Almost every aspect of “Oz the Great and Powerful” attempts to recapture the feel of the Oz we’ve known since 1939. Why? It’s been more than seventy years since that vision of L. Frank Baum’s magical land arrived on the big screen – isn’t it time for a reimagining? The majority of the update’s plot, the characters, the sets and the special effects are unimaginative and uninspired, bringing nothing new to a world whose possibilities were literally endless. A few of the basic concepts behind how the Wizard ascended his throne and the Wicked Witch became so villainous are intriguing, yet the execution resorts to flashy visuals and over-the-top theatrics instead of solid storytelling. Paralleling the events of the original film isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly not promising when the best ideas fade away with the black and white.
Using his position as the magician for a traveling circus to move from town to town and woman to woman, selfish scoundrel Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) finds himself trapped in a cycle of half-filled audiences and waning dreams of accomplishing greatness. When his latest misguided seduction ends in a hasty escape in a hot air balloon, Oscar is sucked into a tornado and thrown helter-skelter into a fantastical land full of witches, munchkins, flying monkeys, and yellow brick roads. Informed by good witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) that their world is facing annihilation at the hands of the evil Glinda (Michelle Williams), Oz agrees to destroy the wicked witch in exchange for the throne and the kingdom’s ample supply of gold. But as he begins his quest and encounters many of the land’s earnest denizens, including Finley the monkey (Zach Braff) and the China Girl (Joey King), Oz realizes a genuine hero is needed and sees his chance to become the legend he’d always dreamed he could be.
The utter lack of creativity in the film is astounding. Although the 1939 film clearly serves as inspiration for the look of the most iconic elements (from the green witch, to the yellow brick road, to the diminutive munchkins), there’s a wealth of opportunity for other less pinpointed ideas to be re-conceptualized. Sadly, every component of Oz is entirely derivative. It’s rare for a movie to be completely devoid of even a single original ingredient, but Sam Raimi’s latest Disney-plagued fantasy succumbs to such odds. From the costumes to the makeup to the character development, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is bland and yawn-inducing. Nothing takes advantage of the advancements in prosthetics, special effects, or even sound effects, save for a few CG backgrounds that somehow manage to appear similarly unexciting (but they’re colorful!).
Although the plot precedes the classic tale of Dorothy’s quest to find the wizard, essentially the only difference in this new chapter is switching out Dorothy for the wizard himself. It even starts in black-and-white and fullscreen (save for a few seconds of fire, snowflakes, and rippling fabrics that move outside the cropped frame) to transition into piercing color (and gimmicky 3D) and features characters from Oscar’s Kansas life morphing into alternate realities in Oz. “Maybe you’re capable of more than you know,” hints Glinda, asserting the recycled, stale theme of a fish-out-of-water using pressure to recognize values and self worth, and appreciate personal relationships - to be expected from Disney’s heavy influence. In his attempt to convince the residents of Oz that he’s not a hero, Oz discovers that he just might be heroic (and can deliver a rousing speech). But more than the dreadfully slow-moving, soporific pacing or pedestrian revisiting of famous creations, the casting is just plain atrocious. Kunis gets too many scenes in which only her voice can be heard (which is painfully recognizable as her Meg from “Family Guy”); Williams couldn’t be more vapid and vanilla; and Franco is horribly miscast as a severely unconvincing crowd-pleaser and leader. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is repetitive, sapless, and delivered unenthusiastically.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)