“Wizard of Oz” film to premiere
Graphic courtesy WonderMedia
A screen capture from the “WonderGrove Wizard of Oz” animated movie, which premieres locally on Nov. 9 and 16.
SNOHOMISH — A twister tore Dorothy from home and landed her in a strange place, seemingly with no way back. She would later find out that what she needed to get home was inside her all along.
A “return home” storyline energized by the strength within becomes all the more poignant in a soon-to-be-released remake of the classic “Wizard of Oz.” This Snohomish
version has a new brushstroke: lead character Dorothy is fearful about the transition from elementary school to middle school.
When Dorothy clicks her heels three times to return home, her chant with eyes shut is, “there’s no place like Snohomish.”
And that is where this film is about to kick off.
On Saturday, Nov. 9 at 3:30 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m., the hard work of local students and their guides will get a big reveal in red carpet celebrations in Snohomish High School’s Performing Arts Center. The 56-minute remake of the Oz classic has a release date in mid-December.
The weekend of Oct. 26, two preview dinners were held at Angel Arms Works, the home of former mayor and outgoing councilmember Karen Guzak.
The elementary-age years are more parent-directed, said Kimberlee Spaetig-Peterson, whose class at Riverview Elementary helped design, script and voice the animated film built with software from Wonder Media. During that middle school transition, kids “make choices and you want to make sure you find your niche in a positive way,” she said.
Students are the stars in the Oz remake, said Terry Thoren, the CEO of Wonder Media, describing Riverview’s crew as “gifted.” The production took studio staff to school districts in 10 states: Washington, California, Idaho, Iowa, Nevada, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. Students in each state put local touches on the script, with Ella Marzolf, now 12, rewriting at Riverview and devising ideas about the graphic arts side of the filmmaking process.
Her mom, Melissa Marzolf, said Ella became interested in animation in fourth grade and started working on it more the following year. Ella notes the benefits: “I got
experience for the future. I tried new things like all the different steps of animation.”
Thoren said Ella also “conceived the idea of digitizing the Centennial Middle School to incorporate it seamlessly as a computer animated background into the final scene of the movie — a brilliant concept far beyond her years.”
Students designed the original background, provided voice-over acting for animated characters, sang and performed musical elements in the movie, and took part in sound effects. Thoren said the music in the film is all Riverview, unchanged from their original recordings, because “music is sacrosanct.”
A core group of 29 kids from fourth to sixth grade started the project under Spaetig-Peterson’s direction last September, and completed it this year. By the time they turned in the final work, the group had grown to 40, with a first grader requesting a part as Toto.
The audience target for the local Oz story is elementary schoolers and their parents and grandparents, Thoren said, adding his focus in messaging is for kids who have undergone trauma, with storylines aimed at keeping them on the right track.
In one part of the film, Dorothy and her Emerald City travelers end up at a pizza party, in a house surrounded by a field of poppies. As they dance, the wicked witch —the movie’s bully — tells the dancers she’ll cast a spell to cause them to forget everything they really care about. It works and they lose touch with the goal of their trip: a heart for the Tin Man, courage for the Lion, a brain for the Scarecrow, and for Dorothy, a way to get back home. Thoren confirms the scene has an anti-drug message, but hopes the grandparents and elementary schoolers the film is targeted at will see it as part of the movie experience. A sequel is planned, but is currently envisioned as a smaller, local release, Spaetig-Peterson said.
The escapist whimsy at the party relates to a life stage that draws the eagle eyes of parents and educators alike. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the highest risk periods for drug use are during times of change, such as the transition from elementary to middle and middle to high school.
Guzak avidly supported the project, taking an active part in promotion by being at a local farm event and distributing brochures. She said she got involved because the collaboration and creativity practiced during the making of the movie means “happier, healthier, more engaged kids,” adding that “is a huge benefit to us all.”
See more character pictures in the pages of this week's Tribune.
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