The world of Oz, as created by L. Frank Baum, is rich enough to have spurred dozens of additional works by authors and artists beyond the 14 original books. But none of those works dealt with how the Wizard himself arrived in the land of Oz.
Much like the 1939 film, Disney Oz The Great and Powerful opens in black and white (Well the Wizard of Oz was more Sepia toned). It focuses on the backstory of Oscar Diggs, a traveling carnival magician and con-man, and sets him up as a good man who has just strayed from the path of righteousness while consumed by his search for success.
Also like the first movie, we’re introduced to actors who will later reappear in the film in the guise of other characters giving Oz (and the viewers) some touchstones to help stay grounded when the goings get wild.
The version of Oz created for this movie is amazing. We get a look at it when Oz crashes his hot air balloon and again when they’re on the Yellow Brick Road. However, I wish they had spent more time exploring its otherworldly aspects.
In this film, we enter the land of Oz just like Dorothy did, courtesy of a tornado on the plains of Kansas. Beyond that I don’t want to reveal too much of the story. There are wicked witches and good witches and Oz has to overcome his personal flaws to become the Wizard the people of Oz need.
I felt it was a good story. As in the 1939 film, the fantastical reality was used to hold a convenient mirror to hold up to ours. At different times in our lives we’re all been lost in a world that looks strange to us. We have to find ourselves and overcome obstacles to defeat the evil in our lives. But it was not a complicated film.
Instead of shooting for something complicated, Director Sam Raimi, has taken a lighter approach. The film never takes it self too seriously, aiming instead for a younger-hearted audience. Other than a few scary moments (mostly dealing with flying baboons – and nothing scarier than what was in the 1939 film) I think it’s a wonderful film for kids as young as 6 or a very mature 5.
The story lacked consistency in some parts. As audience members we’re asked to make a few leaps of logic and there are many questions left unanswered (or left for sequels). I was worried that James Franco wouldn’t be able to carry the film, but he did fine. Michelle Williams as Glinda was perfectly cast and the two wicked witch sisters also did great.
I loved both of Oz’s digital companions. Finley the flying monkey had a direct tie back to classic Hollywood, cracking most of the films best jokes. China Girl was also a pleasant surprise and and impressive work of digital animation.
We were able to see the movie in 3D, which I felt was used to good effect in the first black and white section of the movie, but once you made it to Oz, it was just there never really being used to its full potential.
Has Disney created a new classic with Oz the Great and Powerful? Only time will tell. But it does have a fun adventure on its hands and long overdue return to Oz, a world that resonates across the decades and to all ages.