Review: Is 'Oz' great and powerful?
It will be hard to find someone who has never seen "The Wizard of Oz" starring Judy Garland. The movie has been part of our culture since 1939, and has inspired so many. References to the movie can be seen even in blockbusters like "The Avengers" and similarities can be seen in the original Star Wars trilogy.
It has inspired a Tony-award winning prequel musical (based on books which received varying reviews) that is loved almost as much the 1939 movie. (Note: "Wicked" was nominated for 10 Tonys and won three: Best Actress in a Musical, Best Costume Design and Best Scenic Design.)
And, it is nearly impossible to find a Halloween parade in America without at least one girl dressed in gingham and wearing sparkling red shoes.
So, you could say Disney had a huge challenge ahead of them when they decided to create their own prequel to the movie. After all, in the 1980's, they already tried a sequel with "Return to Oz." The movie, while closely based on L. Frank Baum's series of Oz books, did not exactly inspire the millions.
Let's put it this way. I have three copies (two DVD and one VHS) of movie "The Wizard of Oz," the soundtrack to "The Wizard of Oz" on both cassette and MP3, a costume that fits me, two Toto dolls and several pairs of both red and silver (that's the original color of the famous shoes in the book) shoes, but I do not own anything relating to "Return to Oz." I liked the movie, I probably watched the movie more than anyone else, and I probably watched a few movies starring Fairuza Balk simply because she was Dorothy, but it obviously did not make the impact I'm sure Disney would have liked.
So, did Disney work its magic this time? Well, I do know that an adult-size Theodora witch costume costs about $400 and am kinda hoping Disney decides to make a few extra bucks and release the DVD as a set with a "Return to Oz" extra.
Oscar/Oz: James Franco
Theodora: Mila Kunis
Evanora: Rachel Weisz
Annie/Glinda: Michelle Williams
Frank/Finley: Zach Braff
As the ticket-taker at our movie theater felt it was necessary inform each individual seeing the movie before dinner time on opening day, "Oz The Great and Powerful" starts off in black and white and in a smaller aspect, like the 1939 film.
(FYI- it wasn't necessary. Only nerds like me go as early as possible on opening day, and we either know this stuff is going on or are smart enough to figure it out as we watch. I, by the way, saw the movie with my husband and my two sons, ages 9 and 6.)
This is where the problems- which turned out to be very few and did not matter much by the end- started. I wish they had used a sepia tone, as in the restored versions of "The Wizard of Oz." I'll admit, L. Frank Baum does describe Kansas by writing:
The sun had baked the plowed land into a grey mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same grey color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and grey as everything else.
The black and white used was so crisp, it looked like it was meant to look like an old movie, rather than the actual landscape of Kansas. A sepia tone would have softened the tones, better showing what the author originally described.
Then, when Oscar arrives in Oz, I dreaded watching the rest of the film. Looking back, I wondered if production was rushed at the end (ironically similar to what happened during the filming of the 1939 film) and this was the last scene completed.
First, the switch from black and white to color was confusing. In the 1939 film, after Dorothy lands in Oz, everything in her house is still black and white, but when she opens the door, the world outside is in full color. When the outside of her house is seen, it is still in those washed grey colors. The only thing from Kansas that is colorized is Dorothy.
However, in "Oz," Oscar arrives in a hot air balloon, making the transition a little trickier. The editor should have used the 1939 film as an example, and made sure the balloon stayed in black and white/grey tones while everything else around it was in full color. Instead, everything gradually changed to color, like the Aritst's Palette restaurant on the Disney Cruise Line.
Even the balloon is in color, although they are dull colors, it is still obviously color.
Then, we get our first taste of CGI Oz. It reminded me of the CGI in "Hulk." It looked more like Oscar had arrived in Toontown from "Roger Rabbit" than Oz. Fortunately, this scene was the only bad CGI in the film.
Last, while Theodora and Evanora are sisters, Rachel Weisz thought using a British accent was appropriate. In a group interview, it was revealed she made the decision and told Sam Raimi, the director, that she was using one. (If you do not know, she is, in fact, British.) His facial expression seemed to show he begrudgingly agreed to the actress' choice. While it wasn't jarring, it didn't fit.
On the other side, Michelle Williams was as vanilla as her dress, but it is difficult playing the role she was asked to play. She has to be good, but strong for her people. Oz is in turmoil, so being the bubbly Glinda from the screen and stage may have not been right. I would have loved to have seen some sort of transformation with her to the strong and wise witch we all know. She did battle a witch, but primarily did defensive moves. And, with those moves were no emotion. After watching good witches battle bad ones in Harry Potter movies, I was confused by Williams' portrayal.
The movie wins the audience over with its story, which not only transforms a self-professed con man into a great man, but transforms a naive girl into a powerful witch. Mila Kunis stole the show with her performance, and I would be shocked if she is not nominated for an Oscar.
Meanwhile, I'm 50/50 about James Franco's performance. Franco is a great actor. He has played roles so well, he is unidentifiable. Unfortunately, I knew going in that Robert Downey, Jr., was the first choice to play Oscar, and I could see why. There were many times I could see Downey, Jr., delivering a line far better. I initially walked away feeling like we saw James Franco, host of the Oscars, instead of James Franco, great actor. Perhaps it was because he knew he wasn't the first, or even the second, choice for the role. Perhaps it was because I was poisoned by what I knew.
But then, his character was a con man who was not sure of his abilities. All but one of the witches saw right through him, which would explain his lack of delivery in cockiness. It is also possible Franco was playing Beyonce to Kunis' Jennifer Hudson. His performance could be seen as brilliant, looking at it that way.
The best supporting actor was Zach Braff. I will admit, I wasn't a fan or knew much of his work before this film. Throughout the movie, he reminded me of Billy Crystal. There were times I had to remind myself it wasn't Crystal playing witty winged monkey. Interestingly, in his Kansas role as Oscar's assistant, Braff resembled John Ritter in the role of L. Frank Baum in the made-for-television movie about his life. Considering the "Easter eggs" placed throughout the movie for nerds like me and that the circus they worked at was Baum Bros., it's possible that was done on purpose.
While it is clear what the end game is, there are enough twists to keep the audience on its toes, or the edge of the seat, as in my youngest son's case. The images, past the landing scene are just as spectacular as you would expect from Oz at this point in the timeline. And, as I mentioned above, there are several items placed in the movie for fans who have watched every DVD extra and read just about, if not everything there is to know about the 1939 movie.
There are no ruby or silver slippers or men made out of tin, but there is a yellow brick road, scarecrows as heroes, Munchkins and Quadlings.
(Disney apparently didn't want to pay the hefty fee to use ruby slippers as they did for "Return to Oz." Because they are something specifically made for the 1939 film- ruby looked better in the new Technicolor than silver- the idea is owned by MGM, now Warner Bros.)
The film also provides a lot of background in an entertaining way to explain many unanswered questions in "The Wizard of Oz." We see why the witch is wicked, the first instance of a lion being cowardly and how the wizard became the man behind the curtain. There is even one very special reveal (which kinda gets annoying because they keep repeating the information to make sure you heard it) before we are even transported to the Land of Oz.
I cannot wait to see "Oz The Great And Powerful" again. It may not be better than "The Wizard of Oz," as my older son suggested, but it is Oz-mazing.
Other reviews by Samantha Sinclair
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