Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)
Dir: Sam Raimi
I warmed to the classic The Wizard of Oz quite late in life.The prospect of watching a fairytale with evil witches and a young girl in wonderland set to a musical format was not appealing.But when I did watch it with my 4 year old last year it was a revelation.Victor Flemings 1939The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that stands head and shoulders above the rest 80 years after its release and modern day technical wizardry still cannot hold a candle to its freshness and stunning beauty.So when a prequel to this all time great film arrives from Disney, riding on a 350 million dollar budget, the expectations are much higher than the gleaming emerald towers of the Land of Oz.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a film that tries to be a worthy prequel and more importantly it tries to be an honest and good film that should entertain audiences all over the world, young and old, without becoming an unwitting victim of its technical excellence.It handsomely preserve the innocence and energy of the original while shrugging off the limitations of not being able to use several of the signature artifacts like the ruby red shoes and the black mole on the wicked witches chin which are property of Warner Bros.
We meet Oz(James Franco) as a circus magician in Kansas, his ambitions to be a great in the Houdini mould show no signs of being fulfilled but he soldiers on, seducing every available country girl along the way.He is a real scalawag, and imagining the likes of Jonny Depp or Robert Downey junior in the role is easy but in the final analysis their immense star power may have robbed Oz of its unpredictability. His luck runs out in the circus and he finds himself escaping in a hot air balloon which gets caught up in a tornado and delivers him to the magical land of Oz.The color tone changes here from sepia to an exuberant Technicolor in the same strategy as the original.
As Oz crash-lands into this improbably beautiful world, we meet Theodora( Mila Kunis) who is having coming of age issues with her witchiness ( new word alert!) and falls for the charms of Oz.There has been a prophesy that a wizard named Oz will arrive from the sky and take over the vacant throne of the emerald city.Oz finds himself in Oz and tentatively grabs this opportunity to fulfill his ambitions.Initially he is his dishonest self but slowly transforms into the wizard of Oz that we met 80 years earlier.
To compensate for the missing Tin Man, The Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion there is a flying monkey and an unbelievably beautiful talking china doll, who serve as sidekicks of Oz.When we meet this doll, she is sobbing, her legs have been broken by the evil witch, she fears she can’t walk again.Oz pulls out a magic potion and makes her walk again.This magic potion is nothing but a humble bottle of glue.This is one of the minor charms of this film, it refuses to adopt on the grammar of ultraviolet video games which seem to have infected nearly every fairy tale remake of late.This china doll is a perfect foil to the sexed up Barbies that little girls play with.Oz tries to take several steps back and uses special effects to primarily create a magical land where the most amazing thing is the internal transformation of Oz the circus magician into the Wizard of Oz, the ruler of the most pure and innocent community of people which includes the endearing Munchkins(thankfully not a Warner property) and community of ingenious tinkerers modeled on the Amish people.
Michelle Williams as Gilda the good witch is appropriately sweet and virginal, while Mila Kunis is more effective once she transforms into the green skinned Theodora flying around on a broom, its Rachel Weisz as the evil Evanora who is most interesting to behold, partly due to her immense beauty and partly due to her controlled performance.
In the end Oz is a joyful celebration of human ingenuity and our ability to tap into our better nature.The lessons it holds for children are different from the original and perhaps more in touch with the zeitgeist of the times.The climatic trick that Oz pulls off, is droll and bloodless, its a piece of trickery that pays a tribute to cinema itself. I recently saw an interview of the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins where he was asked what would be his reaction be if God appeared in the sky with a long beard and said in a booming voice”I exist!”.Dawkins replied that he would be tempted to question this as a conjuring trick.Watching the climax of Oz I marveled at his foresight and erudition.
To fully enjoy this very friendly film one has to leave the baggage of the originals greatness behind, which has the advantage of marinating in well deserved adulation for full 80 years. This version by Sam Raimi and Disney studios is a very wholesome family entertainer that only needs to tip its hat to the past and it does so with some panache.If you have kids, life is beautiful, if you don’t, borrow a few and make a trip to Oz.