Turn off the Lights

‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Review: Weaving Magic of Its Own

Just the idea of Sam Raimi’s Oz, the Great and Powerful worried me. My fear wasn’t so much that it would fail at the box office (are you kidding?) but that it would make for yet another "too cool for school" film based on an already beloved property. For many, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland crushed the childhoods of those who grew up on the animated classic - of the same name. And now we’re talking about potentially destroying The Wizard of Oz, one of the most cherished films of all time? After all, Oz, the Great and Powerful at one point appeared to be an attack on all that was magical and fanciful about Dorothy’s adventures in Oz. Promos that featured James Franco as the titular character, a carnival magician from Kansas, telling a group of singing Munchkins to “take five,” only seemed to confirm such suspicions. But such promos belied what Oz, the Great and Powerful achieves: bringing to the silver screen an interesting, exciting backstory to The Wizard of Oz with class, taste, and a clear respect for its source material. It’s a relief to say Raimi knows what he’s doing. Gone are the clothes, landscapes, and fashions of Alice that look like candy vomit (it feels insulting to compare Oz to Alice, doesn’t it?); Oz fuses the vibrant, potentially clashing colors together in such a way that they harmonize with each other - well, when it is in color. The film spends its first few minutes in a tight, monochromatic space in Kansas, where we’re introduced to characters we’ll (sort of) run into again later. Even here cinematographer Peter Deming weaves movie magic with his descriptive shots, but that’s only a taste of what filmic wonder lies ahead. Oz then lends itself to the expanded, lush, fantastical world of witches, Munchkins, talking monkeys, and china dolls when Oz is whisked away to the land that bears his namesake thanks to - what else? - a tornado. Black-and-white surroundings giving way to...bright visual wonders by way of tornado? It’s quite a bit like Dorothy’s adventure in only a few minutes. Both films also serve as journeys of self-discovery and self-improvement, and one would expect Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire’s script to reference The Wizard of Oz quite frequently. But it’s surprising how the two avoid a cheeky grin and a wink each time they so cleverly remember its 1939 predecessor. The scribes lead you to so much of the humor without it having to garishly speak for itself (the visuals even mention a cinematic classic other than The Wizard of Oz), even if they sometimes lay on the theme of self-improvement more thickly than they should with some painfully obvious didactic dialogue. Still, Kapner and Lindsay-Abaire have forged with Oz an engaging adventure, a thrilling escape, and a light romance. Not only that, they’ve penned alongside it a worthwhile tribute to one of cinema’s crowning achievements. Kapner and Lindsay-Abaire even throw in some moments that convey the power of film itself. It’s not quite the revisionist history of Inglourious Basterds, but it fits right in with Raimi’s take on Oz. The host of actors aligned for Oz only help with what’s already being accomplished through the visuals and script, not to mention the sound workers who wonderfully detail the blinks and steps of a literally fragile character. James Franco believably goes from first-class con to a righteous, upstanding man as Oz - Michelle Williams, who helps him as he changes - is appropriately luminous as Glinda. Mila Kunis might be the undersung hero of the cast, playing the witch Theodora as voluptuous, vulnerable, guarded, and obsessive all at once. Rachel Weisz plays to the rafters as Evanora, Theodora’s sister - also a witch - but it works. After all, the land of Oz is nothing if its denizens aren’t a little bombastic and crazy. Speaking of which, Zach Braff and Joey King get little to do aside from voice work as the adorable flying monkey Finley and an orphaned china doll, respectively, but they impress nonetheless - as do the folks that designed and ultimately created their CG characters. Dependable character actors Bill Cobbs and Tony Cox make a fun impression as well. It might not match The Wizard of Oz, but how many films do? Oz the Great and Powerful still rises to that challenge without losing its credibility as a worthy addition to the tale - or without missing the opportunities to make a tale that’s enchanting in itself. Raimi and company recall the wonder of this film’s timeless predecessor while weaving cinematic magic of their own, with only a few stumbles as they traverse the Yellow Brick Road.


Meet the Author

Follow Us