Movie Review – Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Today, Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic film, The Wizard of Oz, was released to the theaters as part of the opening weekend.

This film takes viewers back into the fantastic world of Oz and tells the tale of how the wizard became such a powerful and respected character.  Considering that it’s been over seventy years since the release of The Wizard of Oz, and taking into account the technology to create outstanding fantasy worlds, one would really expect Oz the Great and Powerful to be a really fantastic film.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - movie poster

Unfortunately, the opposite occurred.

Directed by Sam Raimi and with a soundtrack composed by Danny Elfman, Oz the Great and Powerful stars James Franco in the title role of Oscar Diggs (a.k.a. the Wizard of Oz).  Co-starring are Mila Kunis as Theodora (a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the West) and Rachel Weisz as Evanora (a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the East).  Michelle Williams plays the role of Glinda (a.k.a. The Good Witch).  Yes, Bruce Campbell has a cameo role in this Sam Raimi film.

Oz the Great and Powerful begins in 1905 as a travelling fair is performing in Kansas.  Just like in The Wizard of Oz, this opening segment of the film is shown in black & white and with a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Oscar Diggs is a traveling illusionist.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is an illusionist who performs in front of crowds at the fair.  He’s a greedy person who has no affection for his assistant (Zach Braff).  Oscar is also a womanizer who picks up a new woman (who plays the role of the “volunteer” in his show) in each town.

A new show begins and Oscar entertains the crowd with his illusions.  He uses his “volunteer” from the audience and proceeds to levitate the woman.  Somebody in the audience spots wires supporting her body, and the crowd turns on Oscar, thinking he’s a fraud.  The wires are actually part of the act, and the crowd is shocked when Oscar cuts them and the woman still levitates.  He yanks back the cloth covering her body and she has vanished!  The crowd is thrilled and thinks that Oscar is a real magician.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - A little girl asks Oscar to help her walk again.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A young girl in a wheelchair (Joey King) asks Oscar Diggs to help her walk again.  Her parents are convinced that he’s a real miracle worker, and they offer to pay him everything they have so that their daughter can walk again.  Oscar has to talk his way out of it and he ends up angering the crowd.  His assistant pulls the curtain and the show ends.

Back at his trailer, a woman, Annie (Michelle Williams), arrives and tells Oscar good-bye.  She’s one of his old flames and she’s leaving him to marry somebody with the last name of Gale (to become Annie Gale, Dorothy Gale’s mother).  As Annie and Oscar are saying their good-byes, some of the circus workers break into Oscar’s trailer to kick his ass.  Apparently not all of Oscar’s old flames are thrilled with his womanizing characteristic.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Oscar's hot air balloon is sucked into a tornado.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Oscar escapes from the trailer as a nasty storm is brewing outside.  He runs through the fair and climbs into a hot air balloon.  The tough guys grab the rope and try to pull down the balloon, but Oscar cuts the rope at the last minute.  He flies away from the fair but gets sucked into a tornado.  Off he flies to the magical land of Oz!

As Oscar arrives in Oz, the film switches to color and a 16:9 widescreen ratio, filling the movie screen with the bright and colorful scenes.

Oscar’s hot air balloon was damaged in the storm, and he slowly descends into a mountainous area with waterfalls.  His basket makes a splash landing and Oscar ends up going down one of the waterfalls.  He makes it through the turbulent waters and the basket finally slows and then sinks close to shore.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Theodora seems like a friendly and helpful person.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The illusionist climbs out of the hot air balloon basket and meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) on the shore.  She seems surprised to meet Oscar, but she’s thrilled that he matches the prophecy of a wizard who descends from the sky.  Oscar cares more about Theodora’s good looks than fulfilling the prophecy of becoming a king.

Just as Oscar and Theodora are getting to know each other, a flying baboon tries to attack them.  They flee and hide from the monkey in a small cave.  Oscar uses one of his pigeons to distract the baboon, and the flying monkey chases the bird into the trees.  Now safe, Oscar resumes putting his moves on Theodora, romanticizing the woman who claims to be a good witch.  They spend the night together in the woods.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Finley the Flying Monkey needs help escaping from some vines.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The next day, Theodora is leading Oscar to the Emerald City when they encounter a much friendlier flying monkey tangled in some vines.  Finley the Flying Monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) pleads for help and Oscar obliges.  But it’s not the vines that Finley is afraid of.  It’s the African lion standing on some rocks about fifty feet away.  The lion makes a tremendous leap at Oscar and nearly grabs him, but the illusionist uses a red powder bomb to scare away the beast.  The lion runs away in fear of the man.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - A carriage takes them to the Emerald City.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Having his life saved, Finley proclaims to Oscar that he’s now in debt to the man until the day he dies.  Oscar reluctantly accepts Finley’s life debt and has the monkey carry the baggage while he and Theodora continue walking to the Emerald City.  At some point they reach a carriage and ride the rest of the way to the city.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Evanora sends Oscar on a quest before he can have the gold in the treasure room.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Inside the Emerald City, Oscar is treated like a hero.  His arrival must mean that the prophecy is true.  Theodora leads him into the throne room, and there Oscar meets Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Theodora’s sister.  Evanora then takes Oscar on a tour of the Emerald City and they finish in the royal treasure room.  Oscar is thrilled with the mountains of gold coins and other treasures, thinking that it all belongs to him as ruler of the Emerald City.

But it’s not that easy.  Oscar isn’t the ruler yet.  To fulfil his destiny as being the Wizard of Oz, he first has to destroy the evil witch.  She’s a witch so evil that it’s said she killed her own father so that she could rule the land by herself.  Knowing how much gold is waiting for him if he succeeds, Oscar accepts the quest of destroying the wicked witch.

Oscar and Finley set out to find and kill the evil witch.  Along the way they spot smoke rising from a nearby town.  Finley convinces Oscar to check it out as people there may need his help.  The town turns out to be a fragile town made of ceramic tea pots.  Its occupants are actually ceramic people.  Unfortunately, the town was destroyed by an unknown force and almost everybody has been killed.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - The China Girl needs Oscar's help to walk again.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

They hear a little voice crying, and Oscar discovers a little China Girl (voiced by Joey King) hiding behind a table.  Her legs have been broken from the destruction.  Oscar uses a container of glue to repair China Girl’s legs, and then she’s able to walk and join their group.  China Girl tells Oscar that her town was celebrating news concerning the arrival of the Wizard the previous night.  The witch’s flying baboons attacked the celebrating villagers, and the entire town (except for China Girl) was killed in the raid.

When they reach a crossroad, Oscar tries to send China Girl back to the Emerald City.  She refuses and the little girl cries until Oscar reluctantly agrees to let her officially join their party.  She’s thrilled with joining them and the girl leads the way.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Glinda is really a good witch, not a bad one.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The gang soon enters a spooky forest and has a frightening encounter with wacky, vine-like creatures.  They easily make it past them and see a mysterious person by an old cemetery.  Thinking that it’s the wicked witch, Oscar sneaks up and grabs the witch’s wand.  He’s about to break it when the witch surprises the group.  The only thing is that this witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), isn’t evil.  She’s a good witch.  Glinda explains that Oscar was tricked by Evanora and sent on a misguided quest.

Back at Emerald City, Evanora and Theodora are using a crystal ball to watch Oscar’s progress.  When they see that the encounter with Glinda didn’t go as planned and now Oscar knows the truth, Evanora dispatches her armed guards and flying baboons to seek and kill them.

The enemy forces arrive at the cemetery, and Glinda thinks that Oscar can just use magic to stop the bad guys.  He tells her that he doesn’t really have that type of power, so Glinda uses her magic to create a fog bank and slow the approaching forces.  They then turn and flee as the armed guards begin running into gravestones and tripping on other hazards.

The flying baboons then arrive and chase the gang to the edge of a cliff.  The only escape is over the edge.  Glinda tells Oscar to follow her off the cliff.  She jumps over the edge and Finley follows, carrying China Doll while flying away.  Oscar then jumps off the cliff and the flying baboons lose track of them.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Glinda's bubble magic helps them escape from the guards.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Nobody falls to their doom but instead float to safety in individual bubbles.  Glinda leads the group to her town, an area safely protected from the wicked witches.  In that town Oscar is introduced to a variety of people, including Munchkins, all of them believing that Oscar is a real wizard there to safe them from evil.  Glinda is aware of Oscar’s inabilities, but she convinces him to act real in front of the crowds.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Evanora casts a powerful spell on her sister, Theodora.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

While in Glinda’s town, Oscar begins falling for the beautiful witch.  Back in the Emerald City, Theodora and Evanora see this on their crystal ball.  Theodora is devastated as she’s been cast aside by Oscar.  Now being full of hatred, she allows Evanora to cast a spell that will supposedly heal her aching heart, preventing it from breaking again.  Unfortunately, Evanora’s spell is a little too powerful and Theodora transforms into the green wicked witch made famous in The Wizard of Oz.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Theodora terrorizes the people in Munchkinland.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Theodora conjures up a massive storm outside of Glinda’s town and she punches through the magical barrier.  Theodora then arrives in a massive ball of flame and shocks the peaceful residents.  She flies around and threatens Oscar with getting her revenge against him.  Theodora takes a broomstick from one of the locals and uses it to fly back to the Emerald City.

Now the mission is clear.  Glinda and Oscar have to rid the Emerald City of the two witches before they strike again.  Nobody in the land of Oz is safe from their power.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - China Girl gives Oscar faith to use his illusionist tricks.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Oscar is still reluctant to help as he’s just a big con artist and phony magician in real life.  He has no real magic powers.  His attitude changes when he’s tucking China Girl into bed that night and she tells him that she believes in him.  Oscar has a change of heart and tells Glinda his plan of using illusions to attack Evanora and Theodora in the Emerald City.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Oscar rallies his army before they attack the Emerald City.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The townsfolk help construct a new trailer for Oscar, complete with a few tricks, and they’re able to pull it to the gates of the Emerald City.  A guard (Bruce Campbell) tries to stop them, but the guy in charge of the trailer (a trusted worker in the Emerald City but he’s really on Glinda’s side) talks his way into letting them pass into the city.  It works and the trailer is pulled into the Emerald City.

Meanwhile, Glinda and the townspeople launch a fake attack through the magical poppy field towards the Emerald City.  The witches send the flying baboons against the “army,” the but monkeys quickly discover that the army is nothing but a bunch of scarecrows carrying fake weapons.  By the time they make the discovery it’s too late and the baboons fall asleep in the poppy field.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Glinda is captured and placed on display in the center of town.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Enraged by the fake attack, Evanora has two flying baboons capture Glinda.  They do so and carry the good witch into the city as a prisoner.  Glinda’s magic wand fell to the ground and China Girl grabbed it before Evanora noticed the wand.  Once it was clear, China Girl, immune to the poppy field as she’s ceramic, runs to the city carrying Glinda’s magic wand.

Inside the city, more Munchkins appear around the trailer and help with Oscar’s plan.  Unfortunately for them, a new hot air balloon also arrives and Oscar makes it look like he’s using the balloon to escape the city and fly back to Kansas.  The people are devastated as they watch Oscar pile lots of gold into the balloon’s basket and then make his escape.

The residents of the Emerald City are now angered by the two witches, and they hold a protest in the middle of the city.  Apparently they were informed of the truth and they want Evanora and Theodora out of their city.  The sisters aren’t scared and they make a show of the captured Glinda.  They want everybody to watch as the good witch is tortured and killed.

Everybody spots the hot air balloon flying away, and Glinda is deeply saddened at seeing Oscar leaving the city.  Theodora uses her hatred against him and attacks the balloon with a massive fireball, sending it crashing to the ground.  The people are stunned and Finley the Flying Monkey is at a loss, thinking that his friend was killed in the crash.  An armed guard walks up to Finley and reveals himself to be Oscar.  Having everybody think that he was killed was part of Oscar’s grand show.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - The Wizard of Oz shows his true power!

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Theodora tries to kill Glinda, but the good witch escaped.  China Girl was able to reach the stage and slip Glinda her magic wand.  At that point there’s a massive fireball and smoke screen in the center of town.  In the smoke is the face of Oscar, now a massive wizard.  He taunts and enrages both Evanora and Theodora.  They try to attack him but their efforts are useless against the “wizard.”

Theodora launches a fireball against the smoke and Oscar’s face disappears.  He plays dead for effect.  After waiting a moment he comes back to life and terrifies Evanora, sending her fleeing back to the throne room.  Oscar then threatens to use shooting stars against Theodora, and the witch is horrified when the skies ignite from an incredible fireworks display.  More rockets are shot through the smoke towards the witch, and she ultimately flies away in fear.  Before leaving, Oscar tells Theodora that she’s welcome to return to the Emerald City once she has a change of heart.  Theodora refuses his offer and instead swears her hatred towards the mighty wizard.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Glinda battles Evanora in Emerald City's throne room.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Inside the throne room, Evanora is surprised to see Glinda waiting for her.  The two witches has a minor duel and Glinda wins the fight by snatching Evanora’s necklace, taking away the witch’s power.  Without the necklace Evanora transforms into her true self, an old and nasty witch.  She tries to attack Glinda, but Glinda sends her flying away with her magic wand, banishing Evanora from the Emerald City.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Oscar distributes his tokens of appreciation.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Oz the Great and Powerful ends with Oscar awarding his friends with tokens of his appreciation.  One of the people receives a tool similar to a Swiss army knife, Finley the Flying Monkey receives Oscar’s top hat as a symbol of his friendship, and China Girl receives everybody as her new family.  As far as Glinda’s gift, Oscar takes her behind the curtain and tells her how much he appreciates the woman.  They two of them make out and everybody in the room watches their silhouettes in action.

So is Oz the Great and Powerful a good movie?

Unfortunately, this film is a failure from the story to the special effects to most of the characters.

It doesn’t help matters that Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz.  Going into the movie we already know that Oscar Diggs (the Wizard), Glinda, Theodora and Evanora are all alive and well at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz.  Therefore none of them are supposed to be killed in this prequel film.  We also know that the Wizard has been in Oz for quite some time and he doesn’t actually leave the land until the end of The Wizard of Oz, so that whole sequence of him supposedly flying away during the climatic battle in Oz the Great and Powerful was almost useless.  It’s only going to fool those few people on the face of the Earth who have *not* seen the previous film.

With the audience already knowing that much material going into the movie, it’s up to the writers and director to present the new material so that we’re still guessing as to how the events unfold in the land of Oz.  Sadly, the way the material is present is only going to surprise or fool a handful of people.  The rest of us will sit there shaking our heads at the corny scenes and predictable outcomes.

James Franco as Oscar Diggs feels like an early twentieth century rip-off of Tony Stark from the Iron Man series.  Only this version is much worse.  On top of that, Franco rarely shows any emotion in his character.  One might say that his performance rivals that of Kristen Stewart and her general lack of performing emotions on camera.  This guy was clearly miscast in the title role of Oscar Diggs.

Mila Kunis didn’t have anybody fooled when she pretended to be a good witch when Oscar first arrived in Oz.  Her personality clearly lacked in grace, charm and that comforting feeling you have when seeing a friendly character in a film such as this one.  Just looking at the woman you knew that she was much darker than whatever she tried to tell Oscar.

The transformation into the wicked witch was the best part of Mila Kunis playing a younger version of the famous villain.  Otherwise, the make-up was too smooth and there weren’t enough facial features compared to the older version in the 1939 film.  Granted, the witch could have had some fierce encounters between now and then in the overall storyline, but not enough of her face looked like the older version.  It’s clear that two different people are playing the role between the two movies.

The Emerald City is also quite different than the bright and cheerful city that we know from The Wizard of Oz.  This version looks darker and more futuristic, and it’s significantly less green in color.  I understand that the city is under the control of two witches (really just Evanora and she has been fooling her sister this whole time), but according to the town people they think that the evil witch is still outside of town.  The only noticeable similarity between the two versions of the Emerald City is the Wizard’s throne room.  Otherwise, this version of the Emerald City looked more like the futuristic city planet of Coruscant in Star Wars.

As far as the story for Oz the Great and Powerful, it was clearly lacking the magic that wowed the audiences back in 1939.  The opening segment at the fair was painful but still watchable, but the tornado scene was horrendously bad.  Apparently nobody at the fair cared that a massive thunderstorm was about to strike them.  The tornado itself looked okay but we only saw it on camera for a couple of seconds.  The rest of that flight sequence (not nearly as magical as Dorothy’s flight to Oz in The Wizard of Oz) was mediocre at best.

You’ll have to keep in mind that the land of Oz in Oz the Great and Powerful is similar but also strikingly different than the magical land established in the 1939 film.  Don’t expect any apple throwing trees here or any scarecrows without a brain or tin men rusting in a field.  This time around the companion characters are a well dressed flying monkey (as opposed to the fierce flying baboons that attack the people) and a little ceramic girl.  Umm, okay, I suppose.

Unfortunately, both Finley the Flying Monkey and China Girl are useless characters.  Finley is the luggage carrier for Oscar with occasional bits of humor.  Despite Finley proclaiming a life debt to Oscar, don’t expect to see any heroic actions from the monkey or him risking his life to save Oscar and cash in his life debt during the climatic battle sequence.  His job there is helping run the projector which scares the witches.

The same goes true for China Girl, another useless character.  All she wants is another family after hers was killed by the horde of flying baboons.  China Girl does talk some sense into Oscar at one point in the film, but after that she doesn’t do much.  The girl’s biggest accomplishment is sneaking the magic wand to Glinda before Theodora kills her.  After that she isn’t seen again until Oscar presents his gifts to everybody at the end of the film.

Do Finley and China Girl get captured by the witches and have to face their inner fears to help Oscar fight the witches in the end?  Nope, not even close.  We don’t learn of Finley’s fears or dreams, and China Girl just wants a family.  She already faced her greatest fears when the baboons destroyed her town.  Finley and China Girl are almost useless and just cheap rip-offs of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, three superior characters from The Wizard of Oz.

As to why Oscar Gibbs needed any wacky companions in this journey is still a mystery.  It wasn’t necessary for the film makers try to repeat so much of the original film while also offering audiences a new vision.  Half of Oz the Great and Powerful feels like a cheesy retelling of The Wizard of Oz, while the other half is a partially confusing world filled with so much CGI it’ll make your head spin.  Throw in Oscar Gibbs being a womanizer and him and Glinda making out in the end and there you go.  It’s sex in the world of Oz.

Oz the Great and Powerful is a mostly a heaping pile of garbage.  Some of the music was good, a few scenes were entertaining, and part of the climatic battle in the end was pretty slick.  For the most part though the story needed to be resubmitted to the writers and be rewritten from scratch, perhaps this time being something more interesting that also makes sense.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – movie trailer

I went into Oz the Great and Powerful with an open mind about the film.  I stayed away from the movie trailers and news about the film.  Its concept sounded interesting and the TV spots looked pretty cool.  Unfortunately, the end result was the waste of two and a half hours and a major let down by the unoriginal people in Hollywood.

We clearly weren’t the only people in the audience upset with this film.

two stars

Oz – “Look, I know I’m not the wizard that you expected. But I might just be the wizard that you need.”
Glinda – “You said you were just a con man.”
Oz – “Precisely!”
Glinda – “Nothing but a trickster?”
Oz – “Yes!”
Glinda – “A terrible cheat!”
Oz – “The best there is.”
Glinda – “A carnival magician’s going to put on a show.”
Oz – “I’ll put on the show of a lifetime! The likes of which the land of Oz has never seen! Magic! Mystery! Prestidigitation! It’ll be my greatest trick yet.”

———————–

Oz – “Theodora, I know your wickedness is not your doing! And should you ever find the goodness within you, you are welcome to return!”
Theodora – “NEVER!”

———————–

NOTE – This article was originally published on March 8, 2013.  The images were added to the article after the film was released on DVD.

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