You remember The Wizard of Oz, right? The story of how Dorothy and Toto get swept away from grey Kansas in a tornado, plopped down in the colorized land of Oz, and forced into killing a witch by a sideshow magician, only to find out she could have gone home almost as soon as she arrived? Haven’t you ever wondered how the Wizard first came to Oz?
No? Well, Oz the Great and Powerful is going to tell you anyway.
Told from the point of view of the Wizard himself, Oz the Great and Powerful reveals the early days of the Wizard and the struggle between the Wicked Witch of the West and the good people of Oz. Most of the familiar characters, including the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, haven’t come along yet. This is a different age of Oz, straying from the Yellow Brick Road and showing us new parts of Oz we’ve never seen before.
The cast is full of big-name actors. Oz is played by James Franco of the Spider-Man trilogy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and 127 Hours. Mila Kunis portrays Theodora; she is known for her roles in Black Swan, Friends with Benefits, and the television show Family Guy. We also have Michelle Williams as Glinda, who was in My Week with Marilyn, Shutter Island, and Brokeback Mountain. And now the two are in a PG-rated kids’ film. I guess there’s a first time for everything. Evanora is played by Rachel Weisz from such films as The Mummy, Dream House, and The Bourne Legacy. And last, but never least, is Bruce Campbell as the Winkie gatekeeper. This movie just became that much more awesome.
Directing this film is Sam Raimi, otherwise known as the reason Bruce Campbell has a cameo. I’m not familiar with his work outside of the Spider-Man movies, but from what I’ve seen, the man likes big, colorful visuals, enjoyable if slightly goofy storylines, and lots of humor. Do those traits work for this movie? Well, let’s look at the trailer and find out.
We open on the black-and-white fullscreen world of the American Midwest, where James Franco is performing magic tricks and flying around in a balloon. He seems tired of his ordinary life (Cliché Plot Point #3), saying Kansas has enough good men and that he wants to be great. Um, James, Hitler and Stalin were great men, but they weren’t very good. Don’t knock the good men; we need more of them in this world.
James goes up in his balloon, and a friend of his tosses him his top hat, telling him he’ll need it. Why? Is it for protection? Is it like Oddjob’s decapitating hat from Goldfinger? Why is the hat so important? It certainly does nothing to shield him from the tornado (what idiot goes ballooning in stormy, tornado-producing weather anyway?) that sweeps him away as he crouches in the basket, shouting that he is not ready to die because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Looking past the forced dialogue, which admittedly may just sound forced because he’s shouting over the wind, it has to be a sad moment of realization when you have to say that out loud.
But he survives as the colors brighten and the screen widens to reveal the land of Oz in what is actually a very clever homage to the original film. He lands and comes across an imp that has to be the cutest scary thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Then he meets Mila Kunis, and we have no idea who she is. I would guess she’s the Good Witch of the North except that she’s wearing red, the color of the South, and I know she’s not Glinda. So who is she? All we’re told is that she is a witch. James asks her where her broom is, and she tells him he doesn’t know much about witches. Yeah, the Witch of the West has a broom, and I’m pretty sure the Witch of the East has one too, so it seems like a valid question to me, Mila. Are brooms only wicked witch transportation, and all the good witches fly around in bubbles? Also, from the way she’s dancing with him, I get the feeling she’d like to show him a little more about witches. Seriously, the two just met, and already we’re building a romance between them. I know this is a Disney movie, but give them a little time to get to know each other first!
Anyway, Mila brings James to the city of Oz, where he meets her sister, Rachel Weisz, and now I’m really lost because by my count, we must now have three good witches since neither of these women are Glinda. Maybe one of them turns out to be wicked or something, I don’t know. But she welcomes him to Oz, telling him, “I am here to … serve you.” Um, what’s with the pause? From its implications, I can only gather that yet another witch is throwing herself at James within a few minutes of meeting him. Is he really that good-looking and charismatic? (Maybe he is, but I’m a guy, so I can’t really tell.) Rachel shows James to the city treasury, and he promptly goes swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck. She tells him that it is his if he kills the Wicked Witch, and once again I’m left wondering if there shouldn’t be two Wicked Witches. It’s not that hard, people; two good in the north and south and two wicked in the east and west. But again, maybe one of the good ones goes bad. I also have to wonder why the people of Oz are willing to turn all their money over to a total stranger even if they think he’s a wizard. It just seems like a horrible economic decision to put all wealth in the hands of one man.
But James agrees to the terms and begins his quest, going to the South for some reason since he has to go through Chinatown, which is to the South in the books. Go east or west, James; she’s in one of those directions. And no, it’s not a city full of Chinese people; it’s a city made of china and populated by fragile china dolls. I must say, I’m very happy to see this inclusion, since to my knowledge it hasn’t appeared in any Oz story since the original books. But as James goes south, he finally meets Glinda! It’s fortunate that I know she’s Glinda, because in the trailer I watched, her name is never mentioned. But right after they meet, they are attacked by … um, Sauron, I guess; that’s what it looks like, with the eye of fire in the middle of a black cloud of smoke. Then they run into sentient carnivorous plants, which I don’t remember from the books. Apparently either Hyrule or the Mushroom Kingdom are bleeding over into the world of Oz, so I won’t be surprised if either Mario or Link shows up. Oh, and the CG artists have found a way to make flying monkeys even scarier. Thanks, guys. I needed some new nightmares.
By now, James has teamed up with a china doll and a talking monkey who gets next to no screen time in the trailer, and the three come across a pair of crows who caw out, “You’ll die! You’ll die!” Well, I guess crows know what they’re talking about. Also, I love how the talking monkey seems shocked by the talking crows. But the three go on, because Rachel tells James that only his magic can defeat the Wicked Witch. Girl, you’re three good witches against one bad one. I think you can take her. Then again, she can’t be that powerful if she hasn’t figured out that he isn’t really a wizard. Apparently, Glinda is the only one who knows James is a humbug—and she convinces him to continue his masquerade. I love how lying to the people you protect is always a good idea; it’s like the ending of The Dark Knight all over again (one of these days I’ll have to rant-blog in detail about that bit of idiocy). But Glinda does tell James that he is capable of more than he knows. And how does she know that again? She’s only just met the guy; it’s not like she’s seen that much of him in action. Oh, and I almost skipped over the Munchkin guards who apparently disguise themselves as really tall men only to set up jokes and lead into musical numbers.
We move into the action montage section of the trailer, and I must say it all looks really cool and I have no complaints—well, except that they show Rachel and Glinda fighting, so it’s possible the trailer just ruined the ending and Rachel turns wicked. On the other hand, IMDb seems to tell a different story (if you’re not worried about spoilers, check out the cast list on that website), so that scene might be there just to lead us astray. And we wrap up the trailer with a shot of the Wicked Witch, and … uh, Witchiepoo? You know you’re on fire, right? You might want to do something about that.
So do I recommend the movie? Well … yeah, yes I do. The film looks beautiful, the story seems enjoyable, and the action and humor are engaging and thrilling. Also, the PG rating is comforting for parents looking for entertainment for their older children, although some scenes may be too scary for younger members of the audience. Based on the trailer, this film is a good choice for families (minus a few smaller children) and fans of the world created by L. Frank Baum all those years ago. It probably won’t be the enduring classic that was The Wizard of Oz, but it’s a great supplement. Definitely watch the original, and if you’re looking for something with a faster pacing and more action, check this one out too. Will I see it in theaters? I certainly want to, but it’s not one of my “theater-must-sees,” so it may not happen. Even so, I will see this movie at least once at some point.
So what do you think? Did this review get you interested in the movie or put you off of it? Was I unfair to the movie, or did I miss an opportunity to poke fun at it? Leave your opinions in the comments below, and if you see the movie, be sure to tell me how it was (but don’t spoil the ending; I really do want to see this)!
Oz the Great and Powerful is owned by Disney.