Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain
Oz the Great and Powerful has it’s moments … if you can ignore its title star.
They say you hear a reference to The Wizard of Oz every day of your life. “There’s no place like home,” “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” “Ding dong the witch is dead,” “If I only had a brain,” “It’s a twister, it’s a twister,” “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” “We’re off to see the wizard,” “I’m melting, I’m melting,” “I’ll miss you most of all” – there are so many phrases and iconic imagery from The Wizard of Oz surrounding us daily, it’s surprising we’re all not singing munchkins by now.
Maybe that’s why Oz the Great and Powerful was so much fun? All the familiar imagery of the 1939 masterpiece – from the black and white twister to the yellow brick road to the Emerald City– is there for you to rediscover. Like catching up with an old friend and feeling like it was just yesterday that you two talked.
Of course, some of that imagery has been enhanced just a tad from the last time we saw it. Director Sam Raimi has punched up Oz with stunning visual effects. From the lush waterfalls and towering mountains, to the flowing landscapes and flowering poppy fields, Oz is a rich, gorgeous place. There are plenty of treasures to be found. A city made of china. An orchestra of flowers and tress. Each scene feels like another painting, coming to life before your very eyes in CGI that surprisingly does not overpower one’s cinematic taste. (Tip: see the film in 3D. It’s actually worth the up-charge).
It’s not just the visuals that will sweep you away either. The action in Oz is thrilling. Yes, I said it – thrilling. Sure, you get the sense that every action scene is meant to eventually be a theme park ride. But if that’s the case, sign me up for the Fast Pass right now. When the tornado hits Oz’s balloon and sweeps him away from Kansas, you get a sequence that makes Dorothy’s ride looks like child’s play. When the flying monkeys chase our heroes through Oz, you’ll feel a level of fear you wouldn’t expect to be feeling in a PG movie.
But just because there’s success to be had in the film doesn’t mean everything works. The biggest problem? James Franco as Oz himself. Franco is terribly miscast here. In a role that demands someone charming, funny, and likeable, Franco is none of those things. He plays up Oz’s arrogance, but completely faults on his ingenuity and charisma. This is a showman. And no matter how bad he’s supposed to be, you still want to root for him.
There’s a way to get past that, of course. For one, do what I did and spend every second James Franco is on screen dream-casting other people in the role. Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Sure, he’d be great. James Marsden? I’d be all about that. Ewan McGregor? Mark Ruffalo? They’re both maybe a little old for the role, but they’d kill it. Zac Effron? Yes please. See how fun this game is!
The rest of the cast fairs much better than Franco. Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz strike the right balance of fun and wicked theatrics in their portrayal of sister witches, set to defeat the evil witch (wherever she may be). They often come off as one-note, but that note is sassy witch realness, so I’ll take it. Zach Braff and Joey King provide well-needed comic relief as Finley and China Girl, two buds that accompany Oz on his journey. And then there’s Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good. While it does seem like she could have found more to do with the role than simply talking softly and smiling, you can’t help but be swept up in her beauty. Plus, I can’t be the only one who still says to myself, “Dayum Jen Lindley’s all grown up!” every time I see her, can I?
Oz the Great and Powerful is being touted as a children’s film. And by all means, it is. Unlike its 1939 predecessor, this is by no means a classic family film here. Like most adventure films these days, the story can often be predictable, and the dialogue has its moments where all you can do is roll your eyes. But ultimately, I found Oz to be a satisfying, fun ride.