The Wiz is a 1978 feature film released from Motown Records and Universal Studios. The film is based off the Broadway show of the same name. Both were inspired by the classic children's tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but being told through the perspective of African Americans. The film starred singer and actress Diana Ross. The film also guest starred Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor as The Wiz. This was Michael's first feature film.
The story begins in the streets of Harlem, New York. Aunt Em gets ready for a big thanksgiving dinner. Helping her out is her niece Dorothy Gale, a young kindergarten teacher who's "never been south of 125 street ". Despite having many family members Dorothy has no friends, boyfriend, children and is very shy and humble. After a crowded Thanksgiving dinner with relatives, Aunt Em has a talk with Dorothy about getting a new job, finding a new place and meeting new people. Afterwards, Toto runs out the door while Dorothy is cleaning up. Dorothy chases after him into the cold streets right in the middle of a snow storm. She eventually catches him but not in time, it's too late. There is a huge blizzard (The work of Glinda the Good Witch Of the South) that sweeps her and Toto away, far away into space until the two cross over in the Land of Oz (which is a parallel universe of New York City).
As Dorothy and Toto go flying through the sky, they finally crash through a giant sign and land into a giant sandbox and end up in Munchkin Land. Dorothy looks around for Toto in the sandbox. Once she gets Toto she finds herself surrounded by children covered in graffiti who are the munchkins who were just freed from a horrible curse, by the Wicked Witch of the East named Evamene. As Dorothy crashed through the sign, the piece of the sign fell flat on the Wicked Witch. Which broke the cruse. The Munchkins rejoice that the horrible witch is now dead and Miss One (The Good Witch of the North) returns happy to find out the munchkins are now free. Dorothy is very frightened and confused and wants to go home. Miss One hands Dorothy Evamene's silver shoes and tells her the only way for her to get home is to see The Wiz.
Given the advice to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, Miss One and the munchkins mysteriously disappear leaving Dorothy and Toto alone and lost. Dorothy wonders through Oz lost and scared. She finally comes across and vacant lot which holds a cornfield and inside is a talking scarecrow who is being tortured by a gang of crows. After witnessing the crows taunting the scarecrow she's had enough. She scares them away and helps the scarecrow off his pole. Feeling very unintelligent, he wishes he had a brain. Dorothy tells him about the Wiz and she invites him to come along. He happily accepts the offer and they both finally find the yellow brick road and happily travel down the road. The road leads them through an old Amusement Park that was abandoned long ago, Dorothy and the Scarecrow meet and rescue the Tinman, who is a rusted solid in a uncomfortable position. They help oil the mechanical man and free him. The Tinman tells his new friends that he wants to gain a heart to love. So they quickly invite him on their journey so he can ask the Wiz for a heart. Later on down the road, the group of friends are attacked by the Lion who was banished from the jungle and hid inside one of the stone lions in front of a building resembling the New York Public Library and wishes for some courage. Dorothy, the Scarecrow and Tinman invite him to see the Wiz also.
On the way they all run into frightening obstacles. First they follow the road into an underground subway, there they meet an old homeless peddler (who has been secretly watching Dorothy on her journey the entire time). The peddler unleashes two giant evil puppets to chase Dorothy and her friends also the items of the subway awaken and tries to kill them all. Luckily, the Lion rescues everyone and they safely escape the peddler and his trickery of minions.
The group then encounters the poison "Poppy Girls" who are women dressed up in sexy and flashy outfits on the streets. Stopping to have some innocent fun, Dorothy, the Lion and Toto are put to sleep, with magic poppy glitter to poison them to stop Dorothy from reaching the Emerald City. However, the Tinman's tears save them and they are awakened by the deadly trance.
Finally, they all arrive at the Emerald City and see the Wiz .The city citizens are rich socialites who changed their clothes magically according to what colors the Wiz says is in or out of style. Thanks to Dorothy's Silver Slippers, the Wiz allows her and her friends an audience. The Wiz says he won't grant any of their wishes unless they kill Evillene (the Wicked Witch of The West), who runs a sweatshop in the sewers of Oz and keeps The Winkies as her slaves and workers. She also has the crows, the peddler and Poppy Girls working for her as her slaves for failing to stop Dorothy. She figures out that Dorothy and her friends are coming to kill her and sends out her Flying Monkeys (a motorcycle gang) to kidnap them.
The Monkeys chase them all around through an abandoned arena and after the friends are captured, Evillene dismembers the Scarecrow, flattens the Tinman, and hangs the Lion by his tail trying to make Dorothy give up the slippers. When she threatens to burn Toto, Dorothy nearly gives the slippers up until the Scarecrow , who's still able to move, hints her to a fire sprinkler switch. Dorothy pulls the lever activating the sprinkler system which puts out the fire and melts Evillene (who is allergic to water). The Winkies are freed from Evillene and help Dorothy's friends and celebrate the witch's death.
The Flying Monkeys take them to the Emerald City only to discover the Wiz is a phony. But soon they all realize that they don't need his magic to get their wishes because everything they need was in them all along.
Just as it seems that Dorothy will never get home, the beautiful Glinda appears and encourages Dorothy by telling her home is where the heart is and how to find her way home by clicking her heels three times. After saying goodbye to all her friends she takes Toto in her arms, thinks of home and the things she loves about it, and clicking her heels finds herself back in her neighborhood and is finally home again. Dorothy runs into her building and back into her family.
- Dorothy: Diana Ross
- Scarecrow: Michael Jackson
- Tinman: Nispey Russell
- Lion: Ted Ross
- Evillene: Mabel King
- Glinda: Lena Horne
- Richard Pryor: The Wiz
- Feeling that we have
- Can I go on ?
- He's the Wizard
- Soon as I get Home
- You Can't Win
- Ease on Down the Road
- What would I do if I could feel
- Slide Some Oil to Me
- I'm a Mean Ole Lion
- Poppies Theme
- Be a Lion
- Emerald City Ballet
- So You Wanted to meet The Wizard
- No Bad News
- A Brand New Day
- Believe in Yourself
- Believe in Yourself (Reprise)
- The makeup process was said to have been so long and excruciating, that Michael would go home with the Scarecrow makeup still on and come back the next morning rather than going through the 4 hour process.
- The role of the Scarecrow was originally assigned to Jimmy "JJ" Walker from the hit 70s show Good Times but the crew decided that it would be best to get someone who was able to sing and dance, so the role was given to Michael. Though the director detested to the idea of having Jackson on, he eventually warmed up to the idea
- During filming, Producer Rob Cohen gave an apartment to Michael and his sister LaToya in New York ( where the film was being shot ) to have enough time and freedom to work on the movie and avoid any conflict with Michael's father. During this time he would visit the famous nightclub Studio 54 where he met artists like Elton John and Liza Minnelli.
"I auditioned for the part of the Scarecrow, because I thought his character best fit my style." - Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson portrayed the Scarecrow. His own rendition and appearance of the character is much different from the original and many other adaptations of the character. In the movie, the scarecrow is made entirely of garbage (old newspapers and discarded junk). From his hat all the way to his pants and even big dusty old boots. He would often educate himself by pulling out old quotes from scholars and poets out of his body so he can read and become more articulate. Also the character seems more curious, innocent and child-like in the film. Michael exclaimed that he enjoyed playing the character so much, He even expressed that he loved wearing the prosethic makeup and having his nose covered during the film.