The Wizard of Oz

 

There's no place like home. And starting Saturday, there will be no place on the planet quite like the Miami Children's Museum, as it kicks off The Wizard of Oz Children's Educational Exhibition.

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By Michael Hamersly

There's no place like home. And starting Saturday, there will be no place on the planet quite like the Miami Children's Museum, as it kicks off The Wizard of Oz Children's Educational Exhibition.

Created by the museum in conjunction with Warner Bros., it's the first licensed traveling educational exhibit based on Oz in history, and will hit the road in May to visit other cities including Boston, New York, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, where it will carry the Miami Children's Museum name.

Almost two years in the making, the exhibit offers an interactive journey through kid-sized replicas of significant sets from the iconic film, which marked its 70th anniversary last year. Children can experience the tornado that swept Dorothy to the land of Oz inside the Gale family farmhouse; join the Lollipop Guild in Munchkinland; follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Crossroads, where Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion; storm the Witch's Castle; and finally reach Emerald City. And the best thing about it - from a parent's point of view - is that it's all conceived with education and values-based lessons in mind.

"We've always thought about what is captivating to families and what can we create that has meaning and substance," says Deborah Spiegelman, CEO and executive director of the museum. "Kids come here to play, learn, imagine and create, and we don't create things that don't have an educational value and substance. The Wizard of Oz has so many incredible lessons and character values tied in, and it was perfect, because we really believe in developing the child. So it was a win-win for everybody."

When Spiegelman talks about the exhibit, she lights up like a child herself.

"The Wizard of Oz has always been one of my personal favorites, and I got really excited" when conception turned to reality, she says. "Everybody knows the ruby red slippers, and the blue gingham dress, and there is such great character recognition."

One character from Oz kids won't see, though, is the Wicked Witch of the West - just her broom.

"We formed a committee of about 15 members of the community - teachers, children, even a psychologist - which decided that the Wicked Witch would not be part of the exhibit, because it's just too scary," said Spiegelman. Apparently, the committee doesn't have a problem with the Flying Monkeys - often cited as the most disturbing characters in Oz - because they make an appearance.

Some of the many other interactive highlights, masterminded by Michael Neufeld, director of exhibits at the museum, include:

Kids can make a real funnel cloud inside a glass chamber at the Gale farmhouse, and learn how to weave Dorothy's blue-and-white gingham dress on a loom. At Munchkinland, a microphone with a voice manipulator emerges from a giant yellow flower - talk into it and you can sound like a Munchkin without resorting to inhaling helium. You can also look like a Munchkin, thanks to an array of fun-house mirrors that make you appear short and chubby. Follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Crossroads and give the Tin Man a heart, the Scarecrow a brain and help the Cowardly Lion shake his jitters by braving the Courage Crawl and its spooky sights and sounds.

At the Witch's Castle, kids must make their way over the virtual moat by climbing across a rock wall, then hit a button to "capture" the Wicked Witch's broom. It then lights up and the music to Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead plays. Peer through a periscope-type device and your head appears inside the witch's crystal ball for all to see. In Emerald City, wave a light saber through a projected beam and the Wizard's face appears in mid-air; talk into another voice-manipulated microphone and you can bellow like the Great and Powerful Oz.

Fun fact: Though most of the original items from the movie set were destroyed in the 1980 fire at MGM Las Vegas, the exhibit features an authentic pair of ruby red slippers that Judy Garland wore in the film. The inscription "JUDY GARLAND - 1," signifying that the shoes were Dorothy's "pair No. 1" on-set, can clearly be seen handwritten on the inside of each. It's just one of the features of the exhibit that make it a true rarity - one that parents will enjoy as much as their kids.

After all, as MCM Chairman Jeff Berkowitz is fond of saying, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."

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