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Oz The Great and Powerful: An Illusion In and Of Itself
Few movies in film history have managed to capture the wonder of audiences worldwide on quite the same scale as The Wizard of Oz. From the Flying Monkeys to Dorothy’s red shoes, you’d be hard pressed to find someone today who isn’t able to reference the movie in some way or another.
Being that it is the prequel to the 1939 classic, Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful has nothing but lofty expectations to live up to. But does it manage to captivate in quite the same way as its predecessor?
The film stars James Franco as the conniving and egotistical Oscar (Oz for short, obviously), a wayward magician running a second-rate show on a traveling circus. He’s a man with great ambition, but lacks the ingenuity and know how to get himself on the public platform he so desperately desires. After a disastrous show and a run-in with the circus’ strong man, he finds himself escaping the circus in his hot air balloon, prematurely celebrating his freedom before being whisked away by a deadly tornado ripping up Kansas.
From there, he finds himself in Oz, a world that comes off feeling part Avatar, part Alice in Wonderland with its colorful displays of plant life and myriad creatures roaming the landscape.
After a run-in with the beautiful witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), Oz assumes the role of a powerful wizard meant to save the land from the wicked witch. This places him in the awkward position of being neither a wizard nor a good and all-encompassing savior to the people, which he shows some hesitancy towards throughout the film.
After that, his womanizing side gets the best of him, and Oz finds himself holding the affections of Theodora in a way he didn’t anticipate and does not necessarily return.
From there, it’s a tale essentially detailing how Oz proved himself to be the great and powerful wizard who banished the wicked witches from the Emerald City and saved the citizens of the fantastic wonderland.
Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t nearly as magical as the world it takes place in. Acting in the film is second-rate and rarely evokes enough emotion to really connect viewers to the characters on screen, the story drags on needlessly, and the world as a whole feels small and devoid of the same magic we once experienced alongside Dorothy and her awkward cohorts.
Oz himself was especially one of the biggest disappointments in the film. While he was set up to be a typical antihero with a deeply-hidden heart of gold, he came across as nothing more than a slimy con man the entire film, lacking any sort of redeeming or endearing qualities whatsoever. His motivations to do anything by way of helping the people of Oz aren’t convincing, and many of his more meaningful scenes lacked impact thanks to contrived acting. His entire character arc was meant to be something grand and interesting, but ultimately melted away like a witch in water.
Sadly, the women in the film weren’t much better. Glinda (Michelle Williams) was chokingly good and did nothing but spout sticky sweet Disney one-liners throughout the film’s entirety, Theodora had interesting moments that were largely lost in melodramatic and unbelievable delivery, and Evenora (Rachel Weisz) was declared a villain after little to no exposition that would have lent any justification or impact to the reveal.
Really, the best acting is found in the supporting cast. Zach Braff plays both Oz’s circus assistant Frank and flying mokey friend Finley and manages to convey more personality and emotion as an animated character than Franco does in the entire film. Joey King’s role as the China Girl surprisingly illustrates true development as we see her character go from being a timid child to a courageous being whose convictions allow her to stay true to her own sense of innate goodness.
The story itself begins to set up a wonder-filled world, but then stops after the first fifteen minutes, instead throwing out nothing but fanservice as nearly everything you love about the original Wizard of Oz is referenced, explained, and ultimately rendered less interesting thanks to poor storytelling and acting.
Where the film does succeed is with its visual presentation. Use of color and world design is a visual treat, and the world’s varied environments and whimsical musical score were the only cues to the story’s mood or how the audience should feel during specific scenes. And those who see the film in 3D be warned; many of the action sequences are difficult to watch thanks to the 3D meddling with motion and leaving it somewhat blurry at times.
Ultimately, Oz the Great and Powerful is just as magical as the trick of any average magician; it’s all an illusion, a trick heavy on the style and lacking any substance. Poor acting, weak exposition, and an overall reliance on visual cues and assumed wonder associated with the world fail to capture the same magic as the original film. While the Tin Man wanted to wish for a heart, this film needs to wish for a re-do.