Disney returns to Oz. Again.

Opening this weekend is Disney’s Oz: The Great and Powerful.  Is it great?  Is it powerful?  For the most part yes.  The part that isn’t, however, is pretty significant.

You’d think that the Broadway musical Wicked would’ve already covered everything there is about the formative years of the Land of Oz, but there’s more to mine in this fantasy world.   Wicked focused on the witches.  Oz focuses on the wizard, a womanizing con man mistaken for a real wizard prophesied to save the good citizens of Oz from evil.

I became aware of this screenplay over a year ago and loved it.  At the time Robert Downey Jr. was rumored to play Oscar “Oz” Diggs and, while learning more about the script, it was hard for me to picture anyone else in the role.  After seeing the movie, it’s still hard to picture anyone else.  More on that later.



“Hey, Glinda, you see that giant film logo hanging over our heads, right?”

The main cast consists of actors raised on TV — James Franco (Freaks & Geeks), Mila Kunis (That ‘70s Show), Michelle Williams (Dawson’s Creek), Zach Braff (Scrubs).  Rounding out the troop is Rachel Weisz who is excellent as evil witch Evanora.  Williams is a spot-on modern version of Glinda the Good from The Wizard of Oz, with a dash of her  My Week with Marilyn persona thrown in.  Mila Kunis is good but a notch below as Evanora’s sister, Theodora.  At times Kunis lacks conviction when interacting with CGI environments, a challenge I don’t envy given how many blue screens she had to pretend were flying baboons and walking China dolls.  Although Kunis’ performance is lacking, it’s better than Franco’s.

James Franco is a solid actor.  He’d have to be to earn an Academy Award nomination.  But that recognition was for drama (127 Hours), not comedy.  Need a James Dean or an angst-ridden Peter Parker pal?  Call Franco.  But comedy, at least this type of comedy, is not his strength (stoner comedy like Pineapple Express is).  Franco playing Oscar Diggs is like Franco co-hosting the Oscars — he’s simply miscast.

“I’m simply miscast. Now stop staring at me, Glinda. You’re creeping me out.”

One person not miscast is Franco’s Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, who pulls out all the stops to make this visit to Oz a feast for the senses.  Raimi is the perfect director.  From camera moves to visual effects and everything in between, it’s a time machine trip to a 1939 Hollywood blockbuster, including a musical score worthy of its own soundtrack review.  However, none of this nostalgia exists without a knowing wink (Winkie?) to modern audiences who may otherwise deem a 100% recreation of that era as hokey.  The new film is hokey, and well aware of it, but not in a meta state of cynical awareness like the Scream franchise.

Raimi’s homage to the effects of the ’39 film is wonderful.  The original script for the new movie climaxed with the good guys battling an army of steam-powered robots, which also served as reference to the Tin Man (Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion references made the cut, but are unnecessary).  The steambots were ditched to trim the budget and now the climax focuses on the birth of the wizard’s famous “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” illusion.  With disembodied head, smoke, and curly mustache — it’s a faithful, more dynamic re-imagining of the original.

Throughout Raimi’s career, we’ve seen the influence of director Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz.  Look at Raimi’s version of the Green Goblin from the first Spidey flick.  Comic book buffs like myself disliked the all-green, hook-nosed cackling interpretation, but cinema buffs (also like myself [I was torn]) appreciated the nod to the all-green, hook-nosed, cackling Wicked Witch of the West.  Both the Goblin and Witch’s modes of transportation — his glider, her broom — soar through the air with a trail of puffy smoke.  It’s great to see Raimi come full circle and fully acknowledge Fleming’s influence.

Most of my praise derives from the skillful recreation of the original film’s spectacle, which sounds like a backhanded compliment — “Hey, guys, nice job copying someone else’s creativity.”  Not true.  Unlike Superman Returns (“Look, up in the sky!  Is it a sequel?  Is it a remake?  No, it’s a mess!”), the Oz filmmakers pay loving tribute to the source material, but also make the new movie their own.

“Hey, I’m sorry about the ‘creeping me out’ comment! Now can you please put me down?!”

My sole grievance is the 3D.  I’m normally not a fan, but this — along with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland — are the only films that I can’t imagine seeing in anything but 3D.  So where’s the grievance?  In the opening sequence.

Like the 1939 movie, this one begins with a sequence designed to contrast humdrum Kansas with the magical Land of Oz.  Fleming’s classic achieved this via black and white footage and a smaller aspect ratio that was a striking contrast to the Technicolor widescreen Emerald City.  Raimi’s movie employs the same tools but adds 3D, a perfect way to ratchet up the fantastical elements of Oz.  Unfortunately he does this with Kansas as well, which downplays the contrast of the two worlds.  This, however, is a minor quibble in an otherwise entertaining film rife with spectacular CGI that, unlike Jack the Giant Slayer, is anything but fee-fi-ho-hum.

Ethnically diverse Munchkins react to Glinda putting Oscar “down”.

There’s a reason author L. Frank Baum wrote 14 novels about his beloved Land of Oz — it’s a rich example of world-building on par with Narnia and Middle-Earth.  And Disney knows this since a follow-up film has already been greenlit. Plot details are unknown, but my suggestions are to make it…

A prequel to a prequel.

In Oz, the wizard is prophesied to replace the murdered king of Oz.  Let’s see the king’s story with Downey Jr. in the role.


A sequel.

Unlike the king, one character never mentioned is the Witch of the South.  Theodora is the Witch of the West.  Evanora is the east version.  Glinda hails from the north.  What about the south?  Hopefully we’ll meet her somewhere over the rainbow.



You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. […] etc.  The musical score is no different.  For more on the actual film, please visit this review.  For more on the score, read […]

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress