England's Elstree Studios is hosting Dorothy's Return to Oz. Bringing this land of modern myth to your local movie theater is the challenge facing some of the world's top fantasy filmmakers.

Executive producer Gary Kurtz is sitting behind a large desk fashioned of dark brown wood as the morning sun brightens his attractively decorated Elstree office. Behind him, a small green Kermit and several other Muppet toys peek out from bookshelves of the same rich brown wood. "I think that the Oz stories have a special charm because of the characters," he says, citing one reason he has brought his expertise and love of fantasy to the project.

A vital part of Dorothy's experiences in Oz are her encounters with an assortment of not-quite-human characters who become her companions and adversaries. But, though based on two of L. Frank Baum's sequels to his Wizard ofOz, the realization of the new Ozian characters bears little similarity to that in the classic 1939 Wizard MGM musical. Kurtz's goal in interpreting Baum's work has been "to try to create a reality to the fantasy world that fits the books. Using that criteria, the creatures have to be done in a way that seems believable on film."

The production team is being faithful to the books, not the earlier movie. In their original editions (reprinted in Del Rey paperbacks of Baum's 14 Oz books), these creatures were given form by John R. Neil's illustrations.

Realistically putting on screen these almost surreal Ozian characters has been a new experience for Kurtz. "One of the interesting things about doing fantasy is to try to set a goal: 'Let's try to make this work,' " he says. "If you can, fine, if it doesn't quite work, then it's an interesting experiment. But it's one of the aspects that make this type of film really special to work on."
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