Full disclosure: I hate spoilers in reviews, so there won’t be any in this Oz The Great and Powerful movie review, unless you haven’t seen The Wizard of Oz, which is fair-game after 73 years. I will also admit here that I haven’t read any of the Oz books, so I do not know if the story of Oz, the wizard, is even a part of the literature, much less how close the filmmakers kept to the original story, if it is. Continue reading for our Oz The Great and Powerful movie review, and for all the news, images, and trailers for the film, click here.
Among the four commercials that preceded the film (the first three were for ABC television programs) was a beautiful advertisement for Dolby Atmos, the latest advance in surround sound technology. The sound created a depth to the experience, as if the audience were truly a part of the action, a sensation the 3D effects enhanced. Among the other technology methods employed in the making of the film, the opening credits, in particular, impressed me. It was like looking into a multiplane camera and seeing the layers separate to create depth (or like reading “The Tunnel Calamity” by Edward Gorey – the illustrations also reminded me of his work, possibly a deliberate homage). The effect was meant, I believe, to bring us back to the point in time when toy theater puppetry was the norm – back when movies were just beginning to be made and introduced to theaters. Throughout the credits is a montage of future scenes from the film, including circus scenes, Kansas corn fields and even a tornado. I didn’t like the scenes where they used short focusing – the blurry backgrounds made it seem faster paced, but gave me a headache by the end of the film.
There are many references to “The Wizard of Oz” movie, including the black-and-white reality shift to color fantasy, but I’ll let you pick the rest out for yourself. You may also notice a lot of similarity to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which, in my opinion, was a much better spin-off film.
As a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” Oz: The Great and Powerful tells the story of how the wizard got to Kansas, because he must have done, if Dorothy is to meet him in 30-40 years time. We meet the man who, years later, will be debunked as a fraud, playing at being a wizard, but having no more magical powers than technology can grant him. The key thing we learn about Oscar (Oz) is that he wants to be a great man of the world, not a good man in Kansas. Considering his behavior in the first scenes of the movie, being a good man in Kansas isn’t much of an option for him, anyway. After a meant-to-be hilarious (seemed forced to me) chase scene, Oz ends up in his hot air balloon, flying straight into a tornado, which, as we know from “The Wizard of Oz,” leads straight from Kansas to the Emerald City of Oz.
The first few moments in Oz (the land, not the man) are a further commercial for Dolby Atmos, but also an interesting theory on the sounds of the miniature world, from flowers as bells to an array of stalks as a pipe organ. The transition to color is heightened by the use of bright colors, which almost clash against each other – there are no pastels here – against duller backgrounds, allowing the bright colors to pop even more. We have clearly come to another world.
On his quest to be the Great Man of Oz, Oscar “Oz” (the man, not the land) encounters many strange and wondrous characters, including Finley, the Flying Monkey, and the unnamed china doll (more on her later – she’s referred to in the credits as China Girl) and some witches, not to mention Munchkins, Quadlings, Tinkers, Winkies and, of course, more flying monkeys. There are references to other Disney films, including a classic that harkens back to the technology referenced in the opening. Some were playful and original, one in particular seemed contrived and annoyed me, because it referenced my favorite Disney princess movie.
An underlying story in the film is the transition of a witch from good to evil and what made it happen. The physical change is almost as compelling as the metaphysical one. Seeing the literal tracks of her tears begin her transformation was an interesting way to present the transition, but the subsequent physical change was almost offensive. Also the cause for the transformation was a letdown. Yet another deluded female showing her true colors was the impression given, which I don’t think is a positive message for young viewers (or any viewers, really). Given that this happened twice in the film (two female characters revealed their true selves to be hideous and evil) while the male transformation was from bad to good, leads me to believe that this was deliberate (though it may have been part of the original story, which, as I said, I haven’t read).
There are two dominant themes to this story. Duplicity is depicted in various ways and always uncovered to the despair of the believers. Faith takes a hard hit in this film. Clay feet abound and scales fall from eyes like petals from dying flowers, which leads us to the other main theme: expectation vs. acceptance. The message seems to be that just because our expectations aren’t fully met, or even met at all, doesn’t mean our goals can’t be achieved. We may not get the wizard we want, but the wizard we get may be just what we need?
China Doll is my favorite character and the best special effect in the movie. The technology used to create and animate her is mind-boggling (to non-techie me). Her movement and expression were perfect. Her physical interaction with the human characters was much less than perfect, but I don’t know if that was a flaw of the actors or the technicians adding her to the film. Speaking of the actors/characters, I’m a bit torn by James Franco’s portrayal of Oz. He almost always seemed to be overacting, but that could also have been deliberate, meant to invoke the stereotype of a 19th century huckster. The two witch sisters having different accents was off-putting, though I did appreciate that each had her own magic weapon (one had lightning-like flashes and the other had fireballs). Zach Braff (the voice of Finley) and Joey King (the voice of China Girl) were excellent, however and good choices for the roles. Seeing Tony Cox was a bit disconcerting (the last thing I saw him in was “Bad Santa”), but he was also good in his role as Knuck, the Emerald City Herald.
If it’s not clear by now, I was a bit disappointed by this film, though it did finish strongly with a battle. The storyline should have been tighter, without so many jokes/asides and in-your-face scary moments. At times, it felt more like sitting through a 3D version of Mickey’s PhilharMagic or It’s Tough to be a Bug, meant to show off the technology as much as (or perhaps even more than) the presentation of a story. I will not be surprised if this appears in any of the Disney theme parks as a 4D attraction.
I would not take young children to this, unless they’re comfortable with sudden frights (the baby in my screening wasn’t happy at some of the scarier moments and let us all know by crying loudly). I think tweens might be the youngest I’d be comfortable bringing. The internal logic of the film failed, in my opinion (yes, it’s fantasy, but some things just have to make sense), leaving more questions (or perhaps a deliberate lead-in to a “sequel prequel” setting up a franchise), because that part of the storyline wasn’t resolved in an understandable way.
So, in the comments, let’s see how many of the following we can name: a) references to “The Wizard of Oz”; b) references to other Disney movies; c) Raimis in the cast (other than director, Sam Raimi). For more family friendly entertainment news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.