Oz The Great and Powerful Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 03.08.2013
Disney heads to Oz with James Franco in Oz The Great and Powerful! But does the movie recapture the magic of the original? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Sam Raimi Written By: Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire Runtime: 130 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Oscar Diggs/The Wizard of Oz - James Franco Glinda/Annie - Michelle Williams Evanora - Rachel Weisz Theodora - Mila Kunis Frank/Finley - Zach Braff China Girl/Girl in Wheelchair - Joey King Knuck - Tony Cox Master Tinkerer - Bill Cobbs
Early on in the new movie Oz The Great and Powerful, the movie’s titular wizard of sorts, Oscar Diggs (Franco), voices that he doesn’t want to be a good man. He wants to be a great one. And through the movie, an unofficial prequel of sorts to the 1930’s classic The Wizard of Oz based on the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, director Sam Raimi has unfortunately not found a great movie, but more or less a decent one. Does the movie manage to recapture the magic of the original? Unfortunately not, but it is a watchable and at times enjoyable family spectacle.
There is something special and unique about the original movie. It’s no surprise it’s a favorite for many of the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood including the likes of Raimi and James Cameron. This new story looks like it is meant to be an unofficial prequel to the original film, with some license taken of course since Warner Bros. now owns the 1939 original. Previously in the 1980’s, Disney attempted an unofficial sequel with Return to Oz. I must say I do enjoy parts of the movie especially the creature and effects work by the Jim Henson Company. But in this day and age of prequels, reboots, reimagining, remakes, sequels, or any new iterations of something with a type of existing brand name recognition, it’s not surprising that Disney would want to give this Oz thing another shot.
This movie is a story of the original story’s “Wizard” and what brought him to Oz in the first place. This isn’t Wicked, another unofficial prequel story that gave complex backgrounds to Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West from the story as basically the queen bee and prodigy ugly duckling from their own version of witch high school. The “wizard” is in fact Oscar Diggs, a struggling carnie magician and shyster of the highest degree. Oscar is introduced as basically a shifty scoundrel. He’s already gotten his hooks into another poor young woman in being his “assistant” and attempts to seduce her by giving her some cheap music box he claims was an ancient heirloom from his grandmother. It’s in fact his go-to item for every gal, even the married ones. Even his loyal assistant Frank (Braff) who wishes to be his friend doesn’t even have his respect.
Oscar clearly does have some acumen for showmanship and illusionism, but a particular performance goes bad when a paraplegic girl (King) begs him to make her walk which of course he can’t. Oscar is embarrassed and retreats to his carriage where his local girlfriend Annie (Williams) tries to twist his arm into getting him to marry her since another able suitor has already popped the question. Oscar of course isn’t interested as he’s far more interested in greater things and being “Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison mixed into one.” But he’s not going to get far bilking marks out of their two cents with a traveling circus. After he gets chased by the circus strongman due to Oscar’s indiscretions with the strongman’s wife, Oscar escapes into a hot air balloon right as a Kansas twister hits and Oscar is dropped smack dab into Oz.
Oscar soon meets the kind, young, and beautiful Theodora (Kunis), a good witch and princess of Oz whose father was poisoned and killed by the Wicked Witch. Theodora believes Oscar is a man of prophecy sent to the land to destroy the Wicked Witch and liberate the people of Oz from her tyranny. Theodora takes Oscar to the yellow brick road and along the way picks up the friendly flying monkey Finley (Braff again) who swears his allegiance to Oscar. Finley unfortunately swears the allegiance before Oscar reveals he’s a fraud. Oscar is taken by Theodora to the Emerald City where he’s introduced to her suspicious older sister, Evanora (Weisz). He’s promised the throne of Oz and all the gold and treasure in the keep if defeats the Wicked Witch and destroys her wand, the source of her power. Of course it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Evanora is a manipulative, evil witch and she’s trying to trick Oscar into killing Glinda (also Williams), who is in fact a good witch that supports Oz’s citizens. Oscar witnesses the horror and tyranny first hand after he and Finley rescue an orphaned China Girl (King again) whose village was smashed by Evanora’s army of flying monkeys. Against his desires, he finds himself in a situation where he can help and inspire people to stand up to Evanora and liberate their kingdom.
In terms of direction, Raimi is still reliably competent. His comedic timing is sharp as ever, and the movie has some very well done bits of humor relating to Finley and the China Girl. His version of Oz looks romantic, cool, and wondrous. The scenery has some fun magical touches, but at the same time his version of Oz comes off as rather glossed over. While parts of the original do look dated I do miss how all of it was real while most of this movie looks like it was done in CG. I think what the movie could’ve done is expand upon the races and people of Oz, but even in that department the movie is underwhelming. At one point Oscar saves Finley from being attacked by a lion. So is this our Cowardly Lion from the original? Is this how he became cowardly? Unfortunately the film doesn’t even address this. The lion just looks like a regular, old MGM-style lion. The lion is never seen or heard from again. In fact none of the classic original characters are really introduced or referenced other than the Wicked Witch of the West, Glinda, and Oscar as the Wizard of Oz.
Performance wise, I did enjoy Franco in the role. He does make the role work because he simply looks shifty and a guy you wouldn’t want to trust your money with. He puts on a ridiculous, devious, and toothy grin that’s downright scary. He looks and acts like a shyster that is in over his head.
Kunis and Weisz suffer in that they really don’t have much to do. Their characters are fairly thin and all the big reveals are unsurprising and rather routine as is much of the movie. Kunis’ transformation is a rather dull one. I mean it looks cool complete with some fun trademark Raimi-isms, but Kunis’ execution lacks menace. Kunis is incredibly talented, but I think once she goes through her transformation instead of sounding like she is supposed to sound like, she instead sounds like angry Meg on Family Guy. One can’t help but wonder if the part would’ve been better served for Weisz instead.
The movie did have some fun and creative use of 3D, especially in the matted, black and white opening prologue so it really looks like props and fireballs are jumping out at you. And when things are expanded into full color and widescreen for Oz, there are some well done 3D visuals and effects. The movie is filled with some of Raimi’s trademark visuals and conventions from his films complete with an excellent cameo from The Chin himself, Bruce Campbell. Danny Elfman collaborates again with Raimi and I really enjoyed all his old timey circus and vaudevillian type of themes in his score. There's a neat type of dawn of cinema motifs and devices present throughout the movie that really works.
The movie does have fairly good pacing. However, once it hits the third act, it comes off in a rather anti-climactic fashion. One wonders, “That’s it?” If this is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz it seems like there are still dots left to be filled in that unfortunately don’t.
The 411: Oz The Great and Powerful is not going to give you the same feelings of wonder and amazement that the classic original will. There is enough fun and eye-popping visuals to enjoy here, but on the whole its a rather underwhelming story. Still, in terms of a family visit to the movies, it's completely acceptable and watchable.