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‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ is a pleasant surprise

March 8th, 2013

Photo courtesy of Disney.

Photo courtesy of Disney.

Long before Dorothy and Toto journeyed through the yellow brick road in search of the wizard, the land of Oz was ruled by three sister witches: Glinda (Michelle Williams), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis). The inhabitants lived peacefully until one of the sisters went rogue, killed her father and raised chaos with her army of flying monkeys. The only hope for the peaceful inhabitants of Oz is a great wizard promised to them in a prophecy. The unlikely candidate for this role is a failed magician named Oscar Diggs (James Franco).

I’m not going to lie. I went into the film with really low expectations. The trailer did not appeal to me at all. The casting of Franco and Kunis for such iconic film characters was so random. I was worried this would become just like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland: A visually stunning film but lacking any depth to the story. This film has a lot of pressure surrounding it simply because it’s a prequel to the 1939 classic every generation grew up with. It has to connect to the original but still stand on its own as a film.

With Oz The Great and Powerful, director Sam Raimi has created a film that accomplishes the feat of extending a beloved story without tainting it. In The Wizard of Oz, the character of Oz does not appear until the very end. So we know very little about him. But this prequel has a conceivable background story that fleshes out the character. He even retains the similarities of having no real power and using illusion to deceive others. But unlike the original, Oscar is a cocky con man. This film shows his personal journey into becoming the great leader we met at the end of Dorothy’s adventure.

Franco’s celebrity was initially distracting, but I soon just saw him as Oz. Zack Braff is a delight as the voice of Oz’s flying-monkey, Finley. There wasn’t a single stand-out, but Weisz, Kunis and Williams all did justice to their characters. I was even more surprised that the film had touching moments, particularly in the scenes between Oz and a china-doll (voiced by Joey King) who had lost her family.

Technological advancements have obviously given this film advantages to the original. But the visual effects are not on the same level of groundbreaking realism like the recent Oscar-winning epic, Life of Pi. Unlike that film which had strikingly realistic CGI, the contrast in Oz from what is real or animated is never questioned. But the CGI is never distractingly bad. In fact, Oz is one of those few films that would be best to watch in 3D.

Fans of the classic will appreciate the connections and details that Oz parallels or borrows from the original film. This film took creative liberties to extend the world of Oz, but it’s never a major sacrifice in continuity. Is Oz going to be a classic like the original film? No. But regardless, it’s still a pleasure to watch.

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