The look and feel of After the Wizard are very much akin to the afterschool specials that aired on TV in the 1970s and 80s. I assume After the Wizard
is set in the Obama era but if you ask any of the characters in it who
the President is, they might say Reagan, but for various reasons that I
will soon lay out, I would almost prefer if those characters said either
Carter, FDR or even our 25th President McKinley. Not that I prefer it
necessarily but I'm convinced that this story should be set in the past,
not the present. Considering where this movie ends up, I suppose it
doesn't matter but it's still worth some analysis.
After the Wizard purports to take place following the events in the classic, children's novel The Wonderful World of Oz by L. Frank Baum. If that were true, then this movie should be set in 1901, which is the year after Baum published his book. In 1901, William McKinley was president. Yet, this movie also purports to take place in a time where Baum's book is already well-known and in every single library in the country. If that's the case, then this movie should be set in the 1940s, which is after the 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland was released that helped to boost the book's popularity and ultimately cement its mainstay in our culture. Of course, FDR was the commander-in-chief at that time.
After the Wizard has a tone and humor that's similar to the 1939 musical, but this movie doesn't have the songs or the high production value of that MGM marvel. There have been a myriad of adaptations and interpretations of Baum's book and most of them probably do share a tone and humor, even those a bit farther removed from the source material in terms of setting like The Wiz (1978), which was during the Carter administration. Sidney Lumet took a stage adaptation that made Oz itself a more modern landscape. This movie reverses it and instead places the Oz characters in a more modern landscape that isn't Oz.
The comedy mainly comes from the idea of what if the Oz characters like the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow were dropped in New York City and had to navigate in the real world not knowing what money or even a state is. It's a vintage fish-out-of-water scenario, but it's a nice diversion and possibly a misdirection. The question becomes if the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow are even real. Do they exist? Are they actually on a train bound for Kansas or are they just figments of a little girl's imagination?
Writer-director Hugh Gross seems to indicate that they do exist. He dedicates too much time with them to suggest otherwise. The premise centers on a 12-year-old girl named Elizabeth who believes that she's Dorothy, the one from Baum's book. She also thinks that the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow have traveled from Oz to visit her.
Gross keeps Elizabeth and the Oz characters too far apart for too long and when they do come together, there's way too much exposition about stuff that ultimately doesn't matter and things get wrapped up pretty quickly. More time needed to be devoted to exploring the concept of whether Elizabeth is Dorothy or not, the intricacies of it, the nuances. As it stands, the scenes are too transparent, no shades or gradations. There are these cute and funny scenes where mostly everyone accepts the Oz characters for who they are. Yet, Elizabeth who's in an orphanage can't get those in charge to believe her.
Gross never reconciles why all the other adult characters readily accept the Oz characters, but Elizabeth's caretakers and doctor don't. The argument could be made that Elizabeth's caretakers don't believe her because at no point do they physically see the Oz characters but a long list of other adults do and Gross never explains why.
This movie could have been about a young girl using her imagination to deal with the grief and loss in her life. It also could have been about that same young girl suffering from hallucinations. It could have been about the foster care system. It could have been about the continuation of the magical adventure that Baum began. If you choose to take away from this movie those things, you can but Gross doesn't go too heavy into them. He just wanted a cute, little, family-friendly story and he accomplishes that.
Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Suitable for All Ages.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.