By Taylor Finke
As I have lived in Kansas my whole life, I am well acquainted with the story that made this flat land famous, The Wizard of Oz. So when I heard that there was going to be a prequel, I thought I would go see it just for the heck of it.
Oz the Great and Powerful follows the story of Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco), a small-time magician in a traveling carnival. The beginning is set in Kansas in the year 1910, twenty-nine years before Dorothy makes her whirlwind journey to Oz. Oscar is a womanizing conman, whose antics finally catch up with him, and so he makes a great escape in a hot air balloon. Unfortunately, it’s sucked into a tornado and pulls him straight into the strange, magical land of Oz.
There, he meets the kind witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who lives alone because of the conflict between her sisters. Theodora explains that there is a prophecy about a wizard coming from the sky to save the land of Oz from her wicked sister, who poisoned their father. The two journey to the Emerald City, saving a flying monkey named Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) along the way. Theodora is instantly besmitten with Oscar, and falls desperately in love with him.
In the Emerald City, the trio meets up with Theodora’s sister Evanora (Michelle Williams), who is acting as ruler of Oz because of the wizard-king’s death. She tells Oscar that according to the prophecy, he will become king (and inherit a ridiculously enormous amount of treasure) only after he kills the wicked sister Glinda, who poisoned the king. She sends him to the Dark Forest, telling him that he must snap her wand to destroy her power. Oscar embarks on the journey with Finley by his side, and they rescue the adorable China Girl (voiced by Joey King) after her village that had been destroyed by the wicked witch’s hoard of flying baboons.
The three eventually find Glinda (Michelle Williams), and discover that they have been tricked by Evanora. Glinda tells them that Evanora is the one who poisoned her father, and now rules over Oz with an iron fist. They now know that they must lead a revolution that will only succeed if the people of Oz believe that Oscar is the wizard of prophecy.
First off, the movie does have redeeming qualities: the 3-D was worth the extra money, because it is well done and adds to the action. The story of the three sisters is also intriguing, and Rachel Weis and Michelle Willams were well-casted as Evanora and Glinda, respectively. Their performances steal the show and bring an element of fun to the movie.
What I really appreciate about this movie are the nods it gives to the original. Like The Wizard of Oz, the beginning is shot in sepia and the screen ratio is smaller. Another aspect from the original is the double-casting with characters from Oscar’s life in Kansas playing roles in Oz. There are also a few references to the original such as Oscar’s one-time love telling him that John Gayle asked to marry her, and Oscar calling a lion a coward. I loved looking for these Easter eggs throughout the movie.
Despite these good points, Oz the Great and Powerful struggles with distracting issues.
While the animation alone is beautiful, it is terribly disjointed with the actors in the shot. At these points, it looks garish and fake.
To me, Franco is not the right actor for the role of Oscar. His performance is very flat and generic. He just does not have the charisma to even get me remotely interested in his character. Another character who falls flat is Theodora. She is just too naïve to be believable. I think that Kunis does really try to portray the transformation of Theodora into the Wicked Witch, but it just isn’t enough to redeem her.
However, the most condemning quality of the movie is the script. It seems as if the writers felt that the characters have to explain every action, and then on top of that, they dumbed it down for kids. But seriously, most cartoons have more sophisticated scripts than the occasionally obnoxious and unmemorable one found in Oz. And with a runtime of 2 hours (filled with more talk than action), it felt as if it would never be over.
Overall, I think the premise of Oz the Great and Powerful is fantastic, and would have made a brilliant story if it had been executed properly.
Taylor Finke is a freshman. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.