Review: Oz The Great and Powerful
In this prequel to the famed 1939 film, a smooth-talking carnival magician is swept away during a storm and awakens in the magical land of Oz, where witches are good and bad, monkeys can talk and fly, and a prophesy tells of a man who will save everyone from evil.
Who’s in It:
James Franco is the unlikely but perfect fit for Oz, while a trio of lovely ladies play witches, good and bad, in Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams. Zach Braff is Oz’s assistant both in Kansas and in Oz, though in different forms, and there may be one or two funny cameos – if you can spot them.
The necessary tightrope needed to be traversed for this film to be successful makes the yellow-brick road look like an eight-lane highway. James Franco, director Sam Raimi, and even Disney have had to be careful battling massive expectations, a loyal, cautious fan base, and even copyright issues to make this big budget film a success and a franchise.
This is a Disney film, after all, but the original is owned by Warner Brothers. There is a yellow-brick road, given the Raimi treatment in that it changes its look with its mood, but there are no ruby slippers (Dorothy isn’t in it anyways). The evil winged-monkeys are evil winged-baboons (there is one good winged-monkey, and you know he’s benevolent because he wears a bell-hop outfit), the Wicked Witch of the West is a different shade of green, and the Munchkins are Munchkins, just more diverse and living in Munchkin Country, and not Munchkinland.
While that may have sent the legal team at Disney into an incoherent tempest, the film itself is anything but chaotic. Beautifully rendered, Oz is smart, satisfying, and full of charm. Avoiding clichés while alluding cleverly to the past (keep your eyes out for the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion) Oz is at once its own film and a homage to the original, though certainly more adult and less carefree and whimsical. The films are similar, but meant for different times and audiences, and it’s likely that those in love the 1939 picture will stubbornly reject the new, major studio version.
Like The Wizard of Oz, this one opens in black and white, and 4×3 (daring in that it lasts for at least 15 minutes), but after a tornado envelopes the cowardly magician in his hot-air balloon, the dust settles and we all open our eyes as colour majestically fills the screen as the picture widens and the real magic begins.
Franco, perhaps due to the odd and polarizing character he plays in the media-perhaps- plays sleazy and selfish with aplomb, while Williams may be the best witch of the trio, bright and bubbly (in more ways than one), but given needed savvy and smarts. Weisz and Kunis don’t fit as well, but both glisten with a type of nostalgic Disney princess beauty; though it’s unsure if it’s more digital enhancement or not.
The patience and wit of the first half does not crumble to the demands of a dramatic or emotional finish (though it is dramatic and emotional) staying paced and purposeful, meeting expectations and standing strong under pressure greater than the weight of a Midwestern house.
Should You See It?
Yes – everyone else will.
After letting his humble servant in on some of his mis-directions, Oz tells a nervous Finley (who is by the way sworn secrecy): ‘Don’t think of them as lies; think of them as stepping stones to greatness.’