Disney has placed high hopes that Oz will become the family movie of the season. Yet another prequel to The Wizard of Oz that looks more towards the MGM musical (though Disney is not allowed to say so) than Baum’s original novel, it looks spectacular. Does it hold, however, anything beyond the CGI?

Title: Oz the Great and Powerful

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abair
Inspired by the works of L. Frank Baum

Cast
James Franco as Oz
Mila Kunis as Theodora
Rachel Weisz as Evanora
Michelle Williams as Emma / Glinda
Zach Braff as Frank / Finley
Joey King as Girl in Wheelchair / China Girl
Bill Cobbs as Master Tinker
Tony Cox as Knuck
Stephen R. Hart as Winkie General
Bruce Campbell as Gatekeeper
Ted Raimi as Skeptic in Audience
Tim Holmes as Strongman
Toni Wynne as Strongman’s wife

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.

Premise:

In 1905, a scoundrel of a carnival musician, fleeing a jealous husband, gets sucked into a tornado and blown to the Land of Oz, where people believe he is the wizard some vague prophecy says will free them from wicked witches.

High Points:

Yeah, a funny monkey sidekick is a cheap trick, but he works well, and Zach Braff as Finley, blended with the CGI, works well. The opening moments with the China Girl, while contrived, prove suitably touching. They’re not Gollum, but these two combinations of actor and technical effects represent the best reasons to see the film.

Low Points:

I refer the interested reader to my comments below under “Story,” “Emotional Response,” and “Overall.” Oz works fine as a children’s movie and an expensive thrill ride, but it offers little else. Many films now present their audience with fabulous CGI, and I don’t know this one will hold an audience a few years down the road.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 The film creates a quest/conflict from material suggested by Baum’s novels, relies heavily on our familiarity with the MGM adaptation, and it throws in some minor borrowings from Snow White, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars.

Effects: 6/6 The film features brilliant visuals. It’s a fantasy familiar from illustrated children’s books, but they’ve realized it beautifully. It’s a children’s film, and the slightly cartoony look of some scenes must be taken as deliberate, while the slightly cardboard appearance of the Emerald City may be a nod towards the 1939 movie. The strongest effects, however, bring the CGI characters to life.

At times, the 3-D becomes immersive. More often than not, it’s an excuse to send things flying at our faces. See it in 3-D or not based, in part, on this.

Production: 6/6

Acting: 5/6 The key characters have been broadly drawn, and the actors do not consistently handle these roles. No one gives a bad performance, but none of the fully human actors deliver anything especially memorable. The film’s strongest acting are the CGI voice performances.

Story: 4/6 Kids will enjoy this movie, without question. The story’s not bad, but it falls far short of what it could be. They had a good deal of potential to play with a familiar world but (a few bright moments aside), Oz tells a basic story with twists that seem either predictable or arbitrary.

Of course, though a prequel to some version of The Wizard of Oz, it does not hold in strict continuity with either the original novel or the classic film.

Emotional Response: 4/6 The original novel’s themes suited a young audience, but they had some nuance and complexity. Those themes (the real themes, not “there’s no place like home”) become blunted in the MGM film, but they’re still a little more sophisticated than “if we believe in ourselves, we can accomplish anything!” This 2013 production has little more to say than that, and it gleefully embraces the potential inspiration of Oz’s deception without nodding towards its darker implications.

Overall: 4/6. I enjoyed this film on the level of a thrill ride, and the kids will have fun.

In total, Oz the Great and Terrible Powerful receives 31/42.

Notes

MGM or Baum?

L. Frank Baum’s novel features two wicked ones and two good ones (one of these Munchkin-sized); the MGM movie combines the two good witches into one and Disney, here, follows suit. The spiral start of the yellow brick road, the singing Munchkins, the green hues of a certain witch, and the basic design of the Emerald City all hearken to MGM, even though Disney owns only the copyright to Baum’s novels, and not anything particular to MGM’s production. Even the time-frame better suits MGM.

Consider that Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. This film takes place in 1905. If the young woman from Oz’s recent past is in fact the future Auntie Em, she would reach Em’s age by the 1930s.