Evil empire nothing. You know Disney gets a lot of flack from venomous fans on the internet warning that they are eating up all the franchises and are doomed to ruin them, yada, yada, yada. Well you know what? You guys are amazingly wrong. In my opinion Disney has been doing an amazing job in handling Marvel as a company (by mostly throwing money at them and letting them do what they should be doing), and by all indications is doing the right thing with the Star Wars Franchise. And not for nothing, I liked that Muppets movie a lot. So maybe it’s just me. At any rate, on Saturday night my wife and I were allowed to a rare privilege—we got to go to the movies. With it being opening weekend and all, there was no question about the flick we were going to see—Oz The Great and Powerful.
Leading into the movie I know a lot of people were ready to go on a riot through the streets if somehow somebody tarnished the legacy of the Wizard of Oz (as if Return to Oz was never made…well, that’s probably better off left forgotten anyway). I was not one of these. From the very moment I saw that first teaser trailer, I knew that this movie was going to be the cat’s pajamas…and I’ll even give you guys a little spoiler about this review: IT IS. The movie is absolutely wonderful—and I don’t mean that to play on the obvious cliché but rather in the most defined sense of the word. The movie has an air of wonder about it. Sam Raimi did his job well in picturing the world of Oz and bringing it to live using the modern technological tools at his disposal.
Raimi does his best to ensure that the movie hearkens and sets up the 1939 classic without cowtowing to it and without pandering to the audience about the whole affair. Oz The Great and Powerful is undoubtedly its own affair, its own story, and does not hinge upon any prior knowledge of The Wizard of Oz. As the movie sets up con-man Oscar Diggs as a side show Circus magician with some commitment issues and general jerky attitude you have to keep your eyes peeled because you never know who is going to end up being a denizen of Oz. I won’t ruin it for you—but if you know their real name, you’ll probably be seeing them again. The movie continues then to both subtly and colorfully (see what I did there) introduce you to the Land of Oz in a way that doesn’t at all detract or depart from Fleming, Video, or LeRoy’s Art Deco vision of the fantasy world, but rather builds upon it and makes it grow in a way that makes the fantasy all the more real.
For me, this world-building was probably the most effective thing in the whole movie. The original, though ground breaking for its time, was really stymied by its ability to build a world that existed off of the yellow brick road. In my mind the world of Oz from the original movie is not an infinite land full of possibility but, instead, several stops on a yellow brick highway with only 3 or 4 exits. Using the perspective of floating bubbles, hot air balloons, skyscraping walkways, maps, globes, and open landscapes Raimi has managed to both populate and give life and vastness to the fantasy world that leaves the audience begging for more exploration of Oz—and mind you all of it built upon, but not sacrosanct reliance upon, the visual language of pop culture notions of what Oz should look like.
In that sense, the make-up and costumes in the movie are additionally fantastic creating that wholesome-yet-odd fashion for the land. Even the evil witch(es) outfits are wonderfully 1930s yet also…totally…land of make believe. I mean Mila Kunis’ hair and hats alone are enough to make you want to get on a propeller plane out of Casablanca one day and for the rest of your life but also on a rainbow colored horse. Everyone in the merry old land of Oz was dressed in that depression era checkerboard on a road made of golden brick and lined with rustic fences. It’s a balance that could only work in a Technicolor land where killing is forbidden and hearts are pure.
Seeing the ancillary characters of the original movie fleshed out, Glenda, Theodora, the witch that inevitably will get a house dropped on her, and The Wizard himself are all important to the overall plot of the first movie but in this film have a life and history that seems so much richer and fuller; as they should in a prequel. The question burning in everyone’s head which is so fantastically answered in the climax of the movie is—how can this con-man manage to fool a word full of REAL magic that he is a Great and Powerful Wizard? Have no fear, when it happens you will be awed and amazed, and not even stop to comment. The scene, and indeed the movie itself is encompassing.
Having some of the powerful magic displayed in a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter style witches bout was pretty great too. I mean, what do these witches do that was so powerful? Now I know. While we’re on the topic of visual effects, this movie is a brilliant example of the things that can be done with 3D visuals—not for the entire movie. In the entire movie, it was subtle and adding brief moments of relationship with the dimensions and perspectives—which I really liked. No, I’m talking about the opening sequence—for any fan of Art Deco or intricate animated design, the opening credits are for you. Don’t miss the movie in 3D.
All in, Disney has done it again and Sam Raimi has managed to please both the fans he retained from his horror movie days (as some shots, perspectives, and designs could only come from a master of fear) and those looking for a world of wonder. The film has humor (the China Town bit is quite cute), story, action, adventure, and romance—everything a good escape should. James Franco provides a charming performance (albeit he is doing his best Johnny Depp—as my wife pointed out), Michelle Williams is absolutely good, Rachel Wiesz is intriguing, and Mila Kunis offers an interested “how’s it gonna happen” character arc. The actors help drive the movie with no one of them stealing from the magic and wonder of the world of Oz. There is also plenty of humor, and Zach Braff managed to harness his inner Billy Crystal, Joey King provides pluck and spark, and the rest of the surprisingly multi-racial world of Oz does as well (big ups to Tony Cox too!). Nerds keep your eyes open for Bruce Campbell’s cameo, and everyone else sit back and enjoy the show when you go off…to see the Wizard.
Written by Brandon Melendez