You can say one thing, Disney has taken on a very difficult task by creating an "Wizard of Oz" prequel. "The Wizard of Oz," beloved by millions, was made in 1939 and it was vehicle that launched Judy Garland into stardom. The magical world by MGM and designer Adrian helped to create the land of Oz, the Emerald City and Munchkinland. Garland's signing throughout the film proved her incredible talent and her trio of friends Jack Haley, Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr made Dorothy's life at home and journey in Oz a special event. And who could ever forget seeing a good witch for the first time? Actress Billie Burke fit the role perfectly. Her lovely voice with the beautiful trill made her the perfect actress to play Glinda. And Margaret Hamilton was delightfully bad as the Wicked Witch of West.
But "The Wizard of Oz" is much more than a film. It is an experience and for some a magical and transformative occurrence. My own personal life was touch very deeply by this film. The line "there is no place like home," had deep meaning to me when I was recovering from surgery at the age of five. I have also heard similar stories from other fans of the film.
So, with the passing of almost 75 years, Disney is bringing a new story to the land of Oz. This prequel stars James Franco as Oz and tells the story of his beginnings in Kansas and the hot air balloon flight that brought him to the Emerald City. When cast down into this new land, he comes across a beautiful girl, but soon he finds out she is not a girl at all but a witch. Her name is Theodora and she has come to greet the Wizard. She tells him of a prophecy of a wizard coming from the sky that had been foretold, and that he would save everyone in the land from the wicked witch.
Thinking Oz was this great wizard, she brings him to the Emerald City. She tells him he can be king and she will be his queen. When arriving to the Emerald City, Oz meets Theodora's older sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Evanora has desires of her own and many secrets, even a few secrets her own sister. Evanora shows Oz a room full of gold and sends him off to kill the wicked witch - Glinda, Witch of the South. For this is the only way Oz can be King of the Emerald City. Oz is not keen on the killing part, but figures there may be a way to keep his secret that he isn't a wizard and still rule the Emerald City. On his journey he meets a talking and flying monkey and china girl. They become his traveling companions to confront Glinda, and once they do meet Glinda (Michelle Williams) they learn who is truly wicked after all.
Over all I think Disney did a fair job with "Oz the Great and Powerful." It was at times, an enjoyable film that explored the beginning of the Oz characters. The 3D, green screen creation of Oz was very uneven to me. Some of the visual effects were stunning and beautiful and other scenes were on the side of being poorly done. The first look at the Emerald City was disappointing to me. Art directors from 1939 didn't even know what green screen technology was, yet they provided a much more amazing Emerald City.
James Franco was good in his role as Oz, but at time I wondered if his heart was really invested in playing this iconic role. Michelle Williams made a beautiful Glinda and Rachel Weisz was more than convincing as Evanora. But stealing the movie away was Mila Kunis as Theodora. She was truly incredible and I love her character evolution in the film.
I would say the biggest downfall of the film was twofold. First, was the almost complete lack of singing. There is only one short scene in Munchkinland where few Munchkins break out into song, but it was a halfhearted attempt at bringing music into the film. "Wizard of Oz" fans are used to the land of Oz, a land of singing munchkins and a few heartfelt ditties along any journey on the yellow brick road. Yes, creating a libretto and finding stars that could sing, dance and act is a much more expensive endeavor, but doesn't the legacy of the "Wizard of Oz" franchise deserve this kind of attention?
Secondly, where are the ruby slippers? This iconic red shoes, are most likely the most recognized pair of shoes in film history. Perhaps they were left out of the story all together for a story line in a companion film that Disney will release later.
As far as the art departments, I expected more! This is the land of Oz and everything should be way over the top. Theodora, Evanora and Glinda could have had many more costume changes. Even the inhabitants of the Emerald City were lacking the creative touches, remember the horse of a different color? And Glinda had a stray stand of hair that appear and disappeared from scene to scene and this distracted the heck out of me.
So, if I were to honestly name this prequel, it would not be "Oz the Great and Powerful." It would read more like "Oz the Sort of Second Rate Prequel to the Film we all Adore." Disney had the resources to make this film spectacular and now it worries me. They have just bought the rights for the next "Star Wars" trilogy of films. Hopefully their vision of a land far, far away will be more thought out than their exploration of the land of Oz.
Are you a movie fan? Join the conversation on Facebook!
For Palm Springs visitors and residents check out TheMovieGal.com.
Receive e-mail alerts when for the latest film news and movie reviews. Just click on the "Subscribe" button above. Thank you!
Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones and no texting, please don't talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don't forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work at SilentHollywood.com