Review: “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is whimsy and fun

March 8th, 2013 at 12:01 am by under Entertainment

Sometimes what we have built up in our mind creates an unfair disadvantage … such was my struggle to get past one of the most iconic movies in history – “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) – and truly enjoy “Oz: The Great and Powerful”.

That’s not to say that this movie isn’t without merit, its just difficult to be fair with a movie that tells the backstory of a movie I have seen once in the theater and 30+ times on my home tv screen.

WARNING TO PARENTS: some of the images in the movie may be too scary for kids 5 and under, the movie is rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.

“Oz: The Great and Powerful” poster courtesy Disney

(My spoiler-free review)

The scenery of “Oz: The Great and Powerful” looks incredible… we are immersed in this larger slice of the Land of Oz than we’ve ever seen before… the colors are so vibrant and vivid… everything around the characters just pops… like a storybook come-to-life.    The movie will likely get an Oscar nomination for Production Design and/or Visual Effects.

The costumes look good and the acting and writing is pretty solid.

The story is interesting and engaging and connects nicely to the original – explaining some things about what had happened *before* Dorothy arrived.

This “Oz” is fun and whimsy, but even though its a prequel, it will never live up to the original… and that’s almost unfair to try to compare it.

We get a fleshed out back story to who the Wizard is and how he ended up in Oz and why he uses the projection machine with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.  We learn about how the Wicked Witch and her sister became the Wicked Witch of the West and the East.  We find out why Glinda the Good is protective of munchkinland and why she travels by bubble.

One of the biggest strengths of story is that “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is a better prequel than “Revenge of the Sith” (2005) because we get a very clear and legitimate explanation of how the Wicked Witch of the West turned to the “darkside”.

I also enjoyed the loving nods to the original movie, in the areas they were able to do that without copyright infringement (see below).

There are also some fun little elements of comedy woven into this fantastical story… some will help lighten the mood or just make us smile.

BUT…. “Oz” still creates some new questions about things going in the classic movie: like the ruby slippers, and where did some of the other characters go?  We meet them here, but we don’t see them in “Wizard of Oz”.

I also didn’t like the witch’s transformation into the green skinned villain we all know… it needed to be less CGI and more practical… it also didn’t need to be risque… which we get several little moments of throughout the movie.  Which is unfortunate because the movie is a PG movie aimed at families, but “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is not completely family friendly – there are some not-so-family friendly themes and innuendos PLUS some scary images that may be too much for the young kids in the audience.

Some of the scenes seemed were way too much CGI compared to the original… to make it more seamless, it would have been a nice touch to be more practical with many of the effects to add to the believability that this is the same land we see in “Wizard of Oz”.

Those 30+ viewings of “The Wizard of Oz” had me trained to expect a musical number coming up in every other scene… while there was one… I almost wanted at least some music that border-lined on the feeling of the original.

And (sorry minor spoiler)….… I wanted to see the Tin Man.  All of the other major characters from “The Wizard of Oz” were either shown or hinted at in some way… except the Tin Man… my favorite character from the classic.

Sometimes prequel movies work -”Star Trek” (2009), “X-Men: First Class (2011)”, and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”  (2011) are three recent movies where we go back earlier in the timeline of the characters/events we are familiar with.  But often movie prequels are not as good (for a variety of reasons) as the next original – “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith “(2005), “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012), and “The Scorpion King” (2002).

THE BOTTOM LINE:

I give it high marks in some areas, middle marks in others, and because its being promoted as a family movie, I have to give it some demerits for some of the non-family themes… I give it 7.5 out of 10 … it should be seen in the theaters, but you can wait for matinee pricing or skip the 3D.

Made in Michigan:

“Oz: The Great and Powerful” was filmed mostly on soundstages in Pontiac, Michigan in 2011 and directed by Michigan native Sam Raimi.  Click on THIS link for more info on filming in Michigan.  The Michigan Film Office and Pontiac do get some love at end of the credits!

“Wizard of Oz” courtesy MGM

Nods and tie-ins to original 1939 film “Wizard of Oz”:

- movie opens in Black & White and in 4×3 aspect ratio, then changes to color and widescreen when Oscar wakes up in “Oz”, just like when Dorothy opens the door from her house changed from B&W to Technicolor in the original

- reference (although veiled) to Dorothy

- we see what may or may not be the Cowardly Lion

- we find out who makes Scarecrows in the land of Oz and our main characters may walk past a certain famous cornfield while on the Yellow Brick Road

- Witch has troubles with water even at this point in her life

- Winky Guards looking mean, but not green

- musical number by the Munchkins

- there are gifts handed out to characters for their good deeds – like the Wizard handed out to the main characters

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

“Oz: The Great and Powerful” photo courtesy Disney

“Oz: The Great and Powerful”

(2012) (rated: PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language)
(2 hrs, 10 min)

Starring: James Franco (Oscar),
Mila Kunis (Theodora), Michelle Williams (Glinda/Annie), Rachel Weisz (Evanora), Zach Braff (Frank/Finley), Bill Cobbs (Master Tinker), Joey King (China Girl/Girl in Wheelchair), Tony Cox (Knuck), Stephen R. Hart (Winkie General), Bruce Campbell (Winkie Gate Keeper), Tim Holmes (Strongman), Abigail Spencer (May)

Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/Romance

The Plot: A small-time magician with dubious ethics is hurled off to an enchanting land, where he encounters three witches, as well as the opportunity to transform himself into a great wizard — and an even greater man.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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“Oz: The Great and Powerful” poster and photo courtesy Disney

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