Title: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Genre(s): Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Director(s): Sam Raimi
Release Year: 2013
From beautiful landscapes to a big name cast, Oz: The Great and Powerful had all the promise of a wonderful visit back to the land of Oz. Even from the opening moments of the film and the transportation from Kansas to Oz, the film still had me by the hooks, and I felt like maybe my worries of the film being another Alice in Wonderland debacle could be put aside. James Franco’s character, Oz, is immediately unlikable but there’s an element to him that makes the audience care about him: he has aspirations. He’s in this magical world which immediately impresses with its visual style, and there’s a nice cast of supporting characters that add humor and charm to the overall film. Yet, Oz: The Great and Powerful still winds up being almost as lifeless as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland remake (comparisons are difficult not to make), resulting in yet another aesthetically brilliant film from Disney, with no real soul to it.
Oz: The Great and Powerful begins in a very unique way: we’re shown our aspiring wizard perform “magic” at a carnival in Kansas, all in black-and-white and a full screen aspect ratio. Oz is a womanizer, a liar, an egomaniac, and selfish, but he truly does want to be a famous magician. However, his reasons for doing so are not because his father was a magician, or because he made a promise to a dying loved one. Rather, it’s merely for fame and fortune. After another performance ends badly, he is eventually swept away by a tornado, escaping a crazed girl’s boyfriend in a hot air balloon. That tornado takes him to the magical world of Oz, where he is met by Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch who tells him he is the wizard who will destroy the evil witch and bring peace to their land. Of course, Oz is reluctant to help, but with the promises of riches, he’s in.
There’s a reason I harp on Oz’s motivations, and that’s because they’re so blatantly selfish that it’s obvious the movie is going to try and change that characteristic of him. Perhaps it should be praised that saving the day doesn’t actually change Oz in the slightest, but that would only be okay if there was still something inherently good about him. Oz constantly asks whether he’ll still get his riches, even when we’re about to get to the third act of the film, and instead of having it feel that he is a character who has changed for the better, Oz abruptly changes immediately after the climax. Or does he? The ending still portrays him as a womanizer, and still arrogant and selfish, so why should the audience care about his plight? It’s a move that I would expect Raimi to make, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a good one, especially when this movie is aimed at families, not neo-realists.
But the world of Oz is beautiful, and we’re constantly taken from one great little world to another within this vast landscape. There’s a whole world that can be explored in future iterations of this series, but as always, it is the journey that excites audiences, not just pretty pictures. The cast of characters Oz meets aren’t abundant, but there’s enough unique ones to intrigue. Zach Braff voices a flying monkey, and Joey King voices the China Girl, who join Oz and Glinda (Michelle Williams) on their quest to save Oz. All of those supporting characters are important to mention because it seems that there’s intended to be a parallel between the world of Oz and Earth, as Braff, King and Williams all play significant characters from Earth as well. So, just as in Alice in Wonderland, it points to the likelihood that the land of Oz is intended to be a figment of Oz’s own imagination. An interesting idea, which is never at all addressed in the film, but I’m sure they’re saving it for those future iterations I mentioned.
And there will be future iterations because the film has a temporary ending, as opposed to a complete one, and it’s had success at the box office. It has all the charms of a Tim Burton film, but with a more endearing sense of humor, as opposed to the quirky one that Burton implements on a regular basis. The movie even has Danny Elfman scoring it with music that sounds great, but also seems reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. As I said, it’s impossible to shake the comparisons because the only real difference in the films are the characters and plot. Oz: The Great and Powerful gets to be a lot more original as it gets to introduce a plethora of new characters to The Wizard of Oz world, just by not being a remake.
There are so many reasons this movie could have been great, but instead, it’s exactly the film I expected. Hollow, but an impressively beautiful exterior. It has a great imaginative introduction, and shows sparks of imagination here and there, but overall, the moment we enter the world of Oz, there’s nothing to differentiate it from a Tim Burton film. None of the cast members particularly stand out either except for Mila Kunis, who does an exceptionally poor job after the first half of the film. It’s unfair to have to write off a film for being so similar to another movie, but hopefully with the inevitable sequels, Oz: The Great and Powerful will become a great film series, or at least a more unique one than all the other fantasy adventure films out there. Unfortunately, the film’s main character is a reflection of the movie itself: he can make things look great, but when it comes to actually being a great wizard, he falls short.