I’m a little late to the party on this one, but finally got round to seeing Oz the Great and Powerful this week. The concept of the film was enough to pull me in, The Wizard of Oz being one of my favourite films, stage musical Wicked being a long lasting obsession of mine (I’ve seen it nine times), and Return To Oz being one of my all time guilty pleasures (as well as the reason I probably need a great deal of psychotherapy). So as soon as a I saw the twinkle of emerald and caught a glimpse of yellow brick in the trailer I was on board.
The film focuses on a relatively underused element of the Oz story on the big screen, how the ‘wizard’ came to be. In these circumstances our wizard is Oscar Diggs, part time magician with a traveling circus, full time womaniser and all around unlikeable egg. Played by James Franco, thankfully more invested and alert than his infamous turn at Academy Award presenting, Oscar, or Oz for short (geddit?), finds himself in the land of his nickname after a particularly troublesome escape from the circus’ strong man, having gotten a bit too intimate with his lady friend. I have no qualms with Franco in the role, I find I am generally ambivalent to him as an actor and this works well for the role of an ignorant, originally self interested character. We are then treated to a few set pieces dedicated to showcasing Sam Raimi’s new imagining of the magical land I feel we all know so well. I have to say that I was mightily impressed by the look of Oz, the musical trees and plants filled me with a childish sense of excitement and wonder, and the wide shots of the fantasy landscape were stunning. The visual pleasure throughout film is ones of it’s strongest assets, and I feel that the fact that MGM acted like a difficult ex-wife about numerous copyright issues only helped to inspire the film’s creative team to really come up with something original and spectacular, which they did.
Despite of all the stunning visuals, the film’s real crowning glory is in the relationship between Oz and the two companions he acquires on his adventure. The dynamic between him, Finley the monkey and China Girl is a heart warming thing to behold. The scene in which Oz fixes China’s shattered legs is one of my favourites in the entire picture, and the majority of the film’s truly comic moments occur between Franco and his anxiety ridden furry pal. In a fitting tribute to the 1939 original, these key characters are all mirror versions of characters from the ‘real life’ Kansas scenes from the beginning of the film, as well as Michelle Williams’ Glinda who doubles as Oz’s ‘one true love’ back home.
This leads me on to the three witches. Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Williams as Glinda who we are all familiar with from the The Wizard of Oz. Quite frankly I thought this element of the plot was the weakest. Whilst Williams is perfectly satisfactory and Weisz pulls off evil chic to perfection, Kunis doesn’t seem to be able to live up to the responsibility of playing the quintessential wicked witch. The character’s backstories are minimal and as a result you end up being not particularly bothered about their individual outcomes. Their plot resolution, especially Evanora’s, seems incredibly rushed and I can’t help but think that two witches with a clearly defined history would have been better than three without.
So overall, Oz the Great and Powerful gets a three and a half out of five from me. Not a patch on the original, nothing ever will be, but certainly a more than respectable addition to the Oz universe. I felt transported for two hours and that’s precisely what a fantasy film should do.