‘Oz The Great and Powerful:’ A love letter to the original

Published 11:35 am Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies; I used to watch it every day as a kid. I loved the music, the battle between good and evil, and of course, the ruby slippers. However, I was shocked when I heard Disney was developing a prequel. Who would dare tamper with such an iconic film? Not nobody not no how!

Let’s get this out of the way, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi (Spiderman), does not hold a candle to the original, nor is it anywhere near as good as the hit Broadway musical Wicked. James Franco is poorly cast as Oscar, who later becomes the Wizard of Oz, and the plot lags at many different points. What I do appreciate, however, is that the film is a love letter to “The Wizard of Oz.” In almost every scene, there are references to the original film that are either mentioned in dialogue or are up to the audience members to recognize (make sure you look for a pasture of horses of a different color in the background of one scene). Try not to get bogged down in the (at times) dull plot and instead, think of the movie as a scavenger hunt.

Like “The Wizard of Oz,” “Oz the Great and Powerful” also begins in black and white. Oscar (James Franco) is a carnival magician and con artist who has loved too many women and angered too many men. After an especially angry bodybuilder comes after him, Oscar escapes in a hot air balloon. Unfortunately, he didn’t notice a menacing tornado barreling toward him and is swept up and diverted to the brilliantly colorful world of Oz. Here Oscar meets two “good” witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis) and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). They mistake him for a long prophesied wizard that will save Oz from the “wicked witch” Glinda (Michelle Williams). The sisters show Oscar a Scrooge McDuck-esque vault full of gold and inform him that Oz, along with the money, is his as long as he brings them Glinda’s wand. Of course, Oscar sets off to find the wand, befriending a winged monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and a porcelain doll (voiced by Joey King) along the way. His friends help him pay attention to what is actually going on behind the sisters’ devious curtain in order to free the people of Oz.

This may sound silly, but besides the references to “The Wizard of Oz,” my favorite part of the film was the opening credits; it is a hodgepodge of visuals reminiscent of a puppet show and really is fantastically done. Additionally, the colorful costumes and CGI imagery, especially the whimsical landscape of Oz, make the film pop. It was nice that along with the black and white (Kansas) to color (Oz) device from the original film, Raimi also used a more compact aspect ratio in Kansas and transitioned to widescreen in Oz. I thought it would have also been awesome if Raimi had started the film in 2D and then jumped to 3D in Oz. “Oz the Great and Powerful really demonstrates” how far Raimi has come in the CGI realm since Spiderman 3.

Besides a plot that is at times dull, my main complaint about the film was casting Franco as Oscar. As opposed to the charming and captivating character the script calls for, Franco is instead forced and over-the-top. It is hard to care what happens to Oscar because Franco is completely unbelievable in the role. Someone like Robert Downey Jr. (the original choice for Oscar), an actor that can effortlessly transition between humorous and serious dialogue, would have been a much better choice. Kunis also was out of her element in comparison with the performances of Weisz and Williams. Weisz gives the best performance of the film. Her wickedness, compared to Williams’ ethereal goodness, gave the perfect juxtaposition between good and evil. I wish, however, that Weisz’s character had some of the same campy dialogue used in the original movie. If there is a sequel, I pray it focuses more on the sisters and leaves Franco to a minimum.

Hopefully “Wizard of Oz” fans can get through the clunky, at times boring plot (and James Franco) and see the movie for what it is, a love letter to our favorite movie.

Plus, if the box office is good, maybe this will push Universal to finally develop “Wicked” for the big screen. Fingers crossed!

Rating: B- (for effort)

LAUREN BRADSHAW grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., and can be reached at lnb5e@virginia.edu.