Oz the Great And Powerful is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 cinematic classic. While the latest effort to explain what came before Dorothy and her ruby slippers is decent, it's not nearly as endearing or memorable as its predecessor.
Oz the Great and Powerful centers around James Franco's Oscar Diggs ("Oz" for short), a traveling circus magician showman/conman who is also a bit of a womanizer. As in The Wizard of Oz, this film begins in Kansas in black and white and then switches to deliciously saturated color with Oz's arrival in, well, Oz. There he encounters three witches played by Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz. Oz's companions are a talking monkey and china doll who has lost her family. There a struggle ensues between good and evil, in a multitude of formats.
I saw it with two tween girls, a 10 year-old and an 11 year-old. Both tweens said they would Oz the Great and Powerful and rated it a 7 1/2 out of 10. (For comparison, they would rate The Wizard of Oz a 9.5 or 10 out of 10) Both tweens thought that it started out pretty slow, but found the second half of the movie to be far more exciting. They thought that the movie wasn't all the funny, but said that they weren't expecting that because "the commercials really weren't that funny."
Tween #1 said that while it was good, it was not great. "The sets were amazing - it was SO beautiful and really colorful. There were creepy parts, and it was a little too violent. I mean, quit battling already!" She's somewhat sensitive, though, and she did say that her male classmates would probably think that the battles and fighting were cool and not too long. She thought that "Wicked" was a better prequel to The Wizard of Oz in terms of story, but enjoyed the movie.
Tween #2 said that she liked it. She thought it was a little long and a little boring in parts. She said some scenes could be cut or made shorter. If an 11 year-old is questioning the editing, that tells you something. She really appreciated the many fantasy elements of the film, and the excitement.
I'd rate it a 5 out of 10. Oz the Great and Powerful has a little bit of everything - fantasty, action, comedy, musical (there's one short, forgettable song), a wee bit of romance. That's great for pleasing families of varying tastes and while it somewhat satisfies, the movie doesn't do enough with any of those bits to amazing and delight and become the icon that its predecessor is. The pieces just don't quite fit together.
It is worth noting that this film is more intense than the first Oz. If the flying monkeys in the 1939 movie were disturbing, the flying baboons in this flick are downright freaky, and could frighten just about anyone. There is violence, and one tween was a bit disturbed by a scene of one witch shooting lightening through another repeatedly. Common Sense Media says the movies is best for kids 10 and older. I'd agree.
The gender politics at play also didn't sit well with me. It was as if women are either stupid or evil, or like Michelle William's Glinda the Good Witch who is very well-meaning and astute, but ineffective and in need of Oz's assistance. I find it surprising that the message in the 1939 film was that Dorothy was strong, a leader, and she realized at the end that she had control. The movie 74 years ago had a stronger heroine. Gender aside, Oz just wasn't as likable as Dorothy.
The movie had messages that I did like: teamwork leading to triumph over huge odds, making the most of what you've got, and wit and intelligence can overcome brute force.
I didn't love James Franco. The idea of him being a fraud, acting inept and getting caught just reminded me
of him hosting the Oscars. I wanted to like him, but he just didn't make me want to root for him. I didn't expect him to fill Dorothy's
shoes ruby slippers, but I wanted him to win me over more than he did.
To get a rundown of actual critics' reviews of the movie, check out this article from the Los Angeles Times.
Have you seen the movie? If so, please tell us your opinion in the comments section, or feel free to tell me that I'm totally missing the awesomeness of James Franco. It's entirely possible.
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