Oz the Great and Powerful
What It Is
Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a carnival magician, which is to say he’s a con man. He performs tricks on a stage with the help of assistants, wires, trapdoors, and mirrors, and feels twinges of sadness when he’s revealed to be a fake — as when a little girl in a wheelchair (Joey King) asks him to make her walk, and he must confess that he cannot.
This scene near the start of Oz the Great and Powerful establishes Oscar’s self-awareness as well as his ambition, for even after he’s found out, he feels compelled to explain himself to his pretty girlfriend Annie (Michelle Williams). He’s not entirely scheming and cruel (though he’s not inclined to marry her), but in fact, only wants to escape dusty, bleak 1905 Kansas (shot in black and white, as well as the old square ratio), and in the process become not just a good man, but a great one. His ambition finds fantastic form when he leaves the carnival in a hot air balloon, only to find himself sucked up into a tornado (just like Dorothy in the next story), which deposits him in Oz — a place that is, by the way, colorful and lush and thrilling, the opposite of Kansas.
Here Oscar learns of a prophecy, whereby a wizard named Oz (Oscar’s own nickname) will save the people currently oppressed by ruling witches. He has to sort out which witch is which, as it were, for he meets three, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Williams again). (Of course, as you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, you already know who is the good.) Oscar’s efforts include romancing the sisters Theodora and Evanora (who suggests he comes to visit her in her bedroom when it serves her purpose, though you don’t see exactly this), and then dropping both when he falls for Glinda, who does, after all, look a lot like Annie.
He meets Glinda when the sisters send him into the Dark Wood in pursuit of her magic wand, a mission he undertakes with a couple of helpers, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff, who plays Oscars’ buddy back in Kansas), a small brown flying monkey in a bellboy’s jacket, and also a doll called only China Girl (voiced by Joey King). That he can mend the doll’s legs in Oz (he has glue in his pocket) makes Oscar feel more like a wizard than he was back home. So too, his affection for Glinda as well as his courage in trying to help her suggest he has a softer hear than he demonstrated before coming to Oz.
Still, Oscar and his friends aren’t an obvious threat to the army of soldiers and larger, darker, much scarier flying monkeys who do Evanora and Theodora’s bidding (for instance, “Fly! Fly!”). Neither are the foursome invested with much urgency: Oscar and his friends venture into the woods, lose the wand, and, with the help of a tinker (Bill Cobbs) and a few munchkins, invent some illusions to win it back. These episodes unfold slowly, and then they’re over, when Oscar has learned his lesson, namely, that it’s good to be good, rather than great or powerful.
Why It’s Fun
The opening credits sequence looks like a series of (digitized) paper cut-outs, the camera dodging in and out of spirals and making particularly clever use of the very concept of 3D, with images that look 2D.
China Girl, despite to having a name of her own, is a decently animated figure, her many cracks alluding to the difficulties of being so outwardly fragile and her irrepressible high spirits evidencing that she’s more rambunctious, funny, and appealing than any of the flesh-and-blood girls on this screen.
The 3D effects are frequently gimmicky, with objects swooping toward the screen.
Who’s Going To Love It
Viewers hoping for a smidgen of historical reference in their fiction may be impressed by the future wizard Oscar’s admiration for Thomas Edison, the wizard of Menlo Park, the man who invented the phonograph, the movie camera, and the light blub.
Viewers in search of the wizard’s backstory per L. Frank Baum’s children’s novels may be disappointed, as much of what you see here is a jumble of effects and ideas borrowed from recent comic book movies, with explosions and tornadoes, flying fights and witches with zappy beams or fireballs blasting from their hands.
Glinda’s flying transport bubbles are shinier and faster now, but they’re also a little less awesome than the one she used in the 1939 movie.
What To Be Aware Of
Some scenes, including the early tornado sequence, Oscar’s trek through the Dark Woods, and the battle he and his friends wage against the blue-coated soldiers and mean flying monkeys, are dark and scary.
Some scenes show grief and pain, as when the little girl in the wheelchair cries at Oscar’s inability to help her, and then again when he and Finley discover China Girl alone and broken (literally), after her home and family have been destroyed by the mean flying monkeys.
Some mildly alarming jump-at-the-screen effects. The violence has two modes: one is a function of aftermath, as you see devastation or broken homes and gloomy skies. The other is more broadly cartoonish, when witches wield colored electricity zaps and fireballs.
The transformation of one sister into the Wicked Witch of the West, begins with a sad scene: she cries and the tears burn acidy tracks into her skin. This leads her to feel resentful at the cause of her sadness (Oscar), and when she eats a poisoned apple, she is more fully changed, with warts and green skin and a gigantic chin and nose. This moment is rendered to seem frightening, with crashing music, but it is not explicit, as she appears as a shadow, her extended witchy laugh the creepiest (and noisiest) part of the transformation.
Mild, brief language.
4 out of 10
Oz the Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, James Franco, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Abigail Spencer, Joey King, Bill Cobbs
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
US General Release: March 8, 2013
UK General Release: March 8, 2013