Unlike the 1939 film, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry only have one farmhand. His name is Amos (in a nod to the real name of Danny Thomas - the actor originally contracted to voice the part subsequently performed by Larry Storch), but he does not have an alter ego in Oz—unless it was the Tin Woodman, for whom Storch provided the singing voice, imitating Thomas, who did the character's speaking voice, and was credited as playing him.
The movie began production in 1962, but ran out of money and was halted for nearly eight years. It was only after the Filmation studio had made profits on their numerous television series that it was able to finish the project, copyrighted 1971, released in 1972 in the UK and 1974 in the U.S. It features Liza Minnelli voicing Dorothy (played in the 1939 film by her mother Judy Garland, and in what would have been her first major role had the film been released as originally intended). Other voices were by Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Paul Lynde, Herschel Bernardi, Paul Ford, Danny Thomas, Margaret Hamilton (also from the 1939 film, but now playing Aunt Em rather than the Wicked Witch of the West, who died in the earlier film), and opera singer Risë Stevens as Glinda the Good Witch.
For the film's U.S. release, Filmation partnered with a company called Seymour Borde and distributed it through a process called four wall distribution, whereupon the studio rented venues to show it and kept all of the box-office revenue. Outside the United States and Canada, Warner Bros. distributed the film.
After a tornado in Kansas causes a loose gate to knock Dorothy unconscious, she re-appears in the Land of Oz with Toto, and encounters a talking Signpost (voiced by Jack E. Leonard), whose three signs point in different directions, all marked "Emerald City". They later meet Pumpkinhead (voiced by Paul Lynde), the unwilling servant of antagonist Mombi. Toto chases a cat to a small cottage where Dorothy is captured by Mombi's pet crow (voiced by Mel Blanc) and Mombi (voiced by Ethel Merman) herself. Pumpkinhead sneaks into the house in Mombi's absence, and discovers her creation of green elephants, to use as her army to conquer the Emerald City. Pumpkinhead frees Dorothy, and they flee. After finding Dorothy gone, Mombi threatens that their warning the Scarecrow will not help when her green elephants "come crashing through the gate".
Dorothy and Pumpkinhead acquire Woodenhead Stallion III (voiced by Herschel Bernardi), a former merry-go-round horse (a combination of the Sawhorse from The Marvelous Land of Oz and the title character of the last Oz book of all, Merry Go Round in Oz), who takes them to the Emerald City, where Dorothy warns the Scarecrow (voiced by Mickey Rooney) about Mombi's green elephants. Mombi arrives moments later, and Toto and the Scarecrow are captured. Dorothy, Pumpkinhead, and Woodenhead flee to Tinland to convince the Tin Man (voiced by Danny Thomas, who spoke, and Larry Storch, who sang) to help them. He declines upon being afraid of the green elephants and suggests that they ask the Cowardly Lion (voiced by Milton Berle), who promises to slay the elephants, but suggests consulting Glinda the Good Witch (voiced by Rise Stevens), who appears to them with a "Glinda Bird" that uses its Tattle Tail to show what is occurring at the palace. She then gives Dorothy a little silver box, to open only in the Emerald City, and only in a dire emergency.
Mombi, having seen their progress in her crystal ball, brings the nearby trees to life; whereupon Glinda sends a golden hatchet to Pumpkinhead. One of the trees snatches it from him, but changes its fellows and itself into gold and turns them from bad to good. Woodenhead carries Dorothy and Pumpkinhead back to the Emerald City, where Mombi's elephants surprise them. When Dorothy opens Glinda's box, mice emerge, scaring the elephants. Mombi brews a potion to shrink Toto to mouse-size so she can feed him to her cat; but when startled, miniaturizes her crow and cat instead. Thereafter Mombi disguises herself as a rose with poisonous thorns, which the elephants trample over and themselves disappear, prompting the Scarecrow to explain that Mombi's magic has died with her. Pumpkinhead also therefore dies, but is revived by one of Dorothy's tears.
The Scarecrow makes Woodenhead the head of the Oz cavalry and knights Pumpkinhead; and Dorothy and Toto leave Oz by another tornado (created by Pumpkinhead and Glinda), promising to return.Liza Minnelli as Dorothy
Don Messick as Toto
Paul Lynde as Pumpkinhead
Herschel Bernardi as Charelsworth Pinto "Woodenhead" Stallion, III
Ethel Merman as Mombi
Mickey Rooney as the Scarecrow
Danny Thomas as the Tin Man
Milton Berle as the Cowardly Lion
Rise Stevens as Glinda
Jack E. Leonard as the Signpost
Margaret Hamilton as Aunt Em
Paul Ford as Uncle Henry
Larry Storch as Amos, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's farmworker
Dallas McKennon as Omby Amby
Mel Blanc as Mombi's Crow
Songs and score
The film contains twelve original songs by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The arrangements and some of the film's score was by Walter Scharf. The original songs (which were featured on a soundtrack album released around the time of the film's television release) include the following:
- "A Faraway Land" - Dorothy
- "Signpost Song" - The Signpost
- "Keep a Happy Thought" - Dorothy
- "The Horse on the Carousel" - Woodenhead
- "B-R-A-N-E" (sic) - Scarecrow
- "An Elephant Never Forgets" - Mombi
- "H-E-A-R-T" - Tin Man
- "N-E-R-V-E" - Cowardly Lion
- "You Have Only You" - Glinda
- "If You're Gonna Be a Witch - Be a Witch" - Mombi
- "Return to the Land of Oz March" - Dorothy
- "That Feeling for Home" - Dorothy
However, a majority of the film contains library music from other sources. One particular piece of music, heard in the opening titles, is The Awakening, a Johnny Pearson composition that was recorded in 1967 (three years after production on this film began). While largely familiar to U.S. audiences for its use in this film, it is otherwise known to British viewers as the theme for ITN's News at Ten. In a twist of irony, another well-known Pearson composition, "Heavy Action" (also known as the theme of Monday Night Football), served as the theme to the syndicated SFM Holiday Network, which ran this film for many years.
While the film was a failure in its theatrical release, it would find its audience in its television showings. Filmation sold the broadcast rights to ABC in 1976. By this time, Bill Cosby was in the midst of his success with Filmation's TV series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, as well as starring in a new, but short-lived TV series for ABC. Filmation decided to expand and reformat the film to a Christmas television special. The film's theatrical running time was extended to include new live-action connecting segments with Cosby as the Wizard, a character otherwise not seen in the original theatrical release. The live-action subplot was to get two lost children home to spend Christmas with Dorothy, while helping to move the plot along. This extended TV version would later air in a successful syndication run via the aforementioned SFM Holiday Network. The last known airing of this version was in 1984, and it has not been available since then.
SFM also made available another television version for airing during the year (when it obviously wasn't Christmas) with cast member Milton Berle filming new linking interstitials in place of the Cosby segments.
A special edition DVD was released on October 24, 2006. This DVD features a feature-length audio commentary, interviews with creators Lou Scheimer, Hal Sutherland and Fred Ladd, behind the scenes photo gallery, image galleries featuring poster art and animation cels, a sing-a-long feature, most of the Bill Cosby interstitials used in the TV version (presented separately from the original theatrical version contained on the disc and sourced from an incomplete PAL transfer of the TV version as a complete version of the latter cut was unavailable), the first draft script and storyboards, and a photo gallery (mostly containing behind-the-scenes photos of the Cosby and Berle live-action interstitials used in syndicated broadcasts).
The theatrical version is known only to exist as a PAL digital transfer (sped up 4% from its original film speed) as the original film elements were apparently discarded by the previous owner of the film, Hallmark Entertainment.