On Tuesday evening I had an opportunity to preview Oz the Great and Powerful in 3D with my nearly 9-year-old daughter. I went in expecting to like it but I didn’t realize what a visually stunning movie it would be, nor did I anticipate that it would be such an amazing and fun tale to watch unfold.
Here’s how Disney describes the movie:
Disney’s fantastical adventure “Oz The Great and Powerful,”directed by Sam Raimi, imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum’s beloved wizard character. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpotâ€”fame and fortune are his for the takingâ€”that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land ofOz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuityâ€”and even a bit of wizardryâ€”Oscar transforms himself not only into the great wizard but into a better man as well.
The trailer speaks volumes about the magic you’ll see onscreen.
While my review does contain some ‘spoilers’ I think most Oz fans and anyone who has read the book won’t find these new, but if you want the details on whether you should see it skip down to the bottom of the page for a spoiler-free review.
Oz the Great and Powerful Review
The film opens in black and white in a tight shot of the circus that’s come to town where we’re introduced to Oz, his newest magic assistant, Annie (who we later see as Glinda), and Frank his loyal assistant (played by Zach Braff who later voices Finley). The movie brings to life the story of Oz the Great and Powerful a small-time magician at the Baum Circus (a nod to author Frank Baum) with big dreams of being part Thomas Edison and part Houdini.
As with the classic “Wizard of Oz” we see some of these characters in the land of Oz. In another nod to the classic movie, the movie opens in black and white until Oz goes over the rainbow into the land of Oz. But there the similarities and the comparison should end. There is simply no way to best the perfection of the original film, and the fondness many have for the “Wizard of Oz” won’t be replaced by “Oz.”
James Franco plays Oz with a wink and grin that immediately win the audience over despite his womanizing ways (introduced in the first minutes of the film) He embodies Oz with a playful spirit and the ambition to be great. Oz woos naive, young girls with the story of a music box given to him by his grandmother including his new assistant.
While performing his show a girl in a wheelchair (Joey King who also later voices China Girl) asks Oz to help her walk. The crowd turns on him when he refuses to help knowing that he magic is only illusion.
After the show goes bad we meet Annie who Oz clearly has affection for, but who he encourages to accept the proposal she received from another suitor. As they are talking the circus strongman is storming across the grounds to find him since he has apparently wooed the strongman’s girl with the same tale and music box he’s used before. Oz escapes by hopping into a hot air balloon on the windy plain only to turn and realize he’s headed straight for a tornado.
The hot air balloon flies into a tornado and we watch as Oz is pulled into the tornado. It’s a dramatic scene that ends with him suddenly flying up and out into the land of Oz. When Oz arrives in the land of Oz the screen widens and the color comes to life with amazing special effects.
His ballon lands and we are introduced to Theodora a naive witch who tells him there was a prophecy that he would come and rescue the land of Oz from the wicked witch. Played by Mila Kunis, Theodora is naive and full of hope for peace when we meet her.
The two travel to the Emerald City (and share a kiss after she receives one of his music boxes) meeting some challenges and a few scares on the way. The pari stop to help a talking monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) from being eaten by a lion. Finley in return offers his lifelong assistance to Oz. Finley’s character brings much-needed humor to the film to balance what becomes an exciting and dark journey to save the land of Oz.
After arriving in the Emerald City Theodora introduces Oz to her sister Evanora (Racehl Weisz). Evanora convinces Oz to find a witch who is wreaking havoc on the land of Oz by showing him the treasure room which is only meant for the true ruler of the land.
Oz heads off to find the witch with Finley in tow, but takes a detour into China Town at Finley’s insistence-a town devastated by the witch. This part of the movie may be tough for young kids, especially if they are sensitive to the topic of death. The duo come across the lone survivor a small china doll voiced by Joey King. In a tender moment Oz uses “magic” glue to fix China Girl’s legs and she joins them on their adventure adding a little humor and helping show Oz’s caring side to the audience.
All three head to the Dark Woods to find the witch, and I’d again caution that this part may be too scary for young kids. Particularly in 3D this part of the film is rather dark and scary. Things pop out, there is a chase, and a we see the frightening flying baboons who are terrorizing the land of Oz.
We meet Glinda in the dark woods who explains that her father was killed, and that Evanora is truly the wicked witch. The four characters travel by bubble to an area that’s safe from the wicked sisters.
There Oz meets the own people including the Munchkins. Oz reveals himself as a fraud to Glinda but she still has faith in him, and in turn her faith (and the faith of the people around him) lead Oz to get creative with what resources they have to fight the evil sisters.
Meanwhile we see sisters Evanora and Theodora use a crystal ball to see Oz, and Evanora encourages her sister to join her wicked ways. With a single bite of an apple we see the frightening transformation of Theodora from a naive and lovesick witch to a the Wicked Witch with green skin and an evil cackle.
The movie climax is the fight between the Glinda, Oz, his companions, and the townspeople (good) and the Wicked witches, their evil magic, and the flying baboons (evil).
Without sharing all the details Oz protects the land, and becomes the great wizard with help from his friends and Glinda. Good defeats evil, and the wicked witches are scared away. Oz finds his greatness, and the movie ends.
Quick Review (spoiler-free)
Oz is a visually stunning film, and while there moments of humor, darkness, and light in the end they are outdone by the special effects, the true star of the film. It is entertainment and magic at its’ best especially in 3D.
Franco plays Oz with a bit of humor and a wink, but he doesn’t bring the same showmanship an actor like Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr. (both attached to the film at one point) would bring to a role like this. Michele Williams is all light and knowing as Glinda. Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis as sisters Evanora and Theodora bring depth and fun to their roles as witches. Zach Braff and Joey King bring humor and spunk to their roles-made easier by embodying CGI characters they seem to fit the film better than some of the live-action characters.
Overall Oz is an entertaining and visually fun experience. Fans of the 1939 masterpiece may find this film lacking since the magic of the original Oz film cannot be matched with special effects.
Should you see Oz in the theatre?
If you plan to see Oz, see it in 3D for the added fun that will bring to a film that is made for the big screen.
I would recommend the film for children in 3rd grader or above, though know that there are some scary parts that sensitive older kids may find frightening.
A nearly 9 year-old’s review:
My date for the movie, 3rd grader and nearly 9 year-old Audrey, says it was a good movie, and it was a bit scary in parts. She didn’t once hide or seem scared, and we laughed a lot. Overall, a fun experience for us both.
Disclosure: I was provided with two tickets for the film, but all opinions are my own.