LONG READ: We walk down the Yellow Brick Road with show producer Jeff DeGrandis

2017-09-22 05:00
dorothy and the wizard of oz

Cape Town – If you’ve never followed the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy, Toto and all their friends then you have certainly been missing out.

The adventurous story has been around since the 1900s and has been widely adapted into countless books, movies and TV series.

In its latest animated adaption on Boomerang (DStv 302), Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz follows the adventures of Dorothy, an eight-year old girl from Kansas, who alongside her little dog Toto and best friends Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, has just defeated the Wicked Witch of the West and is ready to embark on exciting new quests in the land of Oz.


In a Q&A with show producer Jeff DeGrandis, we find out more about how Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz came to life.

How did you initially get into production and animation?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, probably since I was six-years-old and I always had great support from my family growing up; they always pushed me to do what I loved most.

An influential figure in my life, I would have to say would be Chuck Jones – he is definitely one of my absolute favorite directors. I thought he was one of the greatest Warner Brothers Animation Directors of all time, ever – he was even considered to be one of the fathers of Bugs Bunny, the Coyote and the Roadrunner from Loony Tunes. Chuck Jones actually was my mentor and as a result became a dear friend who actually gave me one of my first starts in the animation industry.

Why did you decide/what inspired you to create Dorothy of Oz, apart from of course, the Wizard of Oz?

Actually, I was invited to join Turner on the making of this, mid 2015. They already knew that they wanted to produce the Wizard of Oz, or should I say something very closely related – I mean the basics of the show were already there, they just needed someone to develop it further, get it going and bring it to life.

Essentially I was approached for the project, went through a couple of interviews, next thing I knew I was invited to come on board to produce the show, the rest was history from there. I remember looking at the characters and thinking “Wow! What a fun thing”- it also helped that I happened to love the Wizard of Oz too and so, I graciously accepted.

I then, alongside Warner Brothers, started developing the show further to where you see it/have it now.

Are there any similarities between the TV show and the original book and movie?

Well for starters, it was key for us to have a clear vision of the design scheme, while remaining true to the original. It was imperative for us to do the original justice by retaining the power of the 1939 MGM that we all remember in our minds. We needed to be mindful of the characters, who they are from a personality perspective, how the characters engaged with one another as well as how they existed in each environment created.

14 novels, heroes from 1900 to 1919, that’s where all our material comes from. We are very accurate and true in the sense of making sure that all our villains are unique animals, in unique places in Oz. Everything from the visit to the castle, Emerald city, the wicked witch’s castle, the Munchkins and their land… is very accurate.

How long did it take to create and execute the TV series?

The TV show, I’d say, was probably in development for a year before I got involved. They had some wonderful characters with these amazing backgrounds/ backdrops that were kind of cool, in play already when I arrived - which was a really nice starting base for me. When I arrived nothing really existed yet. The Land of Oz was nonexistent, there were no Poppy fields, there was no Yellow Brick Road, and there wasn’t even an Emerald forest or City yet. These environments still needed to be designed for which my ideas included that of classic “Warner Brother’s” look and feel, yet simple and clean for these spaces and additional characters. I’d describe it as very stylized, very colourful, and very moody where things needed to be moody.

The characters were designed in a very traditional animation style, where they almost resembled the early two dimensional types of characters that we would have traditionally seen in earlier days. When I put the characters on their new backgrounds (by the way, I have a really good team here – I want to give credit to everyone working on this project), my goodness did it look beautiful, as if it was meant to be! 

Then we started the design process on Oz. Everything turned out so stylish! It’s always growing and is going to continue to grow because of L. Frank Baum. We are always writing new stories with characters he had written about, in new locations that we constantly try to visually represent the vision, until it takes off with a life of its own!


What is your favorite episode and why?

 Oh you would ask me that now wouldn’t you! I like a lot of episodes – all 40 of them (in the first season alone). I’m going to say Locket in My Pocket, final answer!

I love this episode because it maintains a very simple story; it’s about Wilhelmina, who is the Wicked Witch of the West’s niece (as you might know). Essentially it is a very simple show about stealing Dorothy’s ruby slippers, in a very simple scheme. It is the first time that we see Dorothy and Wilhelmina, the two oppositions in a battle for the ruby slippers, in a very classic cartoon way. The story revolves around a locket which you wear around your neck and whoever’s picture that you put inside it, it turns you into that person or that object/ item. Wilhelmina has always been jealous of Dorothy and the things that Dorothy has, so she figures that if she puts a picture of Dorothy in the locket, she can and will have everything that Dorothy has! Wilhelmina zaps into Dorothy after placing her image in the locket, next thing you know, two Dorothy’s arrive at the Munchkin’s fair. Which one is the real Dorothy? Can the real Dorothy expose the imposter trying to fool everyone? Will the two Dorothy’s confront each other in one epic battle? See what I mean – it’s just very exciting! It’s very cartoony but I like it because it was an early cartoon edition. I also thought that it was very interesting how the two characters look the same, but yet we are still able to tell the difference between them. I also like how Dorothy handles the situation.

Which character in the series would you say is most similar to you and why?

Well Toto is actually my favorite character – I have always liked him. If I have to choose from one of the bigger/ main characters, I would say that Tinman kind of runs in me a bit. I say Tin Man because of his heart. I am a very compassionate person. I really like to take care of people, making sure that everyone and everything is okay, therefore I would say that Tinman’s compassion and heart that he has for everyone really runs strong in me.

What key messages are you hoping that kids will take away from watching the show?

First of all, I believe that the show is made for everyone. Everyone who sees the show, moms; dads; grandparents and younger kids, will be instantly attracted to the show, especially mothers. Moms and dads will love the show because it will remind them of when they saw the Wizard of Oz – a nostalgic moment in time. Memories will be sparked by the story lines, the characters and the music.

Secondly, there is a very serious tone of compassion that runs throughout the series, which is evident in and amongst the characters especially between Dorothy and Wilhelmina.

The underlying messages are beyond preschool - the show teaches children that you can get anything done if you put your mind to it; it teaches children how to listen and respect what your friends have to say about a situation and to trust one another in order to work together towards the end goal in sight. It teaches children about the value of making mistakes and how it is important to make these mistakes. It teaches children to not give up.


Watch Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz daily from Monday, 16 October at 17:50 on Boomerang (DStv 302).

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(Photo: Supplied)

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