Movie Reviews

Oz The Great and Powerful

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
James Franco as Oz
Mila Kunis as Theodora
Rachel Weisz as Evanora
Michelle Williams as Annie / Glinda
Zach Braff as Frank / Finley
Bill Cobbs as Master Tinker
Joey King as Girl in Wheelchair / China Girl
Tony Cox as Knuck
Stephen R. Hart as Winkie General
Abigail Spencer as May
Bruce Campbell as Winkie Gate Keeper
Ted Raimi as Skeptic in Audience

Directed by Sam Raimi

Summary:
With great 3D, beautiful production design, and a fun cast, "Oz The Great and Powerful" is an entertaining re-introduction to Oz for a new generation.

Story:
"Oz The Great and Powerful" is based on the book series by L. Frank Baum.

In 1905, Oscar Diggs is a simple magician in a traveling carnival. He longs for bigger and better things, but he gets by along with his assistant Frank. Despite being a talented illusionist, Oscar (or Oz as he is better known by) has a number of other character flaws he's a con man, a womanizer, a cheat, and a liar among other things. But deep under his bad exterior there just may be a heart of gold.

Unfortunately, Oz's good characteristics don't keep his past bad decisions from coming back to haunt him. When Oz is pursued by the jealous boyfriend of one of his female conquests, he must jump into a hot air balloon in order to get away. Oz realizes too late that a hot air balloon is not the best place to be when a tornado is approaching.

Oz soon finds himself miraculously whisked away to the magical land of Oz which oddly enough has the same name as him. There he encounters Theodora, a good witch, who believes that he is a wizard who was described in a prophecy. Theodora believes that Oz will rid their land of the Wicked Witch, a villainess who killed the king of Oz and has had a reign of terror over the entire land ever since. Oz plays along with Theodora and even works his charms upon her, but he will soon discover that hell hath no fury as a woman scorned.

"Oz The Great and Powerful" is rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.

What Worked:
I took my whole family to see the screening of "Oz The Great and Powerful" and we all enjoyed it a lot. My wife's favorite film is "The Wizard of Oz," so seeing this prequel of sorts was a great treat for her. I also took my teenage daughter and young sons and they enjoyed it as well. While they had a passing familiarity with "The Wizard of Oz," this might as well have been a standalone movie for them. My daughter loved the fantastic land, the love story, and the China doll character. My sons loved the flying baboons, Finley, and Knuck. So there was really something for everyone here.

For me, I really appreciated the production design on "Oz The Great and Powerful." The world is absolutely beautiful. From crystal forests to the Emerald City to China Town made entirely out of porcelain, this is just an incredibly imaginative design. I think this may be the first time that Hollywood has been able to catch up to L. Frank Baum's imagination and the design is enhanced by great use of 3D. Oz's hot air balloon really looks like it is flying over waterfalls and forests, flying monkeys pop out of the screen and spears thrown by guards--a staple of 3D movies--make you flinch as they come out of the screen. This is one of those films where the story is enhanced by the 3D and it is more than a simple gimmick to jack up ticket prices--it is part of the artist's palette.

Another big treat for me was to see how well "Oz The Great and Powerful" meshed with everything done about Oz before, including the original "The Wizard of Oz" film. Learning the true motivations of the Wicked Witch of the West and her origins was interesting, especially how it was tied with Oz himself. Seeing Glinda's character expanded on as a guardian of Oz was also nice to see. Then, over the course of the film, seeing Oz eventually transform into the man we saw behind the curtain in the previous film was a great "a-ha!" moment. And while it's great to see all those familiar characters and locations, Raimi and company add a few new treats. We venture into China Town where all of the houses and inhabitants are made out of porcelain. I don't know if they were in the original books, but it sure feels like they were.

I also liked the cast of "Oz The Great and Powerful." James Franco is taking some heat as being miscast, but I thought he did a fine job. He captured the over the top showmanship of Oz and he was also a believable flirt that the ladies would fall for. Franco's performance is at its best when he's paired with his supporting cast. Zach Braff really brings a lot of much needed humor in the role of Finley, a flying monkey that pledges a Chewbacca-like life debt to Oz. His jokes play well off of Franco and the CG animation on the character helps bring life to the monkey. Joey King also has a breakout performance as China Girl, the porcelain doll that accompanies Oz on his quest. King brings a lot of heart and humor to a character that could have very easily been quite dull. She appears delicate and emotional in some scenes, then a feisty spitfire in others. The swings in mood come out of nowhere and add a lot of laughs along with the flying monkey. Then you have Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams as the three witches of Oz. I don't want to spoil much about their characters, but they are all delightfully evil and benevolent in their respective roles.

While I believe that "Oz The Great and Powerful" will delight L. Frank Baum fans, I also think fans of Sam Raimi will be pleased as well. His distinct touches can be seen here and there throughout Oz. While you won't see a 1973 yellow Oldsmobile Delta 88, you will see cameos by Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi. And when the wicked witches eventually appear, there are definite flashbacks to the witches in "Army of Darkness" and "Drag Me to Hell." Danny Elfman also delivers a solid score that hearkens back to some of his earlier work with Tim Burton.

What Didn't Work:
As fun as "Oz The Great and Powerful" is, it does have some problems here and there. One issue is that some of the character story arcs seem a tad rushed. As Oz goes from bad to good and some of the other characters go from good to bad, it feels like they arrive at their final destinations a little too quickly. Then again, the film is 2 hours and 10 minutes long, so I don't know how you address that without adding an extra hour to the movie.

Another issue is that as impressive as the land of Oz is, some of it feels a bit like Disney's recent "Alice in Wonderland." You half expect Johnny Depp to run out of the screen as the Mad Hatter. The film also slows down its pacing a lot so that you can linger and appreciate the view in Oz. Sometimes it's okay to let the audience stop and smell the roses in this world, but it also tends to dramatically slow down any momentum the story had.

Finally, the film is a bit scary in parts. The flying baboons are flat out terrifying with their shrieks and claws. The witches are downright scary as they transform. And you can imagine how a 6-year-old would react to the witch from "Army of Darkness." My 8-year-old enjoyed "Oz The Great and Powerful" and has watched everything from "Jaws" to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," yet even he was ready to dive into mommy's lap in some parts of this film. If you have a kid under 8 years old that wants to see this, I'd recommend caution if they are the sensitive type. All that being said, I think Raimi was intentionally trying to put a good scare into kids. After all, we all watched the original "The Wizard of Oz" as kids as were scared of the Wicked Witch, right? I think he's trying to recreate that and he did so successfully. Now it's up to you to decide if your kid can handle it.

The Bottom Line:
"Oz The Great and Powerful" should please Oz fans as well as Raimi fans. And if you're like me, you'll want to see Dorothy and Toto drop a house on the Wicked Witch of the East at the conclusion of this film. This film is a great way to reintroduce Oz to a new generation.

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