Dorthy Gale is transported to the Land of Oz as the door from drab, sepia-toned, tornado ravaged Kansas opens up into brilliant, vibrant Technicolor; journeying to the fabled Emerald City via the infamous Yellow Brick Road, a quest begins, but only for the express purpose of returning home. Oz is ostensibly a magical, mysterious plane existing within Dorothy's dream state (rendered upon being knocked unconscious whilst fleeing her aunt's farm to prevent a particularly vile neighbour from euthanizing her dog Toto) inhabited by a quintet of dual characters physically transformed from their real-life counterparts. However, our heroine's vivid imagination prevails, thus conjuring a cavalcade of Munchkins governed by a supposedly all-powerful Wizard and besieged by two Wicked Witches, one of whom ends up squashed to death under the Kansas house and loses her magical ruby slippers to Dorothy, incurring the vengeful wrath of her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West. Such indelible characters serve to embellish and expand the intensely hued, irrepressible, optically magnificent world of Oz, artfully realised with monolithic matte paintings and dazzling special effects (the poppy field, cyclone, Emerald City views, flying monkeys) ensuring that the film is an immersive feat of the visual element from the outset.
Dorothy's drab existence as a lonely farm girl may pale in comparison to her exhilarating adventures in Oz, but her emphatic declaration of 'there's no place like home' highlights the allegorical connections and linkages to the 1896 political landscape within the film; the Scarecrow representing the wise, but naive western farmers, the Tinman - the dehumanised, Eastern factory workers, the Wicked Witch of the East - the Eastern industrialists and bankers who controlled the people (the Munchkins), the Good Witch of the North - New England, a stronghold of Populists, the Wizard - President Grover Cleveland, or Republican Presidential candidate William McKinley, the Cowardly Lion - Democratic-Populist Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy - the good natured American people, the Yellow Brick road - the 'gold standard' - paved with gold, but leads nowhere, the land of Oz - oz. is the standard abbreviation for ounce, in accordance with the other symbolism, Emerald City - Washington, D.C., with a greenish colour associated with greenbacks, the Poppy field - the threat of anti-imperialism. "The Wizard of Oz" is as electrifying to witness now as it must have been back in 1939, an age in which Hollywood championed idealism and escapism as integral to the cinematic experience rather than purely to garner profit and acclaim; filmmakers cared about the audience, offering them a much-needed uplifting respite from war, weariness and woe. Even though contemporary audiences are infinitely more familiar with CGI and bombastic sound effects than the relatively simple charms on display here, in an era of widespread political and economic upheaval, the film not only registers as both national relic, artefact and masterpiece of a Golden Age in cinema history, but an important rite of passage. Dorothy's timeless rendition of "Over the Rainbow" should reduce any child, regardless of the generation gap, to tears of joy at the perceived message that dreams can come true.
"The Wizard of Oz", despite the superannuated era-specific effects, performances and art design, caters to every demographic and remains effective in positing the optimistic, universal directive that, even in a world as bleak and cruel as ours, home is where the heart is. A true Hollywood treasure that still holds up well even 80 years on from its original release, however, scrutinise it for its faults and you are missing the point entirely; the film taps into our collective childlike sense of wonderment, elation and fervour, its images, dialogue, music and characters remain seared into the public consciousness. Beloved and fondly remembered, this deserved classic cannot be lauded enough, it is a superlative work of artistic and technical majesty that operates on the surface as an unmissable fantasy ride but is something far more emotionally resonant and life-affirming at its core.