Oz the Great and Powerful is Disney’s adaption of a prequel to Frank L. Baum’s Oz series. By association it is also a prequel to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Oz is a high budget risky gamble by Disney, as it attempts to go back to the land of Oz, a land that many people feel is sacred in film due to the elite status of the 1939 film. Nevertheless, Disney had to have a lot of courage to make this film, and that is admirable. So the question, simply put is, does Oz the Great and Powerful live up to its high expectations?
No it doesn’t.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a film told from the perspective of Oscar Diggs who performs as a magician named Oz for a traveling circus. Oscar is depicted as a low life womanizer and a fraud who has a great admiration for Thomas Edison and Harry Houdini. Oscar is in a depressed state, knowing that he has not lived up the expectations he set for himself, he wishes to be extraordinary.
The film begins with Oscar seducing a woman to be a part of his magic act for the circus, and presumably later to be his illicit lover. Together Oz and this woman put on a poor show at the circus. Afterwards he finds out the woman he really loves is getting married. Then a large unknown man tries to assault Oscar for seducing the girl that was part of his circus act earlier. Oscar is chased out of the circus into a hot air balloon. Like the 1939 film, Oscar, while in the hot air balloon, is transported to the Land of Oz via tornado.
Once in Oz, Oscar meets the witch sisters Theodora and Evanora who believe in a prophecy that states a wizard with the name of their land (Oz) will save their world and become king. In order to save the world, Oz must defeat the Wicked Witch, who is very powerful and murdered the previous king.
The good things in Oz the Great and Powerful come in small doses. For example since this is a nostalgic film, and there are a lot of scenes that pay tribute to the original 1939 film. A great example of the Nostalgic aspect of Oz the Great and Powerful working well is when the new version of Oz begins in black and white and then transforms to color once Oscar is transported to Oz. This effect is a great way to pay tribute to the original film. Another positive change in Oz the Great and Powerful is Glinda is now referred to as the Good Witch in the South, like she was in Baum’s books. In the Wizard of Oz she was Glinda the Good Witch of the North.
Despite those fitting tributes, blaspheming the 1939 film happens far more often, and in worse ways. When the munchkins are introduced over an hour plus into the film, Disney for some reason decides they should sing a song, ignoring the fact that there had been no singing up to this point in the movie. Unlike the 1939 film, the 2013 Oz is not a musical, and the musical number falls flat.
Another example of nostalgic blasphemy is having the Wicked Witch of the West paraphrase lines that are from the original film. Besides the fact that you cringe when you hear these lines paraphrased, it also forces the audience to remember and focus on the original Wicked Witch of the West performance done by Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton’s performance as the Wicked Witch is legendary, why further try to force a comparison? No actor or actress alive today could live up to that performance, nor should they be forced to. If anything the filmmakers should be trying to differentiate their Wicked Witch of the West from the original, not trying to remake it.
The music in the film also struggles. The score to the 2013 Oz is done by Danny Elfman who is famous for writing the scores to some of Sam Raimi’s previous films like Spiderman, but he is more famous for writing the score to almost all of Tim Burton’s movies. The problem with the music in Oz, is Elfman scores this like a Tim Burton film, especially the opening. By doing this, Elfman gives the film a very Tim Burton like musical vibe that makes Oz feel like one of Tim Burton’s dark Gothic imaged angsty outsider films.
Personally I do not picture the World of Oz in the Tim Burton way, but the music tries certainly tries to. Ultimately Oz needed Elfman to create its own musical sound, which he didn’t, and instead film audiences are treated to the music from Edward Scissorhands with Disney’s craptacular CGI images of Oz.
CGI in the film is another issue. The CGI backgrounds in the film are truly beautiful, and do wonders to help make the Land of Oz feel like the magical place it’s supposed to be. The problem is everything in Oz is CGI and most of the time it looks extraordinarily fake. The CGI characters like the monkeys and lions don’t look like real animals at all. Anytime a real person has to physically touch a CGI prop or CGI character, the motion and interaction looks unnatural. I found the excessive use of CGI taking me out of the movie more than anything else.
Acting is another problem in the movie. James Franco seems to come more into his own once he reaches Oz, but before then, he struggles with subtly in depicting Oz’s fragile state of mind. Mila Kunis is thrust into a difficult spot as an actress, that really makes it hard to fairly judge her role in the movie. I will say Kunis survives the film with her acting integrity in tact, but she doesn’t deliver a memorable performance. Rachel Weisz is probably the only major actor/actress who is able to hold her own in the film, but even she is given some questionable dialogue. On a more positive side note, like most of Sam Raimi’s films, Bruce Campbell makes a guest spot as a Winke Guard, and that was certainly a welcome sight.
Once Oscar is transported to Oz he seems to be surrounded by one dimensional characters, or characters that are only there to act as the comic relief, with the exception of the witch sisters. Once Oscar begins his journey, he is joined by Finley the monkey who tells jokes that will make you pity Zach Braff who was had to record them for the movie. Disney introduces another character that is a talking glass doll. Why this character is included, only God knows why. Disney doesn’t even bother to give her a real name, she is just referred to as China Girl.
The plot and storytelling is fairly predictable for any adult. For a child, Oz the Great and Powerful would certainly be a fun film, and for families looking to entertain their kids, this movie would certainly do the trick. For adults, and fans of Oz and everything Oz has stood for over the past century, this film is sad and sorry journey through a land that was a lot more magical in 1939.