Location: The bottom floor of Crown Center by the Coterie Theater. Crown Center is at 2450 Grand Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri.
Cost: Free! They can validate parking for the parking garage, too.
If you are a fan of The Wizard of Oz and want your little one to be a fan, you must check out the current exhibit at Crown Center, 75 Years of Oz, Oh My! The designers and builders have outdone themselves, making it so every major location from the movie is available to be climbed on, admired and explored.
The entrance to the exhibit is designed to look like Dorothy’s farm house. There’s even a mailbox with “Auntie Em” written on it at the right that you can open and check for mail.
Once you enter the exhibit, you’ll find the farmhouse at your left. You can push a button to make the cyclone whirl and the wicked witch circle it on her bicycle–this was hard for me to see as a sighted adult, so it would be a challenge for anyone with a vision impairment. There is a spot where the Wicked Witch of the East’s legs and ruby slippers peek out, but it’s roped off so you can’t actually touch it.
The space immediately ahead of you is a brightly-rendered munchkin land. There are two houses that children can climb into; Sprout thought these were delightful. There is also the bright gold yellow-brick road, and the river through Munchkinland is represented with small green lillypads. The river and bridge are a good depth/flooring challenge: there is a step down into the river, and the river is covered with blue carpet rather than smooth floor like the rest of the exhibit. The lillypads are slightly raised, so you could have a cane user sweep to find the pads if you liked. The bridge is curved, so you get to feel the elevation of the floor change beneath you.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road past Munchkinland, and you’ll find three enormous cut-outs of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Here, as in many other spaces in the exhibit, pushing a bright red button will play a sound clip from the famous film. Sprout loved pushing the button and singing along to “We’re Off to See the Wizard!”
To your right, you’ll find the Emerald City. Inside, there’s a slide, several stairs, and the Wizard of Oz himself. The buttons here activate the Wizard’s eyes–you can make them flash on and off–and, of course, the voice of “OZ, the GREAT and POWERFUL!.”
Sprout, frankly, was terrified. I sat with her and Peanut on the steps to show them the Wizard–Peanut would not have noticed it, or several of the other exhibit features behind Plexiglas, if I had not pointed them out–and pushed the buttons for them.
I calmed Sprout down by explaining that there was a control panel behind the curtain–and, when I’d showed her the controls on the other side of the wall, it became one of her favorite places to play in the exhibit.
Next to the Emerald City is the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. There’s a bit of a maze in the castle for kids to find their way through, and another flooring challenge in the form of a soft foam mat that lines the bottom of one of the hallways. The main room has an electric globe–one of the ones where, when you touch it, the “lightening” inside is attracted to your fingers, cut outs of three flying monkeys, and a model broom that you can climb on to “ride.” There’s also a Wicked Witch of the West, again behind Plexiglas, who’s held up by wind. One button will get her to scream, “I’m melting!,” and the other will cut off the wind and make her actually “melt.” This was Peanut’s favorite part of the exhibit.
There’s another flooring challenge to get out of the castle: the steps are dark gray and aren’t standard-sized. It took Peanut and Sprout both a few tries to master them.
After you exit the Witch’s Castle into the spooky woods, you’ll find a model hot air balloon and a big slide. The slide is your way “home”: when you hit the bottom, your feet will land on two ruby slippers painted on the floor. The slide was a huge hit with both of my kiddos.
The exhibit has a wall of Oz memorabilia and, as always a big table with Oz-related books for parents and children to read.
There are lots and lots of sound elements from the movie to interact with, and the exhibit is really nicely designed. While both Peanut and Sprout loved their time in Oz, I think it’s an exhibit that’s more fun if you have at least some usable vision: there really aren’t tactile elements to make the exhibit fun for children who cannot see. An involved parent could make it work, though: the spaces in the “buildings” are big enough for a parent to climb through with their child. You could definitely give the sense of a journey, and some of the sense of size, with going through the exhibit, and you could bring in elements from the movie with the different sound buttons. For a totally blind child, it may be better to watch the movie first, then go to the exhibit to enhance that experience, rather than the other way around.