L. Frank Baum’s introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, gives his sole purpose in writing the classic tale. Baum says, “the story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.” The creators of Oz the Great and Powerful obviously did not have the same motives.
*Mild Spoilers Below!*
Let me start by saying, I really enjoyed this movie... but I think it should have been rated PG-13, rather than PG. The witches and flying monkeys in this film are considerably more intense than those in its musical predecessor, especially with the aid of digital graphics and 3D.
Most everyone knows the story of the Wizard of Oz, either from L. Frank Baum’s original book written in 1900 or from the MGM classic movie-musical version in 1939. Oz the Great & Powerful tells the story of how the Wizard, Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs, winds up in the land of Oz and becomes the Wizard. The film opens in black and white, and in full screen no less, which is an appropriate, though obvious, homage to the MGM version. Oscar performs his illusions as real magic until a little girl in a wheelchair asks him to make her walk; needless to say, cannot perform the task and the audience takes his unwillingness as a sign that he’s a fraud. Ultimately, it isn’t the audience that sends Oscar running, but his womanizing ways. A circus wrestler tries to pummel him for flirting with his girlfriend. Oscar climbs into the first safe place he can, which happens to be a hot air balloon. All the while a tornado is coming, and Oscar's balloon gets caught up in the storm. Once in the land of Oz, the world goes from black and white to vibrant color - and the cinematography is beautiful. There are three witches in this story of Oz: Theodoro (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams). Things get complicated as the witches connive against one another, all vying for Oscar’s help in destroying each other.
There are many, many things to like about this film. The opening credits were phenomenal - honestly, we both agreed they were one of the best parts of the movie. Rachel Weisz gave a good performance, and was our favorite witch. But surprisingly, the two characters who stole the show were both CGI characteres: Finley, the flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff), and pint-sized China Girl (voiced by Joey King). Don’t get me wrong, most of the flying monkeys in this movies are absolutely terrifying, but Finley is cute and cuddly and received multiple “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience. The scene where Oscar meets China Girl is probably the best in the movie (it made me cry). It appears as though the little girl's China village has been destroyed, and she is apparently the only survivor - but she cannot walk because her legs were broken. There's a redemptive moment for Oscar as he is able to "magically" repair her legs with a handy bottle of glue.
We were happily surprised that the film was scored by Danny Elfman - a favorite composer. The score tied everything together and we especially liked the music box piece. The creative use of rainbows in the first scene in Oz was an obvious nod to Judy Garland's classic Over the Rainbow. There are also some other brief throwbacks to the book/movie in the appearance of scarecrows and a lion.
|China Girl and Finley the Flying Monkey - aren't they as cute as can be?|
Despite how much I enjoyed this film, there are some drawbacks. First, we were a little confused when it came to the witches and their accents. Evanora is clearly British, while her sister, Theodora is obviously American...and Glinda seems to be trying to sound different than herself, but it's not quite clear what she is going for. Speaking of witches, Mila Kunis’ witch is introduced to the audience in skin-tight black leather pants that just don’t seem to fit into the general costume design.
As mentioned before, I really do feel that this movie should be rated PG-13. The flying monkeys from 1939 have scared children for almost seventy-five years, but they are like Care Bears compared with the new incarnations. In one scene, these monkeys are attacking other characters in the dark, and it turns out that they are attacking non-sentient scarecrows. Anyone who isn’t an adult may not realize that the chest is being ripped out of a scarecrow and not a real person, and if you have read the book or seen the first movie, you know that in the land of Oz, scarecrows are (or at least can be) sentient - so why are they being used as bait who end up viciously destroyed? There is also a scene in a graveyard, at night, where the flying monkeys and Winkies (the witches' guards) are trying to kill Oscar, Glinda, Finley, and China Girl. Parents be warned, this movie may (or more likely, will) give your young kids nightmares.
In spite of its shortcomings, hubby and I both enjoyed this movie. I do recommend it - especially as a cinematic experience (and on the Extreme Screen at Union Station if you are local to KC) - but only if you have experienced the classic versions, Baum’s original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, MGM’s 1939 adaptation The Wizard of Oz, and possibly even the Broadway musical, Wicked. If you've seen the movie already, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts! I'm curious how you think it holds up to the standards. You can follow Oz the Great & Powerful on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest updates!
What's your favorite part of the Oz lore - book, movie, musical, or something else?
Thanks to Walt Disney Pictures for providing my review passes. I received no compensation for writing this review and all views expressed are entirely my own.