Believe it or not, the Disney Company has had a long fascination with “The Wizard of Oz.” It is said that MGM would not have made the iconic 1939 movie if Walt’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” wasn’t a hit. Although considered one of the best American-made movies of all time, MGM’s “WOZ” was a flop when it first arrived. Still, no other movie company dared to remake the film and audiences would probably rebel if they did.
However, In 1985 Disney created “Return to Oz,” a sequel to the story that was a financial and artistic disaster. It scared children and critics. So when the news broke that the company was giving the familiar story another try, it was met with some skepticism and with good reason. However, this time they chose to go the prequel route.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” plays homage to the MGM great without being too close to the original. It too starts in black & white, Glinda the good witch still travels by bubble and the yellow brick road is still intact. Over all, “Oz” is a good movie, not a great movie, but a good movie.
Visually, the flick is beautiful with incredible effects. The costumes and sets look amazing. It features impressive CGI and really fun 3D effects. (Viewers will have to dodge spears and fire balls.) The colorful world of Oz is unreal. Unfortunately, in some scenes the background looks too unreal.
I really wanted to love this movie and thought that I might. The opening credits paired with the music of Danny Elfman are almost worth the price of admission alone. The story begins with Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small time circus magician/con man whose greatest desire is to be “great and powerful.” Thanks to a runaway balloon and a tornado, he just might be given that chance.
After a long and extended journey (which would make for a great theme park ride by the way), Oscar finds himself in the land of Oz where he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) who assumes that he is the long-awaited wizard that has been prophesied to appear and take control of the kingdom. The land has been attacked by the wicked witch’s flying monkeys and what not. He is soon introduced to Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams) who he tends to call Wanda.
Just like Dorothy, Oscar travels with a couple of companions as well: Finley, a kind flying monkey who wears a bellhop uniform and a China girl…not a Chinese girl, but a girl made out of China. (She’s from China Town of course). Without spoiling the plot, the creators went to great lengths to create a story that actually feels like it belongs in the Oz universe. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a few plot holes or story devices that don’t work. (No witch in this story should be offering up poisoned apples – that’s Snow White territory!)
Still for all the film’s positives, it still feels flat. While he does a good job, one has to wonder why Disney thought that Sam Raimi would be good to direct this film. He is known for his horror film work including “The Evil Dead” series. His most family-friendly film to date has been the “Spiderman” trilogy with Tobey McGuire. The story takes a few dark turns that is probably unnecessary. In addition, the film fails to bring the viewer to any kind of emotion. The story has potential to pull on the heartstrings, but doesn’t. Some of the characterizations seem wrong. Weisz’s Glinda is a fresh take on the good witch character and yet seems at a loss to know what to do at times. It’s as if she is making things up as she goes where the 1939 film, she knew perfectly well what was going on - but her voice was annoying. And let’s face it; no one can come close to great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch.
Yes, this will be a film that will concern many Christian parents due to good, the bad and the ugly witches. The film declares that magic can be used for good or evil. Still, a person’s character is ultimately more important. Whether intentional or not, Christians can still find some biblical parallels to the movie and I will discuss them in a late article.
At just over two hours, “Oz” may be too long and scary for young ones, but older children will enjoy it. At the very least, you’ll have a lot to talk about with your kids after the viewing.