Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi and staring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams opens in theaters Friday, Mar. 8 nationwide. At an early screening on Tuesday, select viewers were able to preview the movie, which was filmed at the Raleigh Michigan Studios in Pontiac, Mich.
Similar to the Broadway musical “Wicked” (2003), Oz the Great and Powerful is an inspired and imaginative look at the years before Dorothy dropped in in the 1939 MGM classic portrayal of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Unlike “Wicked” however, the storyline is not only about the three witches but mostly about how the Midwestern traveling carnival con-man Oscar Diggs became “the man behind the curtain.”
While “Oz the Great and Powerful” is not at all meant to be “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” it is hard to view it without comparisons in mind to the film that we all know and many love, but this is definitely not your mama’s (or grandma’s) “Wizard of Oz.” As with the MGM classic, “Oz the Great and Powerful” begins in black-and-white, but once in the magical and whimsical Land of Oz after a harrowing journey through a tornado switches to brilliant, vibrant color.
In our introduction to the Land of Oz the animation and cinematography will remind any Disney aficionado of scenes from the classic “Fantasia” (1940)—an apt homage, as what is the Land of Oz, but something fantastic and out of this world? We meet the expected characters—Munchkins, a flying monkey and of course, the two wicked witches and Glenda—the good witch of the North. “Wonderful Wizard of Oz”fans will appreciate that Raimi also pays homage to the 1939 classic with visual and verbal references to the original throughout the film, down to the Emerald City’s architecture and the costumes of the Emerald City corps of guards.
The character development of the witches and of the Wizard works on a level that shows them navigating conflict, growing and coming into their own. Where the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is a quest story of an adolescent girl and three friends in search of answers that they find always resided within, in “Oz the Great and Powerful,” it is Oscar Diggs on that journey and his evolution into becoming the Wizard.
An origin story for the Wizard and all three witches, in “Oz the Great and Powerful” we are invited into understanding their intertwined relationships and believing in the triumph of good over evil. The movie further provides a backstory for the sister for whom the Wicked Witch of the West mourned and sought vengeance against Dorothy for killing when Dorothy and her house landed in Oz. Curiously missing from the movie is the infamous pair of ruby slippers, the only piece of movie-to-movie continuity that I found lacking.
Overall, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a fun, visually stunning, family movie. While the movie is rated PG, it is not necessarily for younger audiences, however. Parents will want to preview it ahead of time (a perfect reason to get a sitter and have a date night) to make sure that their younger children will be able to handle some of the scarier scenes and more macabre imagery. This writer believes that if Baum had written a prequel to the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” that “Oz the Great and Powerful” just might have been it. Since March also happens to be National Reading Month, a great companion reading activity would be reading Baum’s original book or any of the others within the Oz series, all of which can be found online or in local public libraries.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” (2013) rated PG, 127 minutes.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” opens in theaters, Fri., Mar. 8 in Disney Digital 3D, RealD 3D and select IMAX 3D venues (view trailer from Disney Studios). View showtimes in your area by clicking the link and entering your ZIP code into the box at the bottom right of the listings.