The scenes filmed at the Emerald City were elaborate, utilizing six hundred fifty dancers, three hundred eighty-five crew members and twelve hundred costumes. [...] The Wiz proved to be a commercial flop, as the $24 million production only earned $13.6 million at the box office.
This musical re-imagining of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) is today remembered as the flop that killed Motown Records' forays into film (and indeed, blaxploitation as a genre). Despite that, I have fond childhood memories of this film, and a recent rewatch confirmed my memory: while it has many glaring flaws, it has the whiff of greatness as well. The worst problem is that it drags: many of the musical numbers are twice as long and half as interesting as they ought to be, especially the ones near the beginning and end. The second-worst is the casting: Diana Ross got a lot of flak for her Dorthy (now a shy mid-20s schoolteacher), but I thought Dorothy's problem was less Ross and more the director, while Richard Pryor's Wiz was awful and Nipsey Russell's singing voice for Tin Man was wholly inappropriate for everything but "Slide Some Oil To Me". And the problems don't stop there; there's the occasionally awful cinematography, for example, or the unforgettably goofy subway sequence. Yet it's never the problems I remember; it's "Ease On Down the Road", the aforementioned "Slide Some Oil To Me", the infamously lavish Emerald City sequence, the 24 glorious minutes from Dorothy leaving the Emerald City to her triumphant return — giving us both Mabel King's fabulous villain song "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News" and the liberated Winkies' "Everybody Rejoice (Brand New Day)" — and finally Ross's sappy but appreciated "Home (Finale)". Overall, the film's great moments easily outshine the problems. Score: 3 stars out of 4.