If there’s one film that could benefit from the remake/sequel/prequel treatment, it’s 1939’s little-loved Wizard Of Oz, that garish Technicolor flop about an ungrateful girl living out her odd psychosexual fantasies about the servants on her farm while blatantly promoting a populist agenda; you may recall the film from its frequent television screenings, no doubt attributed to its cult status among fans of so-bad-they’re-good movies. And since everyone can agree that they really bungled that one the first time around, it’s heartening to know that several Oz-related remakes, spin-offs, and prequels are in the works, all of which will have the unfortunate onus of redeeming the legacy of its source material. A month ago, the Los Angeles Times was tracking no less than three Oz projects, including the big-screen adaptation of Wicked; a long-in-the-works Warner Bros. sequel written by Josh Olson (A History Of Violence) about “a granddaughter of Dorothy who returns to Oz to fight evil” that will also include input from Todd McFarlane; and a Disney prequel, to be overseen by Alice In Wonderland producer Joe Roth.
Although we’ve been hearing about these projects for, in some cases, several years, today came word that Disney is seriously moving forward on that last project, and even more adamantly now that Robert Downey Jr. is close to signing on as the wizard. The film—written by Mitchell Kapner of The Whole Nine Yards, which, um, okay—is based on “a number of L. Frank Baum’s books,” concerning a “more dark and complex” version of the wizard and exploring his early years as a “charlatan in Kansas” before he arrived in Oz. That premise and the idea of Downey signing on has excited Disney so much, it’s now considering producing the film as early as next spring, during one of Downey’s increasingly rare breaks between movies. Rumored to direct: Sam Mendes, who suddenly has a lot of time on his hands, or Adam Shankman, he of Hairspray and the recent “let’s explain The Hurt Locker via interpretive dance!” Oscars ceremony. So that’s, uh, two fairly different interpretations we’re looking at there.