Oz the Great and Powerful

Posted: March 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews

Oz_Hot air balloon

For over 70 years, The Wizard of Oz has delighted audiences of all ages with its wild-but-charming narrative, its personable characters, and its classic themes. Even though it wasn’t the instant success everyone assumes it must have been when released, the film has become a classic in American pop-culture. When Disney decided to create a prequel to the beloved film, I was filled with both anticipation and hesitation—-anticipation because I thought of the great potential it had, and hesitation because I know from experience how utterly simple it is to ruin a remake or a sequel.

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Summary: (No spoilers)

“I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great one,” says Oscar Diggs (played by James Franco—-the Spider-Man trilogy), a small-time Kansas circus magician barely getting by with cheap tricks. All he really desires is the fame and recognition that he thinks he deserves, but the reality that he is simply a cheap entertainer and a fraud causes him to seriously doubt himself and his morality.

After a tornado whisks him away in a hot air balloon to Oz, a mystical land filled with enchanted wonders, Oscar soon discovers that he is part of a prophesy which hails him as the wizard who will save Oz from the evil witch. After meeting Theodora (played by Mila Kunis—-Black Swan), a good witch, Oscar is taken to the Emerald City where he meets Theodora’s sister Evanora (played by Rachel Weisz—-The Mummy). Both are skeptical of him and neither think that he is a true wizard.

Oscar learns that a room filled with infinite treasure is all his, but on one condition: he must defeat the wicked witch who has caused so much pain and suffering in Oz, thus proving himself. With the help of a flying monkey called Finley—–thankfully, good—-and a china doll, the said-wizard sets out to stake his claim on the gold.

James Franco in Oz

The trio soon finds, however, that the evil witch is actually Glinda (played by Michelle Williams—-My Week With Marilyn) the third sister and also a good witch. When Oscar is ultimately up against the real wicked witch, he finds himself in a dilemma: he is not a real wizard. However, after dealing with his principles, Oscar puts his priorities in line and, using cleverness and ingenuity, transforms himself into the true Wizard of Oz.

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 The film starts off well, beginning in a Kansas setting that seems quite familiar to another well-known film. Everything is black-and-white and in a 4:3 ratio, but later moves on to widescreen and color. The character of Oscar Diggs is one that we don’t like so much; he’s a phony with reasonable intentions but bad motivation. His plea to achieve greatness is earnest, but the way in which he goes about it brings words like “rat” and “louse” into mind.

Oscar’s journey from vain, egotistical crook to selfless, caring wizard is an enjoyable one. The story itself is admirable, but I’m afraid it falls prey to lackluster film making and tacky scenarios, which is a shame since I so desired to love this film. It for sure has its positive elements, but it ultimately falls short in several areas.

It’s always difficult critiquing films such as this because there’s usually so much positive to enjoy, and sometimes it’s necessary to just overlook the negative. But the infinite truth is that often the negative elements of a film simply weigh down the rest.

James Franco as Oz, and china doll

 In all honesty, the film had its powerful moments. As I said, the beginning was very well done and left little to desire. The rest, however, was a mixture of good and bad ingredients. The film actually carries itself like a traveling circus. Some aspects are breathtaking and a spectacle to behold. Some, however, are quite shoddy. There were moments in the film that just seemed slapped together, as if the film-makers and actors weren’t even aware of how the scene should have been properly played out.

But to be fair, The Wizard of Oz  wasn’t really a remarkable piece of work either, and it also had its many cheesy moments. I suppose one possible explanation for the tackiness in this film was the source material. I mean let’s face it, the wicked witch wasn’t exactly intimidating. The flying monkeys were scarier than she was.

Wicked witches Oz the Great and Powerful  took the opportunities to pay homage in certain areas to its predecessor. The Emerald City the most obvious of which, the yellow brick road, munchkin cameos, actors who reprise roles in both Kansas and Oz, a nod to scarecrows, and the wizard’s ominous and seemingly-threatening theatricals. And, of course, the birth of the Wicked Witch of the West. But the actress who portrays her (I will not reveal which one) was not fit for the role and she makes even the original wicked witch look hackneyed and, well . . . corny.

The film had its great moments, namely well-executed humor and supporting characters who add real charm and emotion. The character of Finley is one that evokes the most passion from the audience, and the china doll is instantly lovable. James Franco as Oz plays the part but with no real bravado. His sheepish smile prevents us from taking him completely seriously at times. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. were the actors of choice for this role, and I personally think they would have contributed so much more to the character.

The three witches, again, play the part; but even though they seem to work at their performances, none reach a particular level of grandeur and finesse. They were mediocre at times, had their good moments, but were often just average. But the moments in which they should have brought forth their greatest performances were regrettably the moments in which they seemed unfit for the role.

But ultimately it was the story that was the key. Even though it may have been substandard on the outside, on the inside it actually was commendable. The theme of greatness is a timeless subject that works well in nearly any situation. The character of Oz plays a bit like Jack Sparrow. His lust for riches and glory seems to be his only motivation, but when he ultimately sets those things aside to aid others, his true character shines through. He may not have become the Harry Houdini/Thomas Edison combination he was striving for or the all-great and powerful wizard everyone thought he was, but through simple acts of kindness and innovation he does become the man he ought to be.

In a nutshell:

There is no Cowardly Lion or Tin Man, no Dorothy or Toto, no ruby slippers, no “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” But if you look past the obvious pitfalls and disadvantages, you’ll find that this may be an enticing film. It was only half-bad, after all. If you are a huge Wizard of Oz  aficionado, then by all means, this film may find a special nostalgic place in your heart. But if not, just remember that this is geared towards the kiddies in all of us. Strip it down to its bare minimum and you find that it is what it’s meant to be: old-fashioned, clean fun.

7 stars

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