Oz the Great and Powerful is all about Oscar Diggs (James Franco) and how he became of the Wizard of Oz. We learn about how he met all the major players in Oz, and how the land became the land we saw in The Wizard of Oz. There are a few hints and nods to the original film, but it never goes to the point where it distracts from the movie. One of the main problems with prequels is the need to set up the movie that comes after it. Oz the Great and Powerful surprisingly misses a lot of these problems, with the ending coming up organically. The end came from the plot, not the need to tie into continuity.
Much like The Wizard of Oz, Oz the Great and Powerful can be a dark film. Most of this is due to Sam Raimi’s masterful ability to set tone. He quickly jumps from whimsical, to humorous, to terrifying in a matter of seconds. There are plenty of sight gags mixed in with the scarier scenes. He uses the Jaws technique of hiding the real enemies until we the audience has become unsettled at the thought of them. While adults won’t be scared, kids will be terrified. Many children started crying in quite a few scenes, forcing a few families to leave. Raimi captures the spirit of Oz rather well, making fans of the original feel at home. Mind you, Oz seems to have grown quite a bit in the last 70 years, but it retains the same feeling of whimsy and delight that the oozed out of the original. Occasionally Raimi trips into Tim Burton territory, but that may be the fault of the production team, and not Raimi.
The script is mostly good. There are a few lines and scenes that can dip into the corny side, but they are few and far between. There are plenty of people to keep track of in Great and Powerful, and some get left behind. Finley, voiced by Zach Braff, gets the short straw on screen time. Which is sad, as he was clearly the fan favorite. The China Doll gets a fair amount of screen time, but she acts as a plot device to bring Oz and Glenda (Michelle Williams) together. She has some great lines, some of the funniest in the movie, but she gets shoved down later in the movie.
With the amount of money that Disney has, I don’t understand how the CGI turned out so badly. When I saw Oz the Great and Powerful, I saw it in 3D. A movie’s CGI needs to be spot on to use 3D. Otherwise, every tiny problem is exacerbated. That’s what happened with Great and Powerful. When Franco is walking along the yellow brick road, it’s clear he is walking against a green screen. The stitch marks where they added him into the scene are clearly visible. When everything in the shot is CGI, it looks great. Finley is intricately detailed, as is the China Doll. Disney spent hundreds of millions making and marketing this movie, they could have spent a few thousand more to polish off the effects.
The acting is completely mixed. Some actors did a great job, while others are so miscast it’s funny. Joey King does a great job on voicing the China Doll. She has a vocal range well above her age. She jumps emotions the way Raimi does tones in directing. Zach Braff was the clear winner for best casting choice for Great and Powerful. Fans of Scrubs know how much Braff loves The Wizard of Oz. Finley is the most likable character of the bunch, being the Jiminy Cricket for Oz (the character). Braff and Franco have some great give and take in the early goings, giving the audience the biggest laughs. Braff also nails his quick human role, gaining the audiences attention and never letting go. Why Braff didn’t play Oz, I’ll never know. Michelle Williams is ok as Glenda the Good Witch. The problem with characters who are constantly good, and never waver from it, they can become boring. Multidimensional characters are naturally more interesting. Williams tries to add some layers, but her “stern” side is still nice as can be.
James Franco shouldn’t have been cast as the Wizard of Oz. One friend described him as, “James Franco playing James Franco playing Oz.” He seems out of place and generally uncomfortable with the role given to him. He also needs to work on acting with CGI characters. His motions with the China Doll are painful to watch. We know the character you are holding is CGI, but don’t ruin the illusion.
Mila Kunis, as Theodora, turns out her worst performance as an actress to date. Every line of dialogue she delivers is stiff, and turns the audience off. She is suppose to be gullible at the beginning of the film, but she comes across as plain stupid. When she eventually turns into the Wicked Witch of the West, it’s laughable how awkwardly she gets from mark to mark. She “attempts” to be mean after the transformation, but it doesn’t work. The sound crew had to stitch in the cackle from The Wizard of Oz to try and help her out. But that makes her horrible attempt even worse to hear. The makeup team doesn’t do her any favors either. The green makeup used looks terrible. Parents won’t like the amount of skin her outfits show. As a long time Disney fan, I was surprised at how much they showed. Even in John Carter, Disney found a way to show as little skin as possible.
Oz the Great and Powerful showed a lot of potential. I didn’t have high hopes, as Disney was marketing it to be the next Alice in Wonderland. But after seeing Great and Powerful, it’s sad to say it’s just ok. I really wanted to like this movie, but it did everything in it’s powers to make me dislike it. Sam Raimi was a great choice for director, but the other pieces just didn’t fit the puzzle.
Oz the Great and Powerful gets 2.5/5.