You have to go into the PG-rated Oz the Great and Powerful with the right attitude. Director Sam Raimi, after all, is much more closely associated with dark, violent, or horror-genre films he is credited with producing like Drag Me To Hell, 30 Days of Night, The Grudge, and most recently the Starz Spartacus television series, as well as directing the highly successful Spiderman franchise (with Tobey McGuire). Even though it is a Disney film, you have to expect that it’s probably not going to be all lollipops and puppy-dog-kisses.
A prequel to the 1939 classic masterpiece The Wizard of Oz, OTGAP is the story of smarmy travelling carnival magician Oscar (“Oz” as he is nicknamed), played by James Franco, who makes his living doing cheap magic tricks and small-time cons to unsuspecting local ladies. As his misdeeds are catching up with him, he attempts to escape in a hot-air balloon (not his) which sweeps him into the familiar twister and lands him in the land of, Oz of course. There he meets up with local witches who believe (to varying degrees) that he is the prodigal “Wizard” come to free the land from the wrath of a wicked witch and take the throne of Oz as it’s (very well-paid) king. He finds himself in a sticky mess as he tries to come clean that maybe he really isn’t the great wizard people think he is, only to eventually realize that if you just put on a good show, are charismatic and charming, and give people the belief (even if only an illusion) that you offer safety and protection, that most people won’t ask for their money back. A lot like modern Christianity, basically.
The plot of OTGAP holds few surprises since we essentially already know how the story ends, and that is to be expected. I have no doubt that Disney (as they are known to do) maintained very tight control of plot and characters in order to protect the franchise. Raimi maintained many of the story elements we remember, and carried them over from the original WOZ, like the black and white Kansas/full-color Oz, and characters from Oz’s life in Kansas taking key roles as new characters in Oz. Though the world of Oz itself is different, it is still familiar…just bigger, better, brighter, more colorful…more CGI. Here lies one problem: the bar has been set so high by films like Avatar, and Alice in Wonderland, that it falls a little short. If anyplace is a wonderland, it should be Oz and it’s good, but not THAT good. There are some good visual moments, but it doesn’t take your breath away, perhaps because we have seen it so many times before in so many other films, we have become almost desensitized to it. Or, perhaps it just doesn’t stand up to the likes of James Cameron or Tim Burton. One standout achievement though, is China Girl. Oz finds her crying and broken in her little teacup house and glues her legs back on and she is able to walk again. She becomes one of the most memorable characters in the film (if not THE most memorable) and the visual effect of a living china doll is truly extraordinary. Oz’s sidekick flying monkey Finley is also very well done and hilarious.
As far as acting goes, there are no weak performances, but James Franco delivers the standout performance as Oz. Michelle Williams is good as Glinda, but you have to accept right off the bat that petite Michelle is nothing like the glamorous, ethereal Billie Burke from the WOZ we are so familiar with.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. Of course it lacks that sweetness of the 1939 WOZ that would make it a children’s classic, but I don’t think it’s trying to achieve that. The story does tie in well with the 1939 original, and there are some new and memorable characters and hilarious moments, but it clearly lacks the layers, depth, and complexity of WOZ. Raimi delivers some great visual effects, but if we want to hold it to the highest standard possible, it doesn’t reach the heights of Alice in Wonderland, for example (even in the music, both done by Danny Elfman), But then again, few do.
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::: Renowned For Sound Technical Director and Film Reviewer ::: Robert is an IT geek, movie fan and part-time movie reviewer/editor. Robert also looks after the ‘behind the scenes’ technical elements of Renowned For Sound.