although my favorite reading was the one by the professor in a Fantasy Literature class I took that was centered on Kansas politics back when Baum was writing).

I’m talking about those damn monkeys. Those scary flying minions of the Wicked Witch. They have haunted me since I was a child.

Of course, seeing The Wizard of Oz as a kid is different from viewing it as an adult. When I was a kid, I believed the monkeys were real. My child’s brain worked feverishly trying to figure out how they got the monkeys to fly, let alone act. Sure, the Witch’s winged warriors wore cute hats and uniforms, but they terrorized my dreams. The Witch was also frightening, what with her power and evil and smoky exits. But she was counterbalanced by the glowing Glinda, all bubble transports and glittering goodness. And the monkeys are not as fearsome as the kalidahs, but those creatures didn’t make it out of the book into the adaptation.

I don’t know why the monkeys so seized my imagination then. Perhaps it was their sheer number, blanketing the sky with their menacing flapping and howling. Perhaps it was that they tore the poor Scarecrow apart, which was just plain mean. Or perhaps it was them taking Dorothy (and Toto!) to the Witch to die over a pair of ruby slippers–and maybe for dropping a house on the Witch’s sister.

So why would something so terrifying to child me still be the adult me’s favorite movie? Because despite the nightmares, there were the dreams. Of getting out of a drab existence (in this case, with tornadoes and mean dog-hating neighbors spicing things up in horrible ways). Of going to a jeweled city to tackle a great fear and overcoming it while making the best fantasy friends a kid could have (looking at you, Cowardly Lion, you cuddly furball). And then, going back home after a grand adventure to a family that loves me.

The Wizard of Oz endures because it sells that dream, that over the rainbow is something beautiful, but that being with your loved ones, no matter where they are, is beautiful, too. You can go out and do amazing things and gain new experiences, and still have something waiting for you back home. 

Heck, even the monkeys come around to Dorothy’s goodness once the influence of the Wicked Witch is disrupted by a rather accidental splash of water. It’s nothing but goodness all the way down, even through the nightmares.

Plus, the film is visually resplendent, funny and touching, and just plain grand, with sing-a-long songs and a radiant Judy Garland exuding innocence, not to mention all the other wonderful actors populating Oz. 

And one last note from my child self: How did they teach those monkeys to fly?