Bifrost, the legendary Rainbow Bridge of Norse mythology, stretched from Midgard (our own good Earth) to Asgard, the realm of the Aesir, the gods worshiped by ancient Vikings.
The Rainbow Road to Oz, from the never-made movie of the same name, was undoubtedly the arc of the Rainbow himself, father of Polychrome, who, with Zeb and Button-Bright, were portrayed on film for the first time. For Zeb and Button-Bright, this remains their only time thus presented. Poly was to appear in a crowd scene in another Disney project years and years later.
Before we get to any of the Oz film and television productions which followed, I would like to offer some of my personal impressions of what I think would have been a great movie, if not another classic.
The promo reel is available to see on YouTube, and it was there that I formed the above opinion. The costumes were excellent and the casting spot-on.
I frankly think that Darlene Gillespie—who, incidentally, shares the same initials with Dorothy Gale—has one or two things over Judy Garland: a genuine country attitude and a pluckiness which reflects that of the character in the books. She takes the lead in the song-and-dance number which breaks the spell on the Cowardly Lion with a forthrightness and exuberance which would have made Baum proud.
Bobby Burgess as the Scarecrow is at least as loose-limbed as Ray Bolger, with a remarkably expressive face.
Doreen Tracey, despite having someone else’s voice for the singing, skillfully reflects the playful cheekiness of the literary character, and while not perhaps as athletic as onetime Scraps portrayer Pierre Couderc, is suitably light and lithe—and a good deal cuter.
Those three have featured parts in the reel; the others, while essentially there to fill out the ranks, are far from token; Karen Pendleton makes an appropriately graceful Polychrome, Cubby O’Brien, while not in the usual sailor suit, fills the bill as Button-Bright, and the lanky Lonnie Burr shares Gillespie’s country manner even as he partners her in the dance.
Jimmie Dodd, one of the two grown-up Mousketeers, got to do little more as the Lion than sit on a throne and scowl, but toward the end of “The Oz-Kan Hop,” a twinkle in his eye shows that the spell is nullified.
And what can I say about Annette Funicello’s performance as Ozma that I didn’t already say in the tribute I wrote for her after she passed on? Beauty and serenity pair with a wide-eyed playfulness in a perfect portrayal, and her dance moves are nothing short of fairylike.
Whatever the reason it never got made, The Rainbow Road to Oz at least got far enough from the drawing board to allow us to see a crew of performers who deserved to do more with the characters they played.
Three years later—the year before Annette and her Ozma wig co-starred with Ray Bolger in Babes in Toyland—someone else who had missed her first chance at Oz finally made it there.