It is one of the great ironies of show business that the Walt Disney Company and Oz, two entities devoted to presenting adventure, magic, and wonder to children and children-in-heart, have never quite clicked, at least as far as motion pictures are concerned. Other Disney film projects will be discussed later, as well as, in another series, Disney-produced audio Oz, but for now, we continue to consider the not-so-much-unfinished-as-never-properly-begun musical, The Rainbow Road to Oz. The proposition was made in 1957 and then…
Nothing happened. And nothing continued to happen as weeks stretched into months and months into years.
No official explanation has ever been offered as to why the project, around which so much enthusiasm reigned, was shelved. One of the more prevalent rumors is that there was a consensus that while Judy Garland was still around, no other actress should play Dorothy Gale (much as many now think Wonder Woman should be played by Lynda Carter and no one else; an unfair stance, both to Miss Carter and to other actresses). By now, of course, Garland was thirty-five and too old to play the Kansas farm girl, and would no doubt have given her blessing to Darlene Gillespie, who, at sixteen years old, was the same age Garland had been when she began work on the MGM Wizard.
Other rumors have it that Disney crunched the numbers and decided that the budget would be too high for the studio to handle. This one seems implausible.
It has also been posited that studio heads were worried that nothing could measure up to the MGM movie in terms of script and music, which may have been true, but certainly no excuse not to try.
The least likely is the story that says that Disney did not think the Mouseketeers could carry a movie. Disney himself had chosen them for the project, and their popularity with the target audience was certainly undeniable.
Indeed, when in favor of Rainbow Road Disney produced a new adaptation of Babes in Toyland (a 1934 version of which had starred onetime Tin Woodman Oliver Hardy and his partner in comedy Stan Laurel), the role of Mary Contrary was played by Annette Funicello– in the same wig she had worn as Princess Ozma!– and Tommy Kirk, erstwhile son of the Wicked Witch of the West, played a Toymaker’s assistant named Grumio. Not only that, but a greater echo of Oz was present in the form of the actor who played the villainous Barnaby: none other than Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow of MGM.
Strange are the turns of fate…