Wicked Trailers Breakdown: Why Hollywood Is Hiding Musicals

The Super Bowl happened this month and everyone was really chill about it and no one freaked out over the deep state rigging the game due to Taylor Swift dating the winning team’s quarterback. For those non-Americans or those who are unaware, this was sarcasm. As someone who does not have many strong opinions about football, February 11th was just my birthday. Usually, in America, people who don’t like football but are in a situation where they have to watch the Super Bowl annoy those around them by verbally ranking the advertisements that play between the game to anyone unfortunate enough to be around them. If you couldn’t tell, I also don’t care for the ads. I will explain why I don’t like the ads but I have to warn you, this opinion that I have sounds like something the most annoying person on Instagram would post. Okay, warning over. The reason I don’t like the ads is I’m not interested in watching soulless companies with the ability to afford advertising space during the Super Bowl trying their hardest to be “trendy’ and “relatable” in a desperate effort to take money from us.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering to yourself, “Why are we talking about any of this I’m here to get my Alice fix?” Well, today, we’re actually going to be talking about something that does relate to Alice, but not an Alice-related topic. Just hear me out. Today, we are going to be talking about the Wicked movie trailers. It’s not just the Wicked movie that is coming out later this year. No, we are also going to be talking about Wicked, the 1998 movie that Frank Beddor produced and starring Julia Stiles.

Let’s dive into the new Wicked trailer that premiered during the Super Bowl. The adaptation of the iconic musical was directed by Jon M. Chu, and apparently, is going to be slightly different from the original story. What that means, I don’t know. I wanted to give a brief synopsis of the trailer but all I could gather is the cast is quite star-studded, to say the least. I have tailored the cast down to those that I know of because it’s a pretty big cast. The cast includes; Cynthia Erivo as Elphaba, Ariana Grande as Galinda, Jeff Goldblum as the Wizard, Michelle Yeoh as Madame Morrible, and Ethan Slater, who you might know as that SpongeBob guy who’s dating Ariana Grande, as Boq. It’s safe to say that there is some real star power in this film. As someone who saw Wicked the musical many years ago and remembers very little from it, the trailer did not do much to jog my memory. It does not reveal much of the story if anything at all. That’s not a criticism, by the way. I personally prefer trailers not to give me much information besides who is in it, the genre, and the tone. But, I don’t really know what type of movie this is. I mean, I have an idea because I’ve seen the Wicked musical and remember something about defying gravity but if I was someone who knew nothing about Wicked or The Wizard of Oz, I didn’t really gain anything from the trailer.

Okay, now let’s talk about the trailer for the Wicked movie starring Julia Stiles. It starts with a man being questioned by the police about his wife’s murder. Then, the classic 90’s movie trailer narrator comes in with that classic 90’s movie trailer narrator voice. The information that I could gather from the trailer was that a woman was murdered in her gated community in suburbia, her husband is the prime suspect, a suspicious neighbor gives an attitude to the police, and the daughter, played by Julia Stiles, behaves in a way that leads me to believe she knows more about the murder than she lets on. Look, it had me at the 90’s movie trailer voice. This trailer led me to believe that the story is going to be full of twists and turns and will be a rollercoaster till the end. After watching the film, I was right. Great job trailer!

There is an interesting trend among films as of late that I find incredibly annoying – not telling people what a movie is. For those who know, Wicked is a Broadway musical. That is to say, people are going to sing. With that knowledge, it would be safe to assume that the 2024 Wicked movie would then be a musical as well. And you would assume correctly. But, the trailer does not allude to this fact, in any way whatsoever. Why? This isn’t the first time a musical has been marketed this way. Look at Timothee Chalamet’s Wonka movie that just came out. Apparently, that was a musical too. Nowhere in the trailer was this hinted at. The Mean Girls movie that also just came out was a musical. Why wasn’t this mentioned anywhere in the marketing? I know I made a joke about the song, “Defying Gravity” earlier but if that’s the only song I remember from the musical it must mean it’s a popular song. There wasn’t even a nod to the song in the Wicked movie trailer.

I have a theory as to why studios do this. My guess at the reasoning for hiding a film being a musical is that the West Side Story remake by Stephen Spielberg was a box office flop. If a Stephen Spielberg film flops, that’s a pretty big deal. He’s literally known for making blockbusters. But, when West Side Story, a STEPHEN SPIELBERG film, flopped, the executives, with all their genius, must have concluded that it flopped because people don’t like musicals. This is a weird conclusion because there is a street in New York, Broadway, which is entirely dedicated to musicals. Along with Broadway, there are many other streets where less popular musicals play which are called, “off-Broadway musicals.” If you haven’t guessed it, I disagree with the notion that people don’t like musicals. I think West Side Story flopped because people didn’t want to see a remake of an already good movie. There have been a couple more musical flops that probably scared executives into not marketing musicals as such. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights was a flop, as well as the Dear Evan Hansen adaptation that came out in 2021. I have an idea as to why these movies flopped though. I didn’t see a single ad for In the Heights. How am I supposed to know a movie came out if I don’t know a movie exists? As for Dear Evan Hansen, that movie flopped because it wasn’t good. The Dear Evan Hansen musical is fine but watching a then 28-year-old Ben Platt be a high school sophomore with a perm was tough to get through.

Still image of Cynthia Erivo as Elphaba and Ariana Grande as Galinda from the 2024 Universal Pictures film "Wicked".

Due to this information about movies hiding the fact that they are musicals, when I sat down to watch Wicked, the movie starring Julia Stiles, I wondered to myself how far back this practice went. Apparently, it started sometime in the 2000’s because it was not a musical. Or maybe Frank had met with the Oracle of Delphi and foresaw musicals flopping and axed the idea before it could happen. This isn’t the only thing the trailer for Wicked, the adaptation of the musical, hid from people, it’s double dipping. The other thing this trailer hid from the audience is that it’s part 1 of 2. Perhaps, that’s why I wasn’t able to glean much information from the trailer since the movie is just set up with no real ending until the second part is released. This is something that many films have recently been doing. The most recent Spider-Verse film hid this fact from its audience.

Let me tell you, I do not like this practice at all. If I go to a movie, I want to see a beginning, middle, and end. I don’t want to see just the beginning and the first half of the middle. I do get why studios hide this from the audience though. If you also agree with me on not liking this, you probably wouldn’t have seen the second Spider-Verse film until the third one came out, then probably watched part one on streaming. Studios would rather you go to the theater. But, you know how they can ensure that movie fans go to theaters? By just making a complete movie! The new Horizon: An American Saga, starring Kevin Costner, at least, has the decency to put on the posters that it’s broken up into chapters. But, it still makes me wonder, why are movies turning into TV shows?

Still image of Julia Stiles as Ellie Christianson, Vanessa Zima as Inger Christianson, and William R. Moses as Ben Christianson from the 1998 mystery thriller film "Wicked".

Wicked, the movie starring Julia Stiles, was a complete movie… Well, now that I think about it, while the story does come to its full conclusion, the ending does leave an open door for a part two. This might be the reason why Frank is having me write this article, to begin with. What if this was all a ploy to market the second part of a movie that came out 26 years ago? Maybe he pitched the idea to Julia Stiles who will be reprising her role as the mother. This isn’t me pretending to not know what is going on while saying what is going on. I’m legitimately just spitballing here. I’m completely in the dark. Just like the people who have seen the Wicked musical movie trailer.

Look, I know fans of Wicked the musical are a proud bunch. Believe me, I dated one when I was younger. I try not to criticize movies before they come out. For all I know, it could be awesome. What I am criticizing is the execution of the trailer and comparing it to the trailer of a movie that shares the same name that happens to have been produced by my boss. The trailer for Wicked starring Julia Stiles, was the better trailer. I’m not saying that because I have to, Frank gives me a lot (maybe too much) of freedom on these blog posts. I’m saying this because it’s my objective truth. You’re allowed to disagree. Is the trailer dated? Of course, that’s what happens when time passes. But, it gave me just enough information without spoiling anything to get me interested enough to actually watch the film. Whereas the trailer for Wicked the movie is coasting on the fact that it is a retelling of an incredibly popular musical and the cast is full of star power. And for me, that isn’t enough to get me interested. Wow, I’m now realizing that because I wrote this, I am the annoying person who gave a long-winded review of a Super Bowl commercial. Frank turned me into what I made fun of… Now that is truly wicked.

Meet the Author:

Jared Hoffman Headshot

Jared Hoffman graduated from the American Film Institute with a degree in screenwriting. A Los Angeles native, his brand of comedy is satire stemming from the many different personalities and egos he has encountered throughout his life. As a lover of all things comedy, Jared is always working out new material and trying to make those around him laugh. His therapist claims this is a coping mechanism, but what does she know?

Alice & Dorothy: Similarities of Wonderland & Oz

Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz have long occupied similar space in pop culture. Dorothy and Alice walk hand in hand among our favorite childhood heroes. Their stories are so reminiscent of one another that their names are often uttered in the same breath, alluding to exploration of other whimsical realms, of imaginative adventure, and of budding identity. But each story still holds its own individual charm, while touching on many of the same themes.

Here, we will explore exactly what makes these stories so unique, and still so infinitely universal to audiences everywhere. (Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article, I’ll be referencing the most popular film versions of each story, though they both began as classic storybooks. I’ll be referring to Judy Garland’s 1939 portrayal of Dorothy, and the 1951 animated Alice.)

Though this is not true for the films, Alice in Wonderland actually came first. Lewis Carroll first wrote of Alice in the mid 1860’s, while L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published over 30 years later. One could assume that Carroll’s wildly successful tale influenced and informed Baum’s writings. 

On Left, L. Frank Baum The Wizard of Oz book cover image. Cartoon Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion walk the yellow brick road with the castle of Oz further down the horizon. On right the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland - A tale by Lewis Carroll. Book cover with cartoon Alice wandering through Wonderland, as the flowers and Chesire Cat watching her every move. The Red Queen sits above, looking stern, watching over her kingdom.

Each tale begins in a different, and somewhat opposite way. Dorothy is thrust into her adventure against her will, by way of a freak accident, while Alice enters her tale willingly, as an active participant. Dorothy is swept away to Oz by a tornado (and a bump on the head), while Alice runs off to chase the white rabbit, either in her sleep or awake (it really wasn’t very clear).

Interestingly, they exit their stories in opposite ways. Whereas Dorothy was stolen away to Oz, she finds her own way back. Alice, on the other hand, volunteers to go on her journey and then makes it home by continual boldness.

Either way, both girls eventually find their way home. This is another theme that runs through the currant of each story: a young girl’s desire to return to familiar comfort. Dorothy’s last words in Oz were famously, “there’s no place like home”, while Alice’s sentiment was basically the same.

Examining gender roles through Alice & Dorothy

Though I am possibly projecting my own millennial biases onto these works of fiction, it seems to me that both (male) authors were trying to tell little girls that their place was at home, close to all things domestic, and that going on those pesky adventures will only end in tears. It is little wonder to me that both stories were popularized in 1950’s America. 

On this feminist note, it is interesting to me that both protagonists were female. How would each story be affected if little Alice were Alex instead, or if Dorothy were Daniel? I don’t think that either plot would be greatly changed if either character were switched to her male counterpart. I think the difference here lies in the “how” of the story, rather than the “what”. 

Alice and Dorothy were allowed such vulnerability and tenderness only because of their gender, since these emotional traits are associated with girls. The stereotypical male adventurer is brash, strong and unafraid (at least outwardly). The characters would have been expected to act out their stories differently if they were boys. Here, we see a prime example of typified gender roles in literature, and the unnecessary limits placed on characters as a result of their gender.

Age is another factor that sets these characters apart, and in some ways, defines them. Alice is around age 7, and Dorothy is about 12. This could account for the difference in tone and plot complexity in each story. Alice’s plot is often seen as disjointed and haphazard, while Dorothy’s story is more traditional.

As a 7-year-old, one could expect that Alice’s story wouldn’t make much logical sense, but would consist of a fanciful world filled with fun, zany characters. We could also expect this from Dorothy, but with a bit more maturity, and the logic and emotional depth of an older child. 

As a fun experiment, I made my own family rewatch the films, and asked which story they liked better. Coincidentally, it was the younger ones (myself included) who prefer Alice in Wonderland, and the older generation who most enjoyed The Wizard of Oz, for the reasons I mentioned previously. Only those who remain children at heart can truly appreciate the magic of Alice in Wonderland. For those who need a more traditional story, The Wizard of Oz is a great choice.

Another reason for the difference in tone could be each story’s country of origin. The Wizard of Oz is a distinctly American tale, whereas Alice hails from Victorian England. Dorothy is a classic midwestern farm girl, who soon realizes that she’s not in Kansas anymore. Alice, on the other hand, has to fight the omnipotent monarchy to return home, a very English concept.

The Use of Color Theory in Storytelling

Despite their differences, both films share one artistic attribute in common. They both feature a vibrant color scheme that has tantalized audiences, both old and young, for decades.

A recent obsession with Breaking Bad has turned my mind to color theory, and its use in visual storytelling. Both Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz make excellent use of colors, which tell even more of each story symbolically, between the lines. Alice begins with a theme of white. She lays in a field of white flowers, and is disturbed by a jittery white rabbit, perpetually late. Historically, white is understood to signify innocence, and this seems to be true for Alice. The white rabbit’s preoccupation with time could suggest that the clock is always ticking on Alice’s childhood, and it’s time for her to grow up, whether or not she’s ready.

Animated image, or GIF of Alice laying down in a field of daisies,  while butterflies circle above her head.

In Wonderland, she encounters a wide array of new colors throughout her journey, the most formidable of which is red, which she meets last. The Queen of Hearts, Alice’s adversary and the story’s villain, takes on red as her theme color, symbolizing the opposite of girlhood and innocence, or the loss of it.

In fact, Alice first draws the ire of the Queen by failing to paint one of her white roses red (not pink, not green, not aquamarine). This, to me, is a symbol of vulnerability peeking out through a veneer of false maturity, or a child not quite ready to grow up. 

The Wizard of Oz also uses its own rich color theory, but toward a different end. Many scholars have compared Dorothy’s story to a cautionary tale on capitalism. Think about it. A very lavish, very green city was the story’s destination. Add in a yellow (or gold-ish) brick road. And fun fact: in Baum’s original book, Dorothy’s slippers were silver, not ruby red. So, a path of silver and gold leads to wealth and prosperity?

The symbolism here is almost too on-the-nose. But it is not one-dimensional. We also see the ugly side of capitalism, as another important character is represented by green. The Wicked Witch of the West, the story’s villain, symbolizes the greed and selfishness associated with wealth, as her only concern is stealing Dorothy’s (silver/ruby) slippers. And, well, she is the color of money.

Image of Dorothy Gale, the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow and the Tin Man walking down the yellow brick road, towards the Royal Palace of Oz, with The Emerald Throne Room, or Royal Chamber.

Songs of Synesthesia in Oz and Wonderland

Even the film’s theme song, Judy Garland’s famous “Over the Rainbow”, is color based. Alice, too, sings a color themed song of her own.

In the Golden Afternoon”, the song she sings with a choir of brightly-colored flowers, again references youth and its fleeting nature. Gold represents change. The golden hour, sunrise or sunset, bids farewell to one day and welcomes in another. (Think Ponyboy, here). It is a time of change, growth and evolution, of maturing and growing up. Which, like the song, can sometimes be melancholy.

Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz are two stories that can never be imitated or replaced. Alice and Dorothy have stood the test of time as two of the most endearing and loveable fictional characters of all time. And when we watch either of these films again for the 100th time, we can’t help but remember what it’s like to be a child on an adventure.

Meet The Author

Marissa Armstrong is a Los Angeles native and currently a student at Arizona State University, where she majors in Film and English. Her brand of dark comedy stems from an appreciation of both the light and the dark in humanity. It is her purpose to use her storytelling wiles to celebrate all things tragically hilarious. Or hilariously tragic.