Taking on the daunting task of living up to an immortalized legend of a film is no easy task. However, Disney is the one to do it if every there was a studio that could. They took on The Wizard of Oz with the same flair they approached the very successful Pirates of the Caribean movies. The result? OZ: The Great and Powerful – a gluttony of visuals and effects that quickly turns into a stomach ache only a quarter of the way through the movie. There’s not much of a plot to speak of, but I will summarize after the jump. And be warned – there will be spoilers!
Oz (James Franco) is a small circus huckster and magician, always getting into scrapes and using charm to cover an easy insincerity. He goes a little too far one day and ends up making his escape in a hot air balloon, only to be sucked up in a tornado and dropped into the land of Oz. He quickly meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), his initial guide in the land that bears his name. Oz is told of the prophesy that says a great wizard will come to the land that bears his name and save them all from the wicked witch. Oz, still in huckster mode, despite his promise of reformation when he was about to die in the twister, immediately agrees he is king and begins to seduce his new guide to the land of Oz. They meet up with an unfortunate, trapped monkey who quickly becomes Oz’ servant for eternity after Oz saves him. Oz is then brought to the Emerald City and meets Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachael Weisz) – counsel to the king. She promises him all the riches in Oz after he defeats the wicked witch.
Oz sets out to quickly claim his prize by killing the evil witch and becomes waylaid when he and his monkey Finnley find a destroyed China city. There the wizard shows a bit of humanity and picks up a new travel companion in a live china doll. The three compatriots do find their evil witch – Glinda and they discover the old switcheroo that Glinda is actually the good witch. I’m not exactly sure why we’re convinced of this other than the fact she’s wearing white. Glinda takes them to her city to meet the army that will help them defeat the evil sisters.
Meanwhile, those sisters are turning more evil. Evanora gives Theodora an apple to shrivel her heart after manipulating Theodora into thinking that Oz is now in love with Glinda. Spurned, Theodora turns into the wicked witch of the west we all know, with her green skin and her pointed chin and nose. The battle begins to win Oz. The winning trick is a bit of deception from Oz himself that wins the day, along with a final battle between Evanora and Glinda. Oz by the end, is not really all that reformed but we get a similar ending as the original movie where Oz bestows his pithy gifts on each of his followers, including making out with Glinda.
I wanted at least a good visual romp through an updated Oz, made possible by the visual effects of the day. While I definitely got enough visual effects to last a lifetime, my eyes were hurting just a quarter of the way through the movie. The hallucinatory colors and the diamond crispness of the land of Oz was wearing. It lacked life. As magical as the world was, the costuming did not measure up. Why spend so much time and money on amazing world building and fail to follow through on something simple like costuming? The actors also had a hard time interacting with the china doll character. I cringed slightly every time they had to pick her up. Finnley, the monkey was quietly unsettling. It was his nose that gave him a squished up face and if they were trying to get us to sympathize with him as a character, it wasn’t working.
Who Is This Movie For, Anyway?
In tone and plot I wasn’t sure if, with this PG movie, they were trying to dress up a kid’s movie, or dumb down an adult movie. At times it seemed way too scary for a kid. At others, the plot was so ridiculous that only a child could appreciate it. Oz, the reluctant hero, didn’t seem to learn much by the end. Though they did make a token effort by making us think we had escaped with all the gold he could, when in fact it was part of his plan all along. I didn’t find him all that likable, whether it was the beginning or the end of the movie.
The acting was admirable but I had a hard time sympathizing with a main character so selfish. The witches were much more interesting and complex- as much as the story would allow. Sam Rami did a fine job directing what he had to work with. We got to see his old stand-bys in his brother and Bruce Campbell cameos.
The whole thing just limped along and though another one is in the works, I can’t imagine how well it will do. If nothing else, maybe it will help bring a new audience to the classic books and movie. For me, I’ll wait until Franco’s This Is The End.
Four Not-So-Wonderful Wizards out of Ten