The weekend kiddie matinee was a fixture at movie theaters through much of the 60s. Disney product actually comprised only a fraction of this business; much of the celluloid unspooled during those 25-cent shows originated in Mexico or Europe, their hastily dubbed imagery lending a surreal quality to many a childhood.
Not all of them, though some were produced here in the U.S. of A., and Something Weird has issued two both produced and directed by infamous nudie schlockmeister Barry Mahon, in and around the Pirate World amusement park in Florida. The first, The Wonderful Land of Oz, is an actual attempt to film L. Frank Baum's second book in the Oz series. Dorothy does not put in an appearance - this time our protagonist is Tip (Channy Mahon, Barry's son), who escapes from the witch Mombi with a pumpkin-headed homunculus. General Jinjur and her "Army of Revolt" (a bunch of mini-skirted extras from Mahon's more salacious pictures) wrest control of the Emerald City from The Scarecrow, who brings in the Tin Woodman for help, and finally Glinda has to play Policeman of the World again. If she can stop singing bad songs.
Again, it is possible to discern a real desire to translate the book into film. But I have a copy of The Wonderful Land of Oz I purchased at Border's for $6.99, which was probably twice the budget of this movie. The flick looks like a filmed high school pageant, with painted flats and an Emerald City the size of a log cabin.
If possible, Jack and the Beanstalk is even worse. Oz, at least, had a novel as its source, and cut things out to achieve its running time. Jack, however, is taken from a short story, so it must achieve its 63 minutes by dint of padding. Thus, Jack now has a sister (for all intents and purposes, Marcia Brady) with a boyfriend to muddle things up; the con man who trades the magic beans for the cow has a much-expanded role, and of course, there are horrible songs to pass the time.
These are movies that make you ask, "How? How could such a thing exist?" And sad to admit as it is, that's what a lot of us are looking for, isn't it? There is a full review of Wonderful Land of Oz at The Bad Movie Report, but please don't make me watch Jack again.
Though there's some damage to the film elements really, to be expected, as these were regarded as infinitely disposable movies the image is quite clear and the late 60's colors are still pretty vibrant. The sound can be problematic at times, from Jack Pumpkinhead's lines muffled by his mask to over-produced songs fighting with lackluster line delivery, but forget it, Jake it's Oz. Considering the cheapness of the proceedings, these movies should not look this good. Something Weird has never been one to abide by the "Play Movie Scene Access" labels, but calling their Scene menu "Find the Fun" seems rather like a smug challenge .
This disc has a particularly satisfying set of extras. We'll start with the legendary Herschel Gordon Lewis's The Magic Land of Mother Goose, a 32-minute short. Though I keep jabbing at Oz as looking like a filmed stage show, Mother Goose almost certainly is the camera is set in the audience, and simply pans back and forth, as storybook characters keep walking out of an enormous storybook. Merlin the Magician performs some standard stage illusions shoehorned into the "plot". There is a horrid love song for Prince Charming, a nightmare-inducing Raggedy Ann of the living dead and it is also, somehow, really, really boring.
The first short, "Kiddieland" is the black-and-white tale of two four-year-olds and their "date" to one of those small amusement parks with pony rides and finger-losing rides. It proves to be creepy in a wholly unintentional way as they keep running into adults who give them balloons and candy and lead them around. Don't you just love modern times and the fact that nothing is innocent anymore?
There are three cartoons that seem to be of European origin (I'd love to have more information on them). In The Two Magicians, a boy stymies an ancient wizard with modern devices like television and a fire extinguisher. The Trouble Shooter concerns a little man made of tools who travels the world in a rocket-powered toy car, keeping up a constant monologue like a diminutive William S. Burroughs. Though he claims to only be interested in fixing toys, he fights bullying frogs and ignorance, too. Vive le Trouble Shooter! The last cartoon, Woody in Fools Land, is obviously from an animated version of Pinocchio, completely re-written to avoid any flak from the litigious Disney Corporation. These are all well-made and quite entertaining, though the last one is tinkered into incoherence.
The trailer collection has an embarrassment of riches from Childhood Productions and the man who started it all, K. Gordon Murray. Previews from two competing Puss 'N' Boots, the Emmett Kelly vehicle The Clown and the Kids (which seems to be one twitch short of Children of the Corn), The Secret of Magic Island (with an all-animal cast versus a "villainous space-age monkey!") and several of the Mexican Little Red Riding Hood pics (and I must see Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters!).
There is the usual gallery of ad materials for kiddie movies and magic shows, backed with songs from Wonderful Land of Oz just in case you couldn't get enough of those. There is also a bit of an easter egg on the first Extras Menu pressing right on your remote from "Kiddieland" can net you a theatrical preview for an "All-Cartoon-Back-To-School Show".
So once again, Something Weird has exposed me to a world of which I was only vaguely aware and I can only close with a quote from another denizen of children's entertainment: "Please, sir, I want more."
Dr. Freex, 7/25/2003