The Wizard of Oz story is just about as timeless as they come. L. Frank Baum’s masterpiece has become public domain in recent years, leaving any filmmakers free to explore the tale in whatever context they so desire. 1939’s The Wizard of Oz and 1985’s Return to Oz remain my absolute favorite adaptations of Baum’s Land of Oz books. The more projects that emerge, the more likely they are to become duds. You know what they say about quality vs quantity… Paco Leon’s Rainbow attempts to modernize and recalibrate Dorothy’s story for a new generation. Though I cannot deny Rainbow is spilling over with ambition, this surrealist drama tale majorly lacks the fantasy pizazz and suitably grim subtext. This Oz may be in color, but it never embraces its truest colorful potential.
In this version of the tale, Dora (Dora Prostigo) lives alone with her father and her adorable dog Toto. Dora is perfectly content to live life pink-haired on roller skates, jamming to the beat of her own drum, immersing herself in music. Dora’s life is thrown into complete upheaval when she learns that her father has been lying to Dora about her mother’s existence. Dora flees from an incoming tornado after an intense row with her father. In the opening scene, the film was giving me vibes of a Spanish version of In the Heights—it certainly seemed promising. As soon as the plot takes off though, I began to lose hope.
Dora’s travels take her to a grandiose building that she stumbles into cluelessly. This is allegedly where her mom was last working, so Dora’s own grandmother may be in this very spot. Dora walks in on two women quarreling—Aunt Coco (Carmen Maura) and Maribel (Carmen Machi)—about taking a dying man, Arturo, off life support. Maribel tells Dora that her mom, Pilar, is long gone, and working in Capital City. That’s right, there’s no Emerald City to be found here, but Capital City may be Dora’s new destination! In the midst of Dora’s visit at Coco’s, Arturo abruptly dies. Coco spirals and pulls a gun; Dora tries to wrestle it free, but it goes off accidentally, shooting Arturo in the face. Who would possibly believe that the gunshot wasn’t the cause of death? Quick to throw this stranger under the bus, Coco says that Dora trespassed, and demands that she be brought to justice for the murder of Arturo.
Annoyingly, Maribel barely sticks up for her newfound granddaughter. The rest of the film consists of Dora traveling with clunky silver shoes with Toto by her side. Along the way, she meets an erratic, unstable and nearly-naked homeless man chained up in the junkyard, Muneco (Ayax Pedrosa), a businessman with a car in the midst of a midlife crisis, and a glitzy ultra femme queer trailblazer. It is clear these characters are supposed to be stand-ins for the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion, respectively, but they come up short. The script tries to capture their essence, whilst the actors desperately attempt to embody the iconic figures.
This Oz is majorly lacking in the fantastical element. Even the “wicked witch” has no edge. At attempt is made for whimsy through music, and while I appreciated the sentiment, it really did not work for me. A breezy finale culminates in a party with minimal stakes and an underwhelming ending. I think I would rather stay home than explore this drab version of Oz so far removed from Baum’s text that it may as well not have bothered in the first place.
Rainbow sings a catchy tune when it debuts exclusively to Netflix on Friday, September 30th.