Picks and Pans Review: The Dreamer of Oz: the L. Frank Baum Story

updated 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/10/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

NBC (Mon., Dec. 10, 9 P.M. ET)

B

The saga of Baum (1856-1919), author of the Oz children's series, is turned into a fittingly schmaltzy fairy tale.

Essentially it's a romance told by the woman (Annette O'Toole) who loved and supported him through a series of unsatisfying business ventures that took their family all over the United States until he could be coaxed into committing to paper the stories he had been entertaining children with for years. The film's sentimental tone is well suited to the strengths of John Ritter, who plays Baum.

The evocation of 19th-century society is often enchanting, but the re-creations of his Ozian fantasy world seem garish, especially compared with the cinematic classic starring Judy Garland. This cheery fable's silliest conceit is the introduction of people who supposedly served as inspirations for Baum's fictional characters, including his mother-in-law (Rue McClanahan), who becomes the wicked witch; Charles Haid, as a bully who is transformed into the Cowardly Lion; and a midget (Ed Gale again), who was the original Munchkin.

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