November 3, 2013

Two movies you never realized were The Magic Flute

The New York Times recently published an article (you can read it at this link) about the rarely-performed sequel to Mozart's Magic Flute, a monstrosity called Das Labyrinth thrown together by Flute librettist Emanuel Schickaneder. Mozart having passed on to the Great Composer's Lounge in the Sky, Schickaneder asked a journeyman composer (one Mozart detested, by the way) named Peter von Winter to compose the music. This Winter dude, by the way - no relation to Your Humble Blogger. Probably. I hope.

Anyway, even though this project featured all the same characters and gimmicks (magic flute, magic bells, etc.) as the original, including a passel of high F's for the Queen of the Night (I thought she was banished to "eternal darkness"? Well, never mind...), Schickaneder and von Winter found they were unable (to paraphrase Browning) to "recapture the first, fine, careless rapture".

In other words,Das Labyrinth is said to be pretty dreadful in the way that the earnest plodding of well-intended mediocrity can be dreadful.

But if you think that was the last word on All Things Flute, I thought you might be interested to know that while we lack any notable sequels to The Magic Flute, there are some re-imaginings of the story and characters that are totally inspired by Mozart's masterpiece. You already know them; they're classic films. And 95% of you never made the connection.

First, the one in which the parallels to Mozart are clearest: The Wizard of Oz. Take the time to Google Frank L. Baum, author of the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and all sorts of influences and sources will be listed: the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm; the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll's The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland; and even childhood memories of the author. An article published in The American Quarterly in 1964 posits that the novel is an elaborate allegory concerning the United States moving away from the gold standard. No one cites The Magic Flute. But compare the two stories side by side and I think you'll see what I see. NOTE: I've never read the novel, so the following summary is based on the famous MGM movie.
One man's flute is...

Magic Flute: Tamino goes on a quest to find an evil sorcerer, Sarastro
Wizard of Oz: Dorothy goes on a quest to find a scary wizard.

...another girl's slipper

Magic Flute: Tamino is befriended by Papageno, a birdcatcher covered with feathers. He is friendly but not too smart. He makes us laugh with goofy jokes.
Wizard of Oz: Dorothy is befriended by the Scarcrow (who is supposed to frighten birds). He's covered in straw. He is friendly but not too smart. He makes us laugh with goofy jokes.

Magic Flute: Tamino is given a magic flute he can use to bail himself out of a tough jam.
Wizard of Oz: Dorothy is given a pair of ruby slippers she can use to bail herself out of a tough jam.

Magic Flute: Masonic numerology focuses on the number three: three Ladies, three trials, etc.
Wizard of Oz: Dorothy ends up with three companions; Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. Also, who remembers how many times she had to click the heels of those ruby slippers to get to Kansas?

Magic Flute: The "evil sorcerer" Sarastro turns out to be a kindly and wise man.
Wizard of Oz: The Wizard of Oz turns out to be a kindly and wise man.

Magic Flute: Tamino, in order to achieve Enlightenment, must undergo a symbolic "death" which occurs when he faints before the serpent.
Wizard of Oz: Dorothy, in order to achieve Enlightenment, must undergo a symbolic "death" which occurs when she blacks out after hitting her head during the tornado.

Magic Flute: Tamino must undergo three trials: silence, fire and water.
Wizard of Oz: Dorothy undergoes trials as well: a field of sleep-inducing poppies, a swarm of flying monkeys, and obtaining the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Magic Flute: the antagonist is a supernatural woman, the Queen of the Night.
Wizard of Oz: the antagonist is a supernatural woman, the Wicked W--- (I think you've got this one.)

Magic Flute: When he has successfully conquered his trials, Tamino has attained wisdom and enlightenment.
Wizard of Oz: When she has successfully conquered her trials, Dorothy has attained the wisdom of realizing that "there's no place like home".

Magic Flute: Papageno ends up with his greatest wish come true: a wife.
Wizard of Oz: Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion end up with their wishes come true: a brain, a heart and courage.

Magic Flute: Speaking of brain (wisdom), heart (feeling) and courage; don't these dovetail nicely with Masonic ideals of wisdom, virtue, nobility, etc? (The correct answer is "yes".)
Wizard of Oz: see above.

Magic Flute: giant serpent.
Wizard of Oz: them flyin' monkeys!

Pretty startling, isn't it? Now before you flood the comments section below with all your little objections and rebuttals, let me clarify. Am I saying Baum and MGM consciously used Mozart's singspiel as the primary model? Not really - some stories are so archetypal that we can expect their themes to recur throughout history. There are versions of the story of Noah's flood in several cultures, for example. But, to use an over-worked phrase, "it is what it is". (Me? I love over-worked phrases!) The Wizard of Ozi is, in fact, a re-imagining of The Magic Flute.

But I mentioned two movies, didn't I? I was thinking about Disney's animated version of Sleeping Beauty. Get a load of this:

  • Powerful female antagonist: Maleficent
  • Heroine undergoes symbolic death (a hundred year's sleep)
  • Handsome prince also undergoes symbolic death: capture and imprisonment by Maleficent.
  • Three "ladies": Flora, Fauna and Merriweather.
  • Giant serpent (the metamorphosis of Maleficent)
  • The "three ladies" give a handsome prince a magical gift (the Sword of Truth) with which he can rescue an imprisoned damsel. As a bonus, he also gets the Shield of Virtue. NOTE: truth and virtue: Masonic ideals.
  • Three trials for the prince, including the attack of Maleficent's army, the forest of thorns, and the serpent.
By the way - Walt Disney was a Freemason. 


The photo of the flute is by RadioFan; the photo of the ruby slippers is by José-Manuel Benito Álvarez.


  1. Have you seen "Tangled"? The parallels are as striking if not moreso in that one.

  2. All major studios look to popular films to remake, I read at that it would actually make more sense to redo a film that originally failed. That way you could improve on it.