Note: Let me preface this review first by saying how thrilled I was last year when the first trailer for Oz the Great and Powerful was released. As a lover of the 1939 Technicolor Judy Garland musical, and as a lover of the Broadway musical Wicked, I had high expectations.
Oz the Great and Powerful, set in 1905 Kansas, begins in retro black-and-white. It’s expected that this monochromatic world will give way to a vibrant, magical, and colorful world known only as Oz. Based on L. Frank Baum’s original novels The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the film boasts an all-star, award-winning cast led by James Franco (as Oz), Michelle Williams (as Annie/Glinda), Mila Kunis (as Theodora), and Rachel Weisz (as Evanora). On paper, Oz should be great and powerful – in reality, it’s a mediocre product of the Disney machine, lacking that magical spark that made earlier adaptations timeless classics.
Audiences knew this wasn’t original, but there was hope for a new would-be-classic interpretation. Unfortunately, in the hands of screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire and director Sam Raimi, this could-have-been classic is nearly forgettable (see also Disney’s other reimaginations Snow White and the Huntsman, and Alice in Wonderland). Perhaps Disney should have acquired the rights to the The Wizard of Oz (1939) from Warner Brothers, before embarking on this cheapened journey that stays just out of a lawsuit’s reach.
People could have an entire discussion about this film’s disengaging script or its extremely poor use of three very talented actresses. In fact, some may even question why these actresses lent their talents to this anti-feminist adaptation in the first place. Is there a reason their costumes needed to be so sexualized? Each actress is literally one step away from a Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction (thank goodness for editors). The film is set in 1905 – that’s one of the first things established – so wouldn’t it have been appropriate for costume designer Gary Jones to stay true to that time period and not this one?
Unlike the 1939 or Broadway versions, Oz the Great and Powerful doesn’t appeal to all ages. This watered-down movie, made for an 8 year-old audience leaves viewers with many more questions than answers. Going back to the witches – how appropriate is it for Oz to be a womanizer? And the implications of sex do what for the plot? How can three magical and powerful witches be swooned, intimidated, or defeated by an ordinary carnival magician with no real power? It’s not logical, then again, maybe in Disney’s world of reimagination, it doesn’t have to be.
More logic is lost on Danny Elfman’s semi-annoying score, which is only brilliant in the quieter moments. Ironically, those moments involve music boxes as womanizing devices. Those brilliant moments are interspersed between a great deal of pathetic dialogue, an overabundance of Thomas Edison praise, and James Franco’s stoic on-screen presence. That’s not to say Oz the Great and Powerful doesn’t have some fleeting moments of magic, or that it’s entirely forgettable – in fact, as an “origins” story, it’s serviceable (at best) – it just would have been better in more competent hands.
The ideas were in place – the execution of them was not. And that leaves this adaptation quite short of amazing, great, or powerful. Oz the Great and Powerful is rated PG and runs 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Note: If you plan on seeing this in theaters, see it in 3D and be able to appreciate those effects, at the very least. I didn’t hate this movie, but I certainly didn’t love it either – I was hoping for a lot more, and maybe that’s my own fault. But I didn’t like that Oz was a womanizer or that the three powerful women could be manipulated so easily. And I certainly didn’t like that horrid Mariah Carey song either. For me, this movie’s saving grace comes from my deep love of the other adaptations, and my ability to appreciate the attempted, but ultimately failed magic. I also took issue with the constant reminder of Thomas Edison’s contributions to the movie industry, most of which were actually the work of his assistant WKL Dickson – it was unnecessary “fluff,” (among other things) that ultimately detracted from a could-have-been classic.