Oz: The Great and Powerful Review
Not Really Great or Powerful
It seems that Disney owns every film property these days: Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and now the wonderful world of Oz. This raises one question: How much longer until the Magic Kingdom transforms into the Emerald City? My answer after seeing Oz: The Great and Powerful: Still a long way down the road. Although the enjoyable picture is a worthy prequel for all ages, it never steps up to the next level of fantasy storytelling. Nothing new is really introduced in a narrative or filmmaking sense. That being stated, it doesn’t mean you still won’t have a good time at the movies.
Disney’s choice of hiring director Sam Raimi shows their move toward hiring quality, talented directors with a full resume. They’ve showed this in the past few years by hiring Tim Burton to helm Alice in Wonderland and Joss Whedon for all their Avengers-related endeavors. Unfortunately, it seems to me that Disney just wanted Raimi’s name attached to the picture without giving him much creative control — which is how I felt about Tim Burton’s involvement with Alice in Wonderland. (Dare I suggest that the hiring of Burton was merely a ploy to get Johnny Depp’s name on the marquis?) Oz seemed like another fantastical rehash of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland: lots of computer-generated, 3D visuals to whet your appetite, a stellar cast, and an all-too-familiar plot about finding one’s place in this world or another (like Oz or Wonderland).
There is one aspect of Raimi’s newest film that I rather enjoyed — the one thing that sets it apart from other narratives of a similar genre while still managing to pay homage to the 1939 original, The Wizard of Oz. The first act is in black and white and changes aspect ratios at the second act! While many viewers may not notice or appreciate it, submitted here is at least one review commending its implementation. The second and third acts, respectfully, are presented in color with a wider aspect ratio in order to usher in the present for filmmaking without forgetting the wonderful world of Oz’s film origin from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The casting is flawless all the way around right down to the Raimi trademark Bruce Campbell cameo. James Franco stars as Oscar “Oz” Diggs — a role reportedly turned down by stars in other Disney properties such as The Avengers’ Robert Downey Jr. and Alice in Wonderland, Pirates of the Caribbean and the upcoming The Lone Ranger’s Johnny Depp. Franco does his best to make the role of a handsome, underachieving selfish protagonist seem new. While we’ve seen this in films since the creation of filmmaking, Franco does an admirable job keeping the audience invested in his personal growth as a character throughout the film. It’s also refreshing to see Franco star in a standard Disney project as opposed to his random cameos, soap opera or edgy, indie film. I think this grounds him as an actor — it shows that he isn’t all about shock value. (I may change my mind once I see Spring Breakers. Don’t hold me to this).
Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams are too closely reminiscent of the royal queen parade in Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, however each actress has more screen time than the queens in Alice, which allows each character to be examined deeper. All three of the actresses seem to enjoy sinking their teeth into their respective witch, which at times is reminiscent of something out of Harry Potter (a property that Disney, somehow, does not own). I honestly expected “Expelliarmus!” to be shouted in this film at any moment. Weisz adjusts well to the role of antagonist, as she really becomes the evil, driving force of the picture. Williams’s Glinda seems like no acting was necessary — she looked the part before she put on the dress and picked up the wand. Kunis is the standout among the three (for more reasons than a few) as her character is explored far deeper than Weisz or Williams. Kunis’s Theodora encounters a wide range of emotions and loyalties throughout the film, which creates a complex, sympathetic and tragic character that Kunis relishes becoming.
The sets and visuals are classically stunning, the outstanding cast delivers and the plot is one we’ve seen many times over. Although it is based on a book, I would have preferred that Disney allow Raimi more creative control with the story. There are moments in the film that seem Raimi-esque — and those are my favorites: the bellhop monkey, the Bruce Campbell cameo and the cheesy one-liners that feel like they came straight out of the Evil Dead trilogy. Perhaps this is the reason Raimi has already stated he won’t return for the sequel. I suppose Oz is no Spider-Man.