Study Guide

The Wizard of Oz Genre

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Musical; Fantasy; Comedy; Horror

Whenever the characters suddenly break into song for no apparent reason, you know you're in musical country. The Wizard of Oz starts and ends with the musical, and as you may have suspected, actually served as the inspiration for countless musicals to come. There's actually a term to describe the pattern perfected by Dorothy's "Over the Rainbow:" "I Want" songs, which have since become a staple of the genre. Disney uses "I Want" songs quite a bit: with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

You can also see it in the likes of Little Shop of Horrors, (which was written by Disney stalwart Howard Ashman), My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, and Into the Woods, which composer Stephen Sondheim uses as a satire of the formula. Beauty and the Beast actually performs the pertinent number in a barnyard (with Belle wearing a blue dress like Dorothy's) and Little Shop of Horrors has a line referring to The Wizard of Oz: "Downtown… where the rainbow's just a no-show." So yeah, if you have any doubts as to how influential The Wizard of Oz is, feast your eyes on that cornucopia of musicals that would have looked a lot different without it.

To that, you can add the fantasy genre, as evinced by the talking animals, magical witches and general air of an acid. Like a lot of fantasies, it takes place somewhere far from our own world, and it has its own internal rules that need to be obeyed. Granted it's a lot less orc-heavy than, say the Lord of the Rings, but a lack of scary monsters and beheadings doesn't make it any less of a fantasy.

And because they want to keep that fantasy light, they throw in a lot of jokes. Most of them come straight from Vaudeville, which the actors had experience in. (The "that's you all over" joke in the Witch's forest is a pun-tastic example.) Most of the dialogue has that witty, joke-y vibe to it, and while the physical comedy is more subtle, you can definitely see it in Ray Bolger's clown-like moves. Even the scary parts throw in the gags to remind us all that it's not as frightening as we might think.

Then again, The Wizard of Oz is likely the first film many people saw, and when you're four or five, the Witch and her minions can be really scary. The haunted forest gets a heck of a lot creepier when the Lion's quivering in fear, and the Witch's look of glee when she finally has them cornered is bound to send a chill down the spine. When we grow up and get jaded, we don't really think of it as horror, but it's probably caused more sleepless nights than any other film in the genre. Somewhere down deep, we'd probably rather run into Freddy Krueger than the Witch and her flying monkeys any day of the week.

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