Oz the Great and Powerful: Greatly Inspired by Baum, Powerfully Influenced by Garland
I'm a little torn this week. As a fan of the Oz series of books since I was a kid, I've long wished for someone to finally make a more faithful big screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum's original than the lovely but frankly saccharine 1939 Judy Garland version. Don't get me wrong. I love and own that movie. But it doesn't exactly capture the book as I remember it.
And neither does this latest one. (Directed by Sam Raimi, of the Spider-man trilogy and Evil Dead movies.)
It will be years still before someone even attempts a big screen version of The Wizard of Oz again. The first one was and is just so iconic.
- Glinda, the witch of the what?
- The ruby slippers?
- The Emerald City is actually green?
(Those of you who haven't read the book probably don't see the problem.)
However, as torn as I am about story changes that have persisted in the public mind for over seventy years, taken for what it is, I really enjoyed Oz the Great and Powerful.
But first, the story
Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs (yes, that's his whole name) is a small-time magician who performs under the name of "Oz the Great and Powerful" (James Franco). He chose the name Oz from his first two initials. (Better than taking his other initials, which spell out PINHEAD.)
He's a bit of a con man and a bit of a scoundrel with an underapprciated assistant, Frank (Zach Braff). After a less than ideal stage performance, and after having already hit upon the wrong lovely lady, Oz beats a hasty retreat and ends up flying away in a hot air balloon when, surprise surprise, a tornado shows up.
He ends up in the beautiful and magical land of Oz. He's met by the lovely Theodora (Mila Kunis), a good witch who claims that Oz must be the wizard foretold to bring peace to Oz. She brings him to the Emerald City where he meets Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and learns more about this prophesy. Apparently a wicked witch, the daughter of the old king of Oz, has poisoned her own father in an attempt to take power, and is now living in hiding in the Dark Forest. In order to complete the prophesy and become king, Oz must go out to kill the wicked witch.
Through his adventures, he ends up meeting a helpful winged monkey named Finley (Zach Braff), a delicate China Girl (Joey King), an insistant and grumpy herald named Knuck (Tony Cox), and all the magic and danger he can imagine and more.
Dot dot dot
The movie is clearly made by people who loved the world of Baum. And it's such a visual treat to watch. There are also several very humorous exchanges. I love Finley's "animal noises" moment, for instance.
For a fan of the books, there's plenty in this movie to enjoy. I remember the China Girl from the books (though I kinda wished they'd gone with the Patchwork Girl), and there's the Quadlings, and the fact that Glinda (Michelle Williams) is finally the witch of the south again.
The story is original, but there's plenty of Baum still here.
However I do have a few issues.
Oz is a confessed humbug in the 1939 version. It only makes sense that they'd show that aspect in this part of the story. However I found him to be much more unlikeable than I would have wanted. He's not a terrible person. He even has his moments well before the final climax. But he really doesn't try that hard to be likeable.
Also, I'm not completely sold on Mila Kunis in her role. She's okay for the first half of the movie, but her character takes a turn half way through the movie and I'm not completely satisfied with her portrayal after that.
And there's a short, odd and slightly confusing scene between Oz and a certain young Kansas girl (played by Michelle Williams) before he takes his fantastic trip. Not sure why they came up with that, but it's a little odd that they did.
They're relatively minor problems that don't really ruin the movie, but they are a slight weakness in the film.
It's a beautiful movie to watch. Great special effects (most of the time, though there are a couple times where it really doesn't look like people are actually carrying the China Girl) and the 3D really helps the beauty and action in the movie.
But what do you think?
Personally, I give this one a 7 / 10.
Oz the Great and Powerful is rated PG for brief mild language, and scenes of fantasy action and mildly scary imagery.