Oz the Great and Not-So-Powerful Created by Katina Jones on 3/18/2013 9:12:10 PM
Correspondent Katina Z. Jones gives us her thoughts on Disney's Oz The Great and Powerful.
First, let me make one point explicitly clear: As a child, I was traumatized by those flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz—and that scary-looking witch that emerged from an equally evil-looking old lady.
The biggest surprise for me in Oz the Great and Powerful, director Sam Raimi’s new Disney prequel, is that the screeching, menacing flying monkeys actually didn’t frighten me as much as a lackluster script, weak performances and the lack of a few good songs to help move things along (kudos to Danny Elfman for at least trying to pick thing up with his terrific score). This trifecta was far more destructive, in my humble opinion, than any of the carnage Raimi previously conjured for the Spiderman trilogy and The Evil Dead combined.
You know a film isn’t going to be quite as great as all the pre-release hype would have you believe when its visual effects actually become the real stars of the film. Sure, Raimi’s team had the good sense to create living, breathing landscapes that draw audiences in the way a good painting makes you feel like you can just walk right into it. The scenes featuring the hot air balloon, waterfall and floating bubbles are stunning, alive and so real you almost wish you could stay in them rather than return to Oz. But return to Oz you must, since everything in L. Frank Baum’s original series always leads back to this timeless, magical place.
Before he finds himself in the land of Oz, the illustrious “wizard” is actually a con man named Oscar Diggs (James Franco)—a womanizer and a cheat who belittles his only friend (Zack Braff, who later appears as a charming monkey sidekick) and has few redeeming qualities. While attempting to escape from a strongman who is about to break him apart over a woman, Diggs jumps into a hot air balloon and, thanks to a very realistic tornado, accidentally finds himself in a land with vivid flora reminiscent of Avatar’s Pandora and a pretty witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis). Old habits die hard, so it’s no wonder that Oscar woos and soon betrays her, leading her—at the behest of her evil sister witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz)—to channel her much darker side.
Franco is at first well cast as the hapless cad, but seems a bit too bewildered as he staggers through Oz, mugging uncomfortably much of the time. His performance lacks energy and charm until the end of the film—and by then you may be wondering why you even care.
And then there are the three witches: Kunis, who delivers her lines in a benign, almost singsong pattern; Weisz, a usually strong actress whose scenes are diluted by Kunis; and a resplendent Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good. Weisz’s Evanora is the most perplexing of the trio, since we’re never quite sure exactly what made her evil in the first place—and Williams’ Glinda seems to be walking through the poppy fields in climactic scenes where the action almost certainly requires more energy and emotion. It takes a plucky China Girl (voiced by Joey King) to finally pick up the slack at a particularly opportune moment, and for this we are grateful.
So, where is the real magic in Oz the Great and Powerful? It’s in an enduring, faithful and trusting audience willing to suspend its disbelief for one more trip. Clearly, with an $80 million opening weekend followed by an additional $42 million in its first week, this film must be doing something right. There is an undeniable sweetness and good intention to the story and its message that one can, in fact, choose to be something different, something better, than past choices or others’ perceptions might allow.
All said, this Oz is worth seeing as a work of cinematic beauty, with glorious Steampunk-inspired costumes and ingenious inventions that help explain how the good wizard finally stepped into his powerful position. If you can manage to set your expectations just a tad lower before you embark on this journey, you’ll probably even be entertained along the way.
Katina Z. Jones is owner of GetGoingPlaces.com as well as an author of 26 books on a variety of business and lifestyle topics. She lives in suburban Atlanta with a menagerie of kids, dogs, cats and one very patient husband.