“I don’t want to be a good man… I want o be a great one”
As hard I try, I cannot for the life of me remember there being a black Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz! So what happened to them? There are so many ethnicities (in true Disney fashion) among the Munchkins of Oz in Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful it begs the question of what happened to them by time Dorothy got there 20-odd years later? Anyway! Onwards with the review. Disney and Sam Raimi tred on sacred yellow-bricked ground when rebooting/preceding the hugely successful and cult film from 1939 and where it may stumble in some pot-holes in the road it comes out a success on the whole. James Franco seems a strange choice for a Disney film that would usually aim to keep a squeaky clean image for its audience, I don’t think kids would want to go through his back catalogue and slip Interior. Leather Bar. into their DVD player, he does however, offer a very unique take on the character of Oz.
Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams round off the cast and each play one of the three sister witches iconic to the film series. The origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West included inside this story is one of the most interesting developments I wasn’t quite expecting, perhaps because I didn’t think the film itself was going to be as clever and referential as it actually was. Mila Kunis probably plays the most stand out role in the film because of the story itself, but you do have to take the good with the bad as I could feel a certain amount of cringe creep across my forehead in certain scenes between her and Rachel Weisz in particular. I don’t want to give too much away but the film includes an interesting mix between Disney ideology and iconography as much as it does respect that of the original, I mean this in both design and narrative.
The most stand-out aspect of Oz the Great and Powerful is most definitely the special effects; Disney seem to really be perfecting the mix of CGI and 3D technology. The design for the land of Oz respects the original film while adding everything that feels right and that would have been included if only the technology had been readily available back in ’39! The world created therefore is full of wonder and mystery but at the same time almost resembles that of a Disney kingdom, specifically for me, the land of Oz this time around really reminded me of the design of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland where things seem to appear for no to little reason but you end up not really caring because everything you are seeing on screen is believed. Once you are trapped inside the world created you end up stuck there, transfixed for the entire duration.
The opening 20-minutes entirely reflects the original beautifully with black and white scenes (only this time in 3D) creating a rather humdrum life for main protagonist Oz but still interesting enough (even setting up connections with the Gale family and an Annie Gale for the original film… did it need a connection? Not really but it was nice. The way we are transported into the world of Oz is creative and done to an effect so that you may not realising it is happening with a slow transition of colours on screen and the box display being stretched and opened up much like Oz’s life as he begins a trip into his new life.
Unexpectedly for me, my stand out part of the film is Finley the monkey’s inclusion in the film as a helper and friend to the lost Oz. Not only funny but cute as well he offers a lot to the film and completes the more imaginative spectrum created in trying to make a different world but in the same universal space as the original film. It is pleasing to see that the audience are given more ‘magical’ creatures to gaze upon in this age of technology and expansion in film, not only that but the characters of Finley and China Girl are nice to lok at on screen, portrayed well and within the walls of possibility in the world of Oz.
The film does have its down moments that come mainly in the dreary soul searching moment where Oz believes he is useless and can’t defeat the witches (at this point I took a short intermission and went to do a wee wee) but apart from this rather cliched part of the film that almost every production needs to have these days, whether it be Bond being shot in the arm and not being able to shoot anything properly in Skyfall to Batman’s depression in the Dark Knight series the film works and is hugely enjoyable for all audiences and is the perfect tool for a re-release and more interest in the original for a new generation. It’s not the best performances you’ll see from these actors, but were you really expecting Oscar-winning performances here? No, this is pure Disneyization of Hollywood at its very best and a huge amount better than almost every other Disney offering of late from the underachieving and disappointing John Carter and the newer Pirates of the Caribbean films. Oz the Great and Powerful is worthy of being a prequel to the legendary cult hit it precedes. Disney has transformed the world of Oz into an epic world of magic.