By Jon Gallagher
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (Walt Disney Pictures, 2013) Director: Sam Raimi. Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, and Joey King. Color and 3D, 130 minutes.
To prepare for this movie, I read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the children’s novel on which the world’s most famous movie was based. I was shocked to find so many differences between the book and movie (the wicked witch doesn’t even make an appearance till about three-quarters of the way through the book), and there are many more inhabitants of Oz than just the Munchkins who we meet in the movie.
The screenwriters of Oz the Great and Powerful must have done their research as well. They delve into parts of Oz that Baum wrote about to weave together a very nice prequel that answers a lot of questions that we may or may not have had about the magical land that Dorothy visits courtesy of a Kansas twister.
I should also mention that the version of Oz the Great and Powerful that I saw was in 3D. I’m not sure how many special effects were added just for the 3D version or if there were any at all. I’d be interested in seeing the film again (at least the first half hour) to see if there’s any.
One other bit of trivial information before we get into the movie itself: Baum’s books (there are 14 total – to him, Oz is a real place, whereas in the movie, Oz is just a dream) are in public domain which means that anyone can print or use things from them. However, The Wizard of Oz movie is copyrighted and owned by MGM, along with all of the names (Dorothy may not be, but she isn’t mentioned in this new film) like the Cowardly Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West (including the shade of green used in her makeup). Therefore, the new movie has to find a way to work around using those names. They do an excellent job.
The movie begins in classic black and white using just the very center of the screen with a small-time travelling circus called the Baum Brothers (in honor of L. Frank Baum) and its con-man magician, Oscar “Oz” Diggs (Franco). He tries to convince his audiences in 1905 Kansas that his magic is real, not just an illusion, and he puts the moves on ladies from each and every town that they visit. Somewhere along the line, he pisses off the circus strongman who’s bent on tearing him limb from limb, but he escapes to the relative safety of a hot air balloon tethered on the circus grounds. He makes his escape, only to be caught up on a Kansas tornado and transported to the magical Land of Oz. As he floats into the new land, the full screen expands and turns to vibrant color, and includes a rainbow, which he’s floating over. He lands, well, you know… Somewhere… OVER the rainbow…
He meets a lovely young lady named Theodora (Kunis) who tells him of the dead king’s prophecy that a wizard with the same name as the land, Oz, will fall from the sky and become their new king. Along the way they meet a winged monkey in a bellhop’s outfit who they befriend. Oz has to use his magic to scare away a hungry lion that wants to make a snack of the monkey. As the lion runs off, Oz calls him “a coward.”
She takes him back to the Emerald City where he meets Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Weisz). She shows him what he can have, a room filled with gold, if only he will go and kill the evil witch who lives in the forest.
The plot twists as Oz finds another friend along the way. It’s a small China doll with broken legs. Her village of other China figures has been destroyed by the evil witch’s flying baboons; save for the one small doll. While in Kansas, he had failed to help a little girl walk with his magic, but here in Oz, he’s able to use some glue from his suitcase to mend her legs.
It’s not long before Oz, the monkey Finley, and the doll China Girl, find the witch (Williams) but it’s not who they expected. It’s revealed that she’s actually Glinda the Good, while the sisters back at the Emerald City are the evil ones.
Things start to fall together nicely. Evanora convinces Theodora to take a bite of an apple which brings out her true persona and turns her a light shade of green (it will take some time for her skin to get as dark green as it is when Dorothy visits). She also needs some extra time to grow the mole on her chin (since MGM lawyers convinced someone that it was also copyrighted). Oz needs to save the Land of Oz to win the heart of Glinda (who knows all along that he’s not a real wizard), but he doesn’t have much to work with.
The final scenes involve his use of illusions to outwit the wicked witches and save Glinda, the Munchkins, the Tinkers, and the Tailors, and the Winkies. Even the Scarecrow gets a bit of an introduction without violating any copyright laws.
The acting is okay. Franco comes across slimy as the conman, but his transformation to a hero isn’t quite as good. His character, when he appears to Evanora and Theodora towards the end, is way over the top, and becomes a bit distracting. Kunis is good before her transformation takes place, but afterwards, it’s not that impressive. Williams is good and Weisz is tremendous, but it’s Braff’s voice-overs as Finley that steal the show. It’s hard to judge the acting part of his and King’s (China Girl) part since they’re both CGI.
Given the fact that I enjoyed the story and the settings, but could have wanted more in the acting, what should I give it as a rating?
My answer: A+
Here’s why: When I go to a movie, I don’t necessarily go to see good acting. I go to be entertained. I want to leave the theater with a smile on my face knowing that I just spent my money on something I enjoyed. If I have my daughter with me, I want to make sure she enjoyed it as well.
I came out of the theater thoroughly entertained. I loved the 3D effects, I thought they did a good job with the story and tying it into the movie that had already been made, and I was satisfied with the ending. It’s a movie that I would go see again, one that I would rent when it comes out, and it’s one that I would probably own eventually. With that criteria in mind I have to rate it an A+.
It won’t be winning any Academy Awards next year (unless it’s for cinematography, or something) but it’s something the family can enjoy. Smaller children may be bothered a bit by the flying baboons (they are scary).
And I will admit, there’s one scene where the 3D got me. I won’t tell you exactly what, but it involves River Fairies. I found myself ducking, then being extremely embarrassed for sliding down in my seat. I was glad it was dark in the theater. But as I sat back up, I noticed everyone around me was sheepishly sitting back up in their seats as well.
They got us all!