‘Oz’ is entertaining enough despite flaws
Impressive visuals cannot compensate for weak characterization
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 02:03
Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” is an attempt to simultaneously create a prequel to the beloved “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) and generate box office revenues. There’s a wise-cracking talking monkey sidekick, dazzling special effects, pretty actors and actresses in pretty costumes and a heavy dose of sentimentality. Does it work? Sometimes.
The movie begins in Kansas in black-and-white film, with Oscar Diggs (James Franco). He’s a magician in a traveling circus -- a con man with a bag of tricks and is an inveterate flirt whose conquests get him in trouble with the circus strongman, leading him to flee to a hot air balloon and into a tornado that sweeps him off to the land of Oz. Once there, he’s hailed as the wizard mentioned in an old and extremely vague prophecy who destined to save the land and restore to Oz to its former glory. There’s also not one, but three witches for him to chase after: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), one of which will end up going green.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” is best at the beginning, when it doesn’t take itself too seriously and when the fantastical imagery of Oz still seems new and charming. The opening sequences have a sense of playfulness and a more subtle use of 3-D that slowly slips away over the course of the movie as the special effects get bigger and splashier. To the movie’s credit, the 3-D does seem well-integrated and gives the scenery a welcome sense of depth. Sam Raimi, director of the original “Spider-Man” trilogy (2002-2007), seems to be at his best with creating striking images rather than striking characters.
The movie is full of acting talent burdened with an uninspired script. James Franco is a charismatic and versatile actor, but he doesn’t quite manage to make the wizard’s transformation from charming cad to trickster hero believable. He does have a lovely scene where he repairs a china girl’s broken legs. With a script that made his transformation more gradual and credible, he might have created a memorable and appealing character. The three witches are even more thinly written, but Kunis, Weisz and Williams do their best. Williams, who has the most screen time and the most sympathetic character, ultimately emerges as the most developed of the witches, though that’s not saying much. Finally, the wizard is accompanied by two sidekicks -- a talking monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and a porcelain china girl (voiced by Joey King), who are mostly charming if occasionally overused.
It’s remarkably frustrating that in 2013, a major studio picture that’s marketed to families (and to their daughters) has three female characters whose main traits are that they’re attracted to the wizard and are either good or evil. They may have magical powers, but even the wise and capable Glinda needs a man to help her come up with a winning plan. The original 1939 movie has a more spirited heroine in Dorothy than this movie does in any of the witches, and today, that’s more than a little ridiculous.
The film does remain consistently entertaining through its two hours and three minutes running time and is well-paced, picking up momentum as the plot unfurls. The end seems a little drawn-out as there’s confrontation after confrontation with the wicked witches, but it’s only in those final scenes that you start to realize how long “Oz” really is. In the end, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a good spring break movie: diverting, splashy and best seen on the big screen where the weak characterizations are temporarily outweighed by the dramatic and colorful images.