Friday, March 8, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Disney's new film Oz the Great and Powerful follows the Wizard himself as he first arrives in the land of Oz. But if you think that's all there is to it, you're as dead wrong as the Wicked Witch of the East is, well, dead.

The story centers on Oz, played by James Franco, who is immediately established as a conman in magician's clothing. In the film's black and white opening, we see him pulling the wool over the eyes of the people of Kansas, both on and off the stage. Oz is theatrical, cunning, and shrewd through and through. Yet when his double-dealing catches up with him, and he angers the circus strong man, Oz sees only one option-- escape. He hops aboard a hot air balloon, and faster than you can say, "We're not in Kansas anymore," he is whisked away by a tornado to the land that bears his name, where he quickly becomes embroiled in a power struggle between Oz's three witches.

As the Wizard makes his way across the land of Oz, there is no shortage of familiar faces and places to the average moviegoer, for even if you've only seen The Wizard of Oz once, you'll be sure to recognize the Emerald City, the yellow brick road, munchkins, flying monkeys, and of course, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West.

But just who is this Wicked Witch? We meet three different witches when the Wizard arrives in Oz-- Theodora (Mila Kunis), her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams)-- but none of them appear as the Wicked Witch we're all familiar with... at least until about halfway through the film. The way that Oz the Great and Powerful handles the transformation of one of these witches into the villain we know is undoubtedly one of the better elements of the film. (I would like to add here, though, that fans of Wicked must beware-- this movie tackles the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West according to the works of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz. As such, it does not fit with Gregory Maguire's alternate take on Oz in Wicked, or the musical that is based on it. Don't look for Elphaba here.)

Oz the Great and Powerful is a wonder to behold from beginning to end. Visually it stuns, presenting the land of Oz in its crisp and whimsical beauty, particularly in 3D (a well-used and welcome addition to this film.) Danny Elfman's haunting score defines Oz as well, giving equal merit to both the lighthearted and magical aspects of this land and to its shadowy and somewhat frightening dark side. Speaking of frightening, fans of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films will be pleased to see that the director has not lost his zany and macabre tendencies, particularly in his use of stalking, first-person camera at times, his almost comical treatment of the dangerous twister that brings the Wizard to Oz, and a hilarious cameo from Raimi's muse Bruce Campbell.

All in all, Oz the Great and Powerful is a delight-- a film that can appeal just as much to a childlike sense of wonder as it can to an old soul or classic movie lover who respects the original Wizard of Oz, not that the two are mutually exclusive! It is, in short, not a great film, but more than that-- it is a good film. (Trust me, once you see it, you'll know what I mean.)

Disney's "Oz the Great and Powerful" hits theaters today, March 8.

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