Warning: This blog post contains major spoilers to "Oz: The Great and Powerful" and may likely be one of the longest blogs I've ever written
Some of you that have followed my blog for a while or know me personally know that I have a crazy/weird obsession with all things, "The Wizard of Oz." Now before we get started on the movie review lets get a few things cleared up. I LOVE the 1939 "The Wizard of Oz," classic that has been deemed, "the most viewed movie of all time." But I love it for different and separate reasons. I love old movies and grew up watching black and whites with my dad. Old Hollywood seemed so glamorous and magical. And the 1939 "Oz" was simply a masterpiece and huge technological advance in movies for that era. I also am a huge Judy Garland fan, but not just because of Oz. I love "Andy Hardy," films, "Meet Me in St. Louis," "Summer Stock," and, "Easter Parade." So with all of that said, my love for Oz originates with the series by L. Frank Baum. I have read all of his Oz books, as well as the John R. Neill's and as many of the Ruth Plumly Thompson ones I can get my hands on. Baum's creation of Oz was a fantastical wonderland; a Utopian society where people could age at their own will and learn things by taking magical pills from an over sized insect. He envisioned people in Oz being able to "call" their friends on moving pictures screens and talk to them face to face and mass transportation on trains shaped like bullets. I have a deep love for Baum's, "Oz" and know I always will. I even have what I call my, "Ozzy fingers," where I can walk into a bookshop and instantly know where the Baum books are. It's like a radar. Oz-Dar.
I probably had really, probably, too high of hopes for this movie. Last year, "The Witches of Oz," premiered on the big screen and then as a mini-series. It starred Christopher Floyd, Sean Astin and Billy Boyd. It was stupid. Let's just say that. And then later this year, "Dorothy of Oz," is going to be making a premier which stars the voices of Lea Michele, Dan Akroyd, Kelsey Grammar and a host of other popular Show-Biz names. Some might think this is a "Baum" Oz book but it isn't... well, not quite. "Dorothy of Oz" was written by L. Frank Baum's great-grandson, Roger S. Baum. I despise Roger S. Baum. There, I said it. I've met the man on numerous occasions and he doesn't have that "magic" or spark in him that I expected. I first met him when I was a young teenager and was so excited to talk to him about my favorite characters from the series and he pretty much disregarded everything I said. I don't even think he read his own great-grandfather's series. His own book, "Dorothy of Oz," continues where the original, "Wonderful Wizard of Oz," left off. Way to smack your Grandfather in the face by not recognizing any of his other works and thinking you could do it better. Oh, and Sam Raimi directs this which instantly made me think it wouldn't suck. I am a huge "Evil Dead," fan and love Raimi as a director. I even looked forward to seeing "The Chin," aka Boomstick Bruce Campbell make his traditional cameo appearance as he does in every Raimi movie.
Let's start with a few positives; the movie is visually stunning. I saw it in regular 3D and IMax 3D and I say go for the gusto and do the IMax experience if you can. The colors are rich and vibrant and it made me want to crawl inside the screen and live in the movie. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn't a more Art Nouveau influence a la Royal Painter/Illustrator of Oz, John R. Neill, but oh well. James Franco plays an excellent Wizard; he perfected the almost sleazy qualities of the Wizard without being too over the top. Zach Braff also makes a brief performance on-screen and then voices, "Finley" the monkey. I think Braff is dead-sexy so anything with him in it is a positive to me.
The new Oz movie is brought to us by Disney. It is a completely new story, pre-Dorothy, of how the Wizard got to Oz. I was really hoping that they were going to put a new twist on Oz, especially since they were touting that they were basing it on the "workSSSSSs" (stress the plural) of L. Frank Baum. The 1939 classic was produced by MGM and they, now Turner Entertainment, own certain rights to some of the iconic elements that everyone easily recognizes. It seems that Disney was just trying to make up for the fact that they didn't produce the 1939 movie and were trying to glaze over the fact they couldn't use certain elements. They followed the plot line and setup so directly to the 1939 movie, it ended up being almost predictable. Wizard is in black and white Kansas. Wizard is whisked away by Tornado. Gets to Oz. Makes friends who are suspiciously familiar to Kansas people. Defeats Wicked Witch(es). Hands out gifts to friends. The End. Now I admit, they did set up nicely to the 1939 classic and I liked how they put a spin on the giant head in the throne room but where's the rest of it? Where are the rest of the Oz characters? Where is ANY correlation to the Baum works in this new movie? Oh wait... there are two. TWO. In the original "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" book, Dorothy and her friends come upon a small china country. Hence, the porcelain doll that was a nice touch to the movie. She was cute, c'mon. And I caught one other Baum book reference; when Oz, the Wizard first gets to Munchkinland and meets Theodora (played by Mila Kunis), he gives us his full name, Oscar Zoroaster Phaddrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmanuel Ambroise Diggs. (OZPINHEAD, are the initials, showing that Baum really didn't like his main character.) Anyways, this name is given in the fifth book, "Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz," as Oz does explain his full name to Dorothy. But that's about it. Where is more of the mystery and magic? Baum himself was a Theosophist and studied Mme. Blavatzky, reincarnation and occasionally worked some of his beliefs into his story lines. Raimi could have worked this into the movie as well, turning it a shade darker that the happy-dappy Oz we are used to. The minor book references they did attempt were so skewed it actually pissed me off. In the book series, the colors of Oz are very laid out and an integral part to the story. The Winkies are yellow, the Quadlings are red, Gillikins are purple and Munchkins are blue. Good witches wear white, hence that's why when Dorothy landed in Oz the munchkins thought she was a Sorceress to save them because she was wearing the blue and white gingham dress. Back to our new movie; when Glinda (played by Michelle Williams) takes the Wizard to her castle she introduces the Wizard to the different people of Oz. My jaw dropped when I saw the Quadlings were wearing Munchkin blue, and even "dorothy" gingham, at that! The directors and writers took the time to paint the Witches' Winkie guards faces yellow, as they should have been, but they couldn't have taken the extra step to do the colors correctly for the other countries? That's just laziness in my opinion. Oh, and as far as I can remember, there's no such think as "Tinkers" in Oz. That was completely, and stupidly, made up by movie writers. Again, why not bring in classic Oz characters? What are we here, Tinker fairies now from your children's movies? Why make up something completely new when you have so much marvelous material to fall back on?
One other thing that really bothered me was that Glinda and the other witches kept referring to the "Father" who was the King that was poisoned by Evanora (played by Rachel Wiesz). This "Father" was never named... was this the, "Name that was not to be spoken?" I was having Harry Potter flashbacks. Why didn't they just use the name, "Pastoria," who was the original King of Oz in the book series? Pastoria was killed and/or captured by the evil witch named Mombi. That would have just been fine and dandy for them to use, but pourquois pas? Instead they just had this nameless, faceless character that everyone kept referring to leaving the audience wonder if there's going to be another prequel to this prequel.
One other gripe I have is the casting. Why, oh why did they cast Mila Kunis? I very much like her in general as an actress but she could not quite hack it as a Witch in Oz. And what was with all of those beauty shots they did with her and the camera?!? Yes, I get it, she has big eyes that look like they're going to fall out of her head; she's gorgeous, but why must we have a close-up of her face every five seconds? (Ok, I get they were trying to show us how beautiful she was before she turned wicked, but it was still too damn much). Oh and then the massively binded and heaving breasts for when she does go from good to bad? What was with that? I think it was those D's that made this movie PG. Ridiculous. Oh and the fact they used AN APPLE to turn her naughty. AN APPLE?!?! Where are we now? "Snow White?" I get the whole, "green," thing but I would have much preferred a piece of broccoli than that stupid apple which they couldn't even manage to shoot right and it looked half-mangled and obviously not one, but two different apples. Also, she says to the Wizard in the beginning of the movie he doesn't "know much about witches." Well obviously, why don't you tell us then? She's so demure and naive, it's sickening. She acts as if she's never met a man and so easily falls in love with the Wizard. Often in Baum's, "Oz," the women are strong forces to be reckoned with and men are bumbling idiots and fools. Evanora seemed like the only person with a plan. Even Glinda was just sitting around and waiting for a man to come and fix everything. Nice, huh? And I will say, I really liked the way that Michelle William's delivered some of her lines, but again she just played this vapid little waif waiting to be rescued... by con artist and liar of a man.
Another question I had was where is the fourth witch? You put three in there, you have the wicked sisters, but where's Glinda's other good sister? Although she's never been in any of the mainstream "Oz" movies' before, it would have actually been a nice addition if there were two on two, in my opinion.
I will say, this movie is very family friendly, other than a few "dammits" muttered by the Wizard. My oldest gets scared easily and she wasn't too frightened by this. I'd even venture to say it's less scary than the 1939 classic.
All in all, Disney never was going to live up to the hype and emotional bonds that people have with the MGM classic because movies were actually made for all ages back then. 1937 was the year, Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," came out and was the first ever full length animated classic but that was still geared for all ages. "Oz" was no exception. Now it's all demographics, pixar and product placements. **Interesting fun fact, Adriana Caselotti who voiced Snow White in 1937 actually had a part in the 1939, "Oz." When the Tin Man is singing, "If I Only Had a Heart," it's that clear-as-a-bell voice of Caselotti's singing, "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" Caselotti was paid $500 for that one line, which was much more than the Munchkin's and Flying Monkey's were paid for their entire work in the movie.** In my mind, as well as many other's, there is no comparing 1939 Oz to any newly re-imagined Oz. Just let that film be that film and don't go anywhere near it. I guess my big beef, as I have continually stated, is that there is so much material out there for Oz why do we keep re-hashing what everyone has seen before? Bring us something new. Something fresh. Show people a glass cat with a ruby for a heart, a girl made out of a patchwork quilt that rhymes, an evil shoemaker that steals a princess, a rainbow's daughter or a man with a pumpkin for his head. "Oz: The Great and Powerful," wasn't horrible, but it didn't live up to what I thought it could have really been, a Masterpiece like the books it was "based" off of.