Vaudeville never died -- it just went over the rainbow, where it became immortal. That's the bracing comic message of "The Wizard of Oz." The Munchkin City and the Emerald City announce themselves as brilliantly colored stage sets -- make that soundstage sets. Then they burst into unruly life thanks to the singing and dancing of Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, and, of course, the Munchkins. On a flight of mass inspiration they turn wildly different shticks into compelling characters and cohesive, overwhelming magic. Director Victor Fleming made the story unfold at the intersection of spontaneous theatrical revelry and big-studio sorcery, as the flesh-and blood longings Dorothy generates on a Kansas farm intersect with her fantastical experiences once a twister takes her to that wonderland called Oz. The comedy detonates the poignancy -- and vice versa. And this movie invites everyone to participate in its make-believe. When Dorothy opens the door of her aunt and uncle's house and leaves the pewter tones of Kansas for the Technicolor of Oz, she becomes every boy or girl entering the world of unfettered yearning and imagination. Dorothy gets to behave in a manner that future generations would call "acting up" or "acting out" while her co-stars, playing off beloved characters they'd already established on-stage, get to tap, joke and act up a storm as potent as any tornado. Tiny comic touches register vividly, like the piece of red sash Toto proudly carries in his mouth after he and the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion conquer some Winkies in front of the Wicked Witch's castle. No movie has ever been more casually potent in its escapism. You surrender your disbelief gleefully because the film is so witty and enjoyable.
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