Unbox Rating: 4/5
Although you don’t really classify the Wonderful Wizard of Oz as fairytale, it does establish itself in the echelons of the Classics. I mean who hasn’t heard of Dorothy and the odd-group pairings of the Cowardly Lion, The heartless Tin man and the Brainless Scarecrow? And what witch hasn’t gotten the stereotypical look based from the Green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West? Truth be told, Frank L. Baum has created characters that are as timeless as Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
So when Disney decided to create a prequel to that monumentally successful 1939 film, I was a bit skeptical. Apparently Disney does not have any rights to the iconic look of the 1939 film—this includes Dorothy’s red shoes (it was silver in the book), the winding yellow brick road to Munchkin Land and the look of the Emerald City Tower. However, despite these limitations, it seems that director Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man Trilogy), the executive producers and the studio found a way around it and successfully concocted a remarkable new classic!
Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a small-time magician/ conman in a traveling circus on Kansas, 1905. It’s revealed early on that Oz isn’t the most noble of men. In fact, he’s a bit of a douche. Okay, he’s a real douche. He treats his partner/friend as a servant, and women like they were his play things. When a tornado tangles his commandeered hot-air balloon (where he jumped in to as he was fleeing for his life from the strongman due to Oz’ womanizing ways), Oscar Diggs found himself in a world that’s not of this. Truly, he ain’t in Kansas anymore.
Upon reaching the Land of Oz, Oscar meets a myriad of characters. From the naively lovely Theodora (Mila Kunis) to her more cunning sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) to the ever force of light, Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams). In Oz, Oscar must make a decision whether to save the entire kingdom from the clutches of the Wicked Witch and step-up to the false title of Wizard bestowed upon him, or to simply con his way out of the very real and immense responsibility that’s attached to the title.
What I love about Oz the Great and Powerful is that if you strip the movie down and take out the amazing visuals and the sweeping melody masterfully done by Danny Elfman (Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hallow), you’re still left with the very beautifully poignant film. The film and its makers decided to root everything to the story and the pacing. That was a smart choice’ cause it worked like, well, magic!
I love how the movie didn’t try and destroy everything that we knew about the Land of Oz, its history and lore and forced something new to us. Instead the film lovingly expanded that world and gave it a fresher perspective. It’s amazing because somehow after watching Oz you gain new appreciation for the 1939 film and the original book and yet still claim that this is an entirely Disney Oz.
That delicate balance is hard to achieve. Though a box-office success, 2010’s Alice In Wonderland felt like an estranged cousin of the cartoon versus what Oz did that makes it feel a bit seamless. The movie did something more than what it originally intended to do—which is to make audience fall in love with the world of Oz that you’d want to know what happens next. And, in a way, it makes you hopeful of future Disney live action projects as well.
Sam Raimi proves a good fit for the project as he brings his brand of narrative story telling (and crazy Evil Dead angles) to wonderful use. The decision to start the sequence with a 4:3 black and white frame then open up to a full colored 3D widescreen when Oscar reaches Oz gives greater emphasis on the world that we are about to step into. That juxtaposition and duality is evident throughout a lot of the conflicts within Oz even to the characters.
James Franco plays an amazing Oz as he starts of conniving and sleazy but you get a sense of him wanting to achieve a greater purpose. What that Greater purpose is will be slowly defined as the film progresses and in the end the aspiration for Greatness is outshone by something deeper and much more rewarding than anything he could’ve conjured up in the beginning: goodness. And that’s when you know that the film now latches itself fully in the whole mythos of the Wizard of Oz.
These origin stories may not be canon but in effect you’d want them to. The interesting twist between the Wicked Witch was a slow and fun sight to witness. Even how the Wicked Witch of the West was defined was smartly conceived through clever screen writing.
All in all, Oz the Great and Powerful is where I’d want to see the other Disney live action movies step in to. It has the perfect balance of humor, cinematic wizardry and heart—a lot of heart.
Truly this is one magical ride you wouldn’t want to miss out on!
Oz the Great and Powerful opened last March 7 and still in theaters now.