Oz’s Great and Powerful Prequel

Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace

The funny, warm-hearted “Wizard of Oz” prequel, “Oz the Great and Powerful”, veers far enough from the Yellow Brick Road paved by the original film to avoid dangerous direct comparisons. With a pull of a curtain, and black and white letterboxed scene to open up the story, Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is introduced performing in one of his circus sideshows for the people of Kansas. After a ten-minute scene of character building, he soon will land in a leadership-hungry Land of Oz via tornado – as an opportunistic Kansas carnival magician.

With amazing computer generated imagery (CGI), the introduction to the Land is vibrant and almost cartoony. The screen then pans from a square letterbox format to a widescreen filled with an array of plants, mystical creatures, beautiful structures, and the introduction of Theodora, the “good” witch. Oscar builds relationships with Theodora and a chimpanzee by the name of Finley, who both believe that he is meant to fulfill the prophecy as the destined wizard of Oz.

I will confidently say that though this movie is a Disney production, it is not a movie for children. The only thing that a young child will find amusing in this lengthy film is the loveable and humorous chimp, Finley, and the “pretty” imagery provided to shape the Land of Oz. The wicked witch’s minions, known as “flying baboons” are possibly ten times scarier than the ones in the 1939 Oz, which will most likely frighten the younger audience. The film is full of character building and relationships, and has a governmental type of theme regarding the armies and plans to defeat the wicked witch. I cannot fathom a child enjoying the movie, nor understanding the plot and following the story from start to finish.

From a casting aspect, I believe that casting Franco as anyone great and powerful, or even someone pretending to be those things, is a risk. He seemed to lack some passion and fire as the prophecy, but his charming aura and history of versatility in past roles made it a suitable pick. Mila Kunis was the only poorly casted role, in my eyes. Her vocal skills regarding the characters and role that she played were weak, and her appearance was simply too attractive to act as a wicked witch. Even with pounds of make-up and a well thought out costume, it lacked believability.

Overall, I think that the new “Oz” falls short of the 1939 “Oz” in charm and innocence and certainly in songs (there is only one, a brief, jokey number from the Munchkins). But as family entertainment, it’s hard to fault such a suspenseful piece of story telling. I think that this movie was more than good enough, and will do fine in the box office.