“Oz: The Great and Powerful” Review

March 15, 2013

Synopsis: Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks he’s hit the jackpot-fame and fortune are his for the taking. That all changes, however, when he meets three witches, Theodora, Evanora, and Glinda, who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz 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, ingenuity-and even a bit of wizardry-Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.

Release date: March 8th, 2013

Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire

Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Zach Braff

Studio: Disney

Website: http://disney.go.com/thewizard/

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Review: Growing up, one of the first films I remember seeing and falling in love with was The Wizard of Oz.  I watched it all the time.  It’s one of the reasons I love movies today.  One of my first times I experienced the magic of movies and I was hooked.

When I found out Sam Raimi’s next movie was going to be a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, I had mixed feelings.  I use to really like Sam Raimi.  He was a quirky, little indie filmmaker who made great, campy movies.  The Evil Dead trilogy and Darkman being some of my favorites.  I lost interest in him, however, after the Spiderman movies.  He was no longer making great, low budget horror films anymore.  Instead he was making Hollywood blockbusters.

A comparison would be George Lucas.  He was once a young visionary filmmaker who really impacted cinema and made movies fans loved and then just became part of the big Hollywood system pumping out soulless eye candy.  They went from artists to businessmen.  When you’ve had the pleasure of making a movie with a 100 million dollar budget, why stress yourself out and make a lower budget movie and jump through hurdles to get it made?  I feel the best movies are the ones that make you work for it.  It’s one of the reasons most director’s early movies are so great and their recent stuff is so-so.  They don’t have to fight to get to the mountain top anymore, they’ve reached it.

That being said, Oz: The Great and Powerful is probably my favorite Sam Raimi movie in ten years.  Yes, it’s a lot of CGI eye candy, but it has a lot of heart to it and a message like the original Wizard of Oz.  However, it’s definitely not perfect.

The film starts out with a gorgeous and creative black and white title sequence.  We are then whisked away to Kansas, 1905.  The first act is in black and white, much like the original, with a square aspect ratio.  This part is some of the best stuff in the movie.  It feels real, like old Hollywood.  The costumes look great, the sets don’t look like CGI backgrounds and it has atmosphere.

Right away we get a sense of Oz, played by James Franco.  He’s a no good conman, but deep down he’s a great guy.  He’s a professional liar and manipulates people.

We are also introduced to Zach Braff’s character, Frank.  Frank is Oz’s mistreated assistant.  There’s some good back and forth banter between these two and Braff almost steals the show.  After amazing the audience with his tricks, a little girl asks Oz to give her the ability to walk again.  It’s a touching moment because this little girl believes so much in his magical abilities, yet there’s nothing he can really do for her.  He’s essentially a fraud and the crowd turns on him.

Back in his wagon, Oz is visited by an old love, Annie.  Right away you can tell they were close.  She breaks the news to him that another man has asked for her hand in marriage.  He’s too foolish to tell her not to marry this other man.  He then goes on to say that he’s a good man, but that’s not enough.  He wants to be a great man who changes lives.  One of his idols is Thomas Edison.

This scene gets broken up when the carnival’s Strongman catches his woman with one of Oz’s “Grandmother’s music boxes”.  It’s an item he gives to all the women he hits on.  The Strongman chases him around the carnival, into the hot air ballon, and Oz makes his escape.  But he’s not out of the clear yet.  In an impressive scene, he’s hit by a tornado and is transported to The Land of Oz.

While caught in the tornado, the scene has that classic Sam Raimi Evil Dead feel.  Very reminiscent of Ash being sucked to Medieval times.

The transition scene is brilliant.  The black and white fades to color while the aspect ratio grows to the modern widescreen format.  It’s a beautiful image.  It says, “Welcome to Oz”.

It gets ruined, however, because his balloon is carried down a river and waterfall where a bunch of CGI debris, leaves, and birds fly all around the screen.  These were meant strictly for the 3D effect.  I saw this movie in 2D, so this just looked like a bunch of pointless stuff thrown at the screen.

Once he reaches land, we’re introduced to Theodora, played by Mila Kunis.  When she finds out that his name is Oz she speaks of a prophecy which states a man with the same name as the land will fall from the sky and save them.  The King was poisoned and the Wicked Witch now rules.

We’re then introduced to the Flying Monkeys.  I like the update that they did.  They seemed a lot scarier and intimidating.  At first I wished they were still like chimps, but baboons have a more threatening face.

Oz is able to lead the Flying Monkeys away and Theodora is impressed by Oz.  One could argue that her love for Oz is rushed, but he’s is the “chosen one”.  Girls dig that, right?  And also Mila Kunis is drop dead gorgeous in these early scenes so of course the womanizing Oz is going to hit on her.  He even gives her “Grandma’s music box”.

On the way to the Emerald City, Oz and Theodora encounter a little winged monkey trapped in some vines panicking.  While Oz cuts him free, a Lion advances on them.  Oz produces a cloud of smoke and the Lion runs away.  Oz then calls the Lion a coward…

We learn the little monkey, Finley, now owes a life of servitude to Oz for saving him.  The monkey is voiced by Zach Braff.  This is similar to the Kansas farmers in the original Wizard of Oz who also play major characters in Oz: The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.   Again, Zach Braff as Finley is one of the highlights of the movie.  He’s very enjoyable.

Finally we reach the Emerald City and are introduced to Theodora’s sister Evanora, the darker of the two sisters.  We also get a sense that there is some sister rivalry between the two.

Here, Oz is told by Evanora that the throne and treasures are all his “if” he can kill The Wicked Witch by destroying her wand.  So, reluctantly, Oz and Finley set off on the yellow brick road to kill themselves a witch.

While walking past a field, horses of a different colors can be seen.  It’d be a nice homage to the original, if they weren’t so poorly animated.  No really, these CGI horses are BAD.  For a big budget movie of this size, it’s bewildering that those horribly animated horses made it into the final movie.

There’s some smoke in the distance and they investigate.  They arrive in Chinatown (a town made of China) and find that everything is shattered.  Oz finds only one person remaining, a little China Girl in hiding.  Oz finds out the town was destroyed because the Wicked Witch was looking for him.  He asks her to come along with them, but she can’t.  It’s revealed that her legs are shattered.  This is reminiscent of the crippled girl wishing to walk during his show.  However, this time is able to cure the girl.  He pulls out a bottle of magic (glue) and reattaches the China Girl’s legs.  This is one of the most touching scenes in the movie and you instantly fall in love with the China Girl.  This character and Finley are highlights throughout.

They make there way into the creepy Dark Forest and find a witch at a cemetery.  The come up with a plan to steal her wand but it backfires.  Turns out this isn’t the Wicked Witch but the good witch, Glinda, who looks a lot like his love Annie.

Oz finds out that he’s been lied to.  Theodora and Evanora are wicked witches and were responsible for the King’s (her father) death.  Evanora sees this through her crystal ball and sends a bunch of Winkies and Flying Monkeys after them.  They escape the cemetery by flying away in Glinda’s bubbles.  We are then taken to Glinda’s hometown, which is slightly similar to Munchkinland.

Evanora then manipulates her own sister into eating tainted green apple.  She plays with Theodora’s head by having her think Oz betrayed her.  When she takes a bite of the apple is when she’s transformed into the Wicked Witch we all know.

This is the main problem with the movie, Mila Kunis wasn’t the right choice for The Wicked Witch.  She does ok pre-transformation being a clingy nutcase, but when she dons the green skin, it fails.  First off she’s too attractive.  Nothing against Margaret Hamilton, but she looked like a witch without the makeup.  Even after she’s evil, Kunis is still kind of attractive in a “your cleavage is out and your wearing butt hugging leather pants” kind of way.  The makeup is awful considering I saw Greg Nicotero’s name in the credits and the performance is wrong.  When she randomly cackles like a witch, it sounds like they used a different person just for the laugh.  Also, she doesn’t change her voice at all so while she’s complaining about boy trouble, it’s hard not to see Meg Griffin.  Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis really should have traded parts.

Back to Oz and Glinda.  We’re introduced to the Quadlings, the Tinkers, and the Munchkins who will serve as Oz’s army to defeat the witches.  The Munchkins break into song, but Oz quickly stops it and I was thankful.  The remake of Willy Wonka did a dreadful job trying to write new classic songs, and I’m glad this movie didn’t even attempt to be a musical.

Since killing is forbidden, Oz wonders what use an army is that can’t kill.

The Wicked Witch shows up with a lot of epic buildup only for it to fall flat when Kunis opens her mouth.  She threatens everyone and tosses Oz into some barrels and brooms.  Oz made a joke when they first met about witches and flying on brooms, which Theodora didn’t understand.  She grabs one of the brooms, bewitches it, and then flies off after telling Oz he’s responsible for what she’s become.

Later that night while tucking the China Girl into bed, she asks if he’s the type of wizard who grants wishes.  He says no, but he would like to be.  This conversation reminds him of what he is, an illusionist.  He then comes up with a plan to use his trickery to defeat the witches.

Being great builders, Oz has the Tinkers build him a projector, similar to Edison’s, but that can project into space while everyone else works on making gun powder and scarecrows for decoys.

They head off to the Emerald City to do battle in a wagon built for Oz.  They’re stopped at the entrance by a Winkie played by Bruce Campbell in a funny little scene.

Meanwhile Evanora and Theodora are distracted by an army crossing the poppy fields.  They release the Flying Monkeys only to reveal that it’s a bunch of scarecrows.  The Flying Monkey’s all fall asleep, but not before Evanora is able to kidnap Glinda using her green Sith Lord lighting.

Once inside, Oz bails on everyone in another hot air balloon the Tinkers made for him.  He must be a coward after all.  The witches smirk and it looks like there is no hope.  Theodora throws a fireball at the balloon and it goes down like the Hindenburg.

Fire then erupts from all over the city and it grows dark.  The witches look concerned.  Then there is a giant explosion in the middle of the city and Oz’s giant head appears via projector through the smoke and flames.  He says in death, he’s become powerful.  The witches attack, but nothing works.  Oz shoots fireworks up into the sky and makes every true believers in them.  Defeated, Theodora flies away but not before one last insult.  Evanora and Glinda then have one last witch battle that turns Evanora into a hideous Hag out of an Evil Dead movie.  The makeup is odd, and doesn’t quite fit.  Evanora is then carried off to safety by some Flying Monkeys… to one day have a house dropped on her.

Oz is then ready to take his throne.  He must rarely be seen, and sets up the projector, smoke and flames in the throne room.  He then decides to give everyone gifts since he can’t give wishes.  He gives the Master Tinker a swiss army knife thing, Knuck a paper smile on a stick, and Finley his top hat as a symbol of their friendship.  He can’t give the China girl her people back, but he gives her friends to become her new family.  Lastly he gives Glinda his love.

Overall, as you can see, there were a lot of positives to this movie and I liked finding out who the man behind the curtain really was.  I enjoyed it a lot and was happy to take one more trip to Oz and revisit so many things that made it iconic.

Finley the Monkey and The China Girl are great characters.  There was a lot of complaining about James Franco, but I actually didn’t mind him.  The only person that really stood out in a bad way was Mila Kunis.  She’s not a bad actress, but she was miscast as the Wicked Witch.  A sequel is already planned and I wouldn’t mind if they replaced her.  It’s the biggest flaw of the movie besides a couple crummy CGI shots here and there.

We got some nice homages to the Lion and Scarecrow.  I just wish there was some mention of the ruby/silver slippers.  That’ll maybe be addressed in the sequel.  I’ll definitely buy this on blu-ray when it comes out and watch it again.  I’d give it a lot higher rating but one of the most important elements, The Wicked Witch, just doesn’t work and it’s a shame.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 stitches

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