The Wizard of Oz is said to be the most watched film in cinematic history, according to the Library of Congress. Today marks the release of Oz: The Great and Powerful, a sort-of prequel to the original classic that establishes the Oz that Dorothy discovers over the rainbow. Can such a film as Oz: The Great and Powerful stand up to the original that is so well known?
Director Sam Raimi has had experience working with beloved characters; helming the Spiderman films is not for the faint of heart when die-hard comic book fans are involved. However with that experience behind him, when Raimi came onboard to delve back into Oz. He tells Entertainment Weekly that “It’s sacred material to a lot of people, and they don’t want their memories messed with… I tried to move forward with the utmost respect for the original and tell our story with as much passion and energy and truth and sense of humor as I could.” Indeed Raimi is dealing with a whole new legion of fans young and old who identify with Dorothy and her ruby red slippers. The popularity of The Wizard of Oz has never waned with television airings remaining numerous and memorabilia from the film still highly sought after. Dorothy’s ruby slippers are one of the most iconic pieces of movie history, even making a debut on the Academy Award red carpet this past year. But in this version of Oz, such identifiers as the slippers were off limits to Raimi and his cast.
Since Disney transferred ownership rights to the original to Warner Brothers, certain elements of the original, such as the slippers and Emerald City, became off limits. Raimi tells EW that “lawyers were involved during the shoot to make sure nothing stepped too heavily on the bejeweled toes of the original. “The legal department kept saying, ‘No, that’s to close.” The result is a new Oz, reminiscent of the one we already know. Therein though lays another conundrum that befalls any prequel, not just this one. The question stands that does anyone really care about the prequel if they know what is going to happen to the characters.
In reference to George Lucas’ prequels, fans already knew what happened to Darth Vader. Lucas has been quoted as saying all 6 films were meant to be watched in order to tell the story of Vader but he gave away the ending instead of keeping up suspense. In the case of the Star Wars prequels, they were met with both excitement and trepidation. On one hand the prequels introduced a slew of new characters and developed some older ones (Obi-Wan Kenobi for example) but it also marred some storylines from the originals. The birth of the twins in particular in Revenge of the Sith, leads to one gaping hole in the plot in Return of the Jedi. How can Leia remember her mother so strongly if she died right after she was born? Whether it’s a sequel or prequel for many, nothing compares to the original, which is something Oz: The Great and Powerful is going to have to fight.
The Hollywood Reporter writes that “Because it is a prequel, there are no ruby slippers, no tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow or even Dorothy. There’s just the much younger Wizard; three witches unlike any in the original; and an Emerald City more reminiscent of art deco architecture…” So what exactly is this film about? It’s about James Franco as a self-centered magician who finds himself on a hot air balloon transported via tornado to Oz. So this isn’t similar to the original? When the magician lands in Oz he comes across magical beings, munchkins, and eventually three witches. Three sister witches to be exact. They are Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Theodora (Mila Kunis), and Glinda (Michelle Williams). Upon meeting these women the magician is set forth on an adventure that will leave a lasting mark on Oz that will create the future that Dorothy will come across. The three witches look to be the most intriguing of the new character additions; in particular it is Evanora and Theodora that look to be the most interesting. Both Weisz and Kunis are mum on the details on whether they are good or bad witches (or maybe a bit of both Ms. Kunis?). If there is anything to be taken away from the trailer it is that Oz is in turmoil at the hands of Evanora (are those flying monkeys she’s sending out!?) and that the wicked witch is alive and well.
Will the wicked witch cast her spell over theatergoers? Oz: The Great and Powerful has enough lure for the diehard fans of the original to see how the Oz that Dorothy knew came to be. And for those just discovering this magical land it is the perfect place to start. It may be a prequel but director Sam Raimi promises a new story within the scope of the original. We’ll have to see what’s on the other side of the rainbow in this tale.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is in theaters now.