There have been lots of Oz reincarnations over the years from the Broadway musical “Wicked” to the movie The Wiz starring Michael Jackson (I didn’t say they were all good). Now Disney has joined the bandwagon with the newest addition to the Oz movie family, Oz the Great and Powerful.
Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a morally ambiguous and shady magician working in a small circus in Kansas. His whole world turns upside down when he and his hot-air balloon are swept away in twister, landing him in the bright, enchanted land of Oz. He’s discovered by a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who mistakes him as the long-awaited Wizard prophesied to save Oz from the wicked witch. Theodora’s sister (Rachel Weisz) isn’t convinced and sends him off to kill the witch to prove himself worthy. Along the way, Oz meets up with a ragtag band of rejects and must use his wit, ingenuity, and skills of illusion to save Oz from the great evil that looms over the land.
Oz the Great and Powerful adds depth to L. Frank Baum’s classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by giving us the backstory of the Wizard. The film is adapted from Baum’s other Oz novels, so this telling is more canonical than other versions (such as “Wicked”, which is written by an entirely different author). That being said, I loved watching and learning how the wizard became the wizard.
Overall, the acting was good. Franco did a great job playing the flawed and imposter Oz; however, at times, I felt as if he was trying to be a bit like Johnny Depp: quirky and overly eccentric. I guess it makes sense since Depp was originally approached for the role, but declined since it was too similar to his other Disney projects such as Pirates and Alice. I guess Depp has a monopoly on the weird, quirky roles because Franco’s portrayal, while good, made it seem like he was trying to be something he wasn’t. The other actresses were good too, especially Michelle Williams, who plays the good witch Glinda.
Finley the Flying Monkey stole the show for me. Not only was his animation superb, but he served as a hilarious sidekick (if you know how much I hate comedic sidekicks, this is big for me). Every line or action he performed was hilarious. I guess you sort of felt bad for the little guy because he was so sweet and genuine compared to Oz. If they make a spinoff series about Finley, I’d definitely go see it.
Being an animation nut, I was excited to see the CGI. At times the CGI was jaw-dropping and fantastic (e.g. the forest, sweeping shots of Oz, or the little china doll), while others looked as if the actors were standing in front of a 1950s green screen (e.g. when Oz and Theodora are walking by a field of yellow flowers). I felt as if some Disney simply ran out of time or money to finish some scenes correctly. Disney seems to be pretty keen on these heavy-CGI films (like Alice in Wonderland or the upcoming Cinderella adaptation), but I’m still not sold on them. If it’s not perfect, it’s a distraction and cheapens the whole production.
While the story about the man behind the curtain was interesting and engaging, I wish the CGI had been a little more cohesive (it suffered from Goldie Locks syndrome: it was either really good or really bad). That being said, I left more impressed than when I came in (I didn’t really have high hopes from the trailers) and will recommend it to friends warning them not to go in thinking this is the next Pirates. Perhaps the fact that I fell asleep during the climatic final battle didn’t help either.
Oz The Great and Powerful opens in U.S. theaters on March 8, 2013.