The Wife: Movie Monday is back in full force with our review of Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi. The film, which stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz, is a prequel of sorts to the iconic classic, The Wizard of Oz. Along with being visually stunning, the story was actually very well done. I was excited for this movie and knew it would look beautiful, but I must admit that I was skeptical if the plot would actually be good. I ended up really enjoying ‘Oz’ and would probably pay theatre price to see it again!
Just like the well-known 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz, ‘Oz’ starts off in black and white film style in Kansas. Viewers are given a look at struggling, lady-manipulating magician Oz, portrayed by James Franco. He is working a traveling circus gig, which seems to be the norm for him. Of course, he is revealed to be a fraud, and after he is caught in one of his many womanizing schemes, he flees the circus via hot air balloon. Much like the original Wizard of Oz scenario, Oz is caught in a windstorm. After swirling and whirling about, the screen suddenly shifts from black and white to a beautiful, bright array of color as the hot air balloon lands. Oz is mesmerized by his new surroundings and soon meets a young woman, who reveals that she is a witch and calls herself “Theodora the good.” Theodora, played by Mila Kunis (who I totally have a girl crush on), explains to Oz that he is in well, a place called Oz. She also believes that his arrival means that the prophecy of a great and powerful wizard coming to Oz is true. Putting his womanizing charm to good use, Oz quickly romances Theodora. However, she takes his advances as declarations of love, much to Oz’s discomfort.
From here, the story unfolds as Oz encounters Theodora’s not-so-friendly sister, Evanora. Oz also meets an adorable flying monkey, Finley. After saving the creature’s life, Finley declares his full servitude to Oz. In addition, Oz finds another ally and adorable companion in China Girl. He later meets another witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), whom Evanora and Theodora have deemed a “bad witch.” The story progresses as Oz learns the true nature of who is good and who is evil.
Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Oz.’ I found Franco to be the weakest actor, but he did a decent job. Not spectacular, but decent. Let’s face it, Freaks and Geeks was his best role ever and really, he just seems like he tries too hard when he isn’t in his typical stoner-type roles. Weisz did a great job playing the manipulative Evanora. Williams also delivered a solid performance as Glinda. Girl crush aside, I think Mila Kunis was fantastic in this movie. Theodora was also one of my favorite character progressions. While it kind of reminded me of Anakin’s transition to Darth Vader a la Star Wars, I still enjoyed seeing how sweet, naïve Theodora eventually became what we know as the “Wicked Witch of the West” from The Wizard of Oz. Seriously, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! Kunis did a great job portraying a hurt woman gone bad, and I thought she did a pretty good job of nailing the iconic cackle of the 1939 Wicked Witch of the West! My favorite character was the cute CGI flying monkey, Finley. I also absolutely loved the CGI China Girl. Not only were they adorable, but I think they really added to the story and were necessary characters.
As a huge fan of the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz, I truly enjoyed the references to that film within ‘Oz,’ including the cowardly lion and scarecrow. Also, as I mentioned previously, Oz the Great and Powerful is a very visually appealing movie. Since it is so gorgeous, it makes me even happier that the actual plot of the movie is great. Sometimes a visually stunning movie lacks substance. This certainly is not the case for ‘Oz.’ In my opinion, this is a theatre must-see, especially if you are a fan of The Wizard of Oz.
Hobo Dan: Before I say anything else, let me make an observation. This film was in 3D. I grumbled as we paid three extra dollars. I grumbled as I took the glasses out of their plastic wrapper. I reminded the Wife to put on the 3D glasses, not her sun glasses. I grumbled as the trailers rolled by with minimal 3D effects to bear and the normal muted color palette I’ve come to despise. Then Oz, the Great and Powerful started and I saw some real 3D for once and in color! There were actual vibrant colors in a 3D movie! They weren't muted at all! I still would rather have seen it in traditional format, and I still believe 3D is a blight on the film industry as well as a Hollywood money making scheme, but they at least were able to make Oz not look like total ass in 3D, so I’ll pat Disney on the head for that one.
The technical achievement of this film should not be overlooked. At times I had trouble deciding if James Franco was a real person or not. Every CGI character was full of emotion and life. I loved them. Franco, the title character, could have died; no big deal. But if they’d even hinted at killing off that little China Girl, I would have walked out and started a Molotov cocktail riot in the street. So here is my quandary. Were the CGI characters so good they overshadowed the real actors, or were James Franco and company as bland as they seemed?
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Oz the Great and Powerful much more than I thought I would. It was a satisfying film start to finish. There is nothing wrong with some good old entertainment. My problems are all in the real life actors. James Franco was hit or miss. When he was being “himself”, an aloof conman, I bought it. When he had to leave that comfort zone he’s built up over years of stoner films, I was less impressed. Then again, no one went to see Oz looking for Oscar winning acting. A little effort is all I’m asking for. For example, Tony Cox, who played Knuck, was basically a PG version of his character from Bad Santa. Don’t get me wrong, he was funny, but a back talking munchkin with an attitude seemed very out of place in the Land of Oz.
On the other hand you had CGI character after character that brought real life and entertainment to Oz. The voice actors in particular nailed their parts. The animations were clean and sharp and rival anything Pixar has done. That’s a very big complement when you consider Pixar films are 100 percent CGI and in Oz, these CGI characters where standing alongside real actors. In 1999, when Episode I came out, George Lucas touted a certain Gungan character for being totally CGI, yet able to stand toe to toe with real actors. It didn’t go over so well. Well today I believe Oz has shown it is possible with the right animations and voice actors for a totally animated character to completely out act their real life counterparts.
If you like The Wizard of Oz, you’re going to like this. It’s a solid film that entertains throughout with amazing effects and absolutely unforgettable CGI characters.