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Oz the Great and Powerful - A Review

I know that technically I was supposed to be reviewing all the Disney movies in order and, well, this is jumping ahead a bit. But I got rather sidetracked from reviewing Disney films as I went, and I had a few thoughts about this latest adaptation of the Oz universe I felt would be fun to share.

Firstly, some background. I'm an Oz fan. An Ozmologist in some ways. I know a fair bit about most of the Oz lore. Read many of the books, seen the MGM movie a zillion times, obsessed with the 80's Cinar cartoon, won an award for playing a crow in a local stage production - I was a fan of Wicked before Wicked was a musical. If there's a film version of the Oz books out there, odds are I've seen it. So I approached Oz The Great And Powerful with some hesitation - yes, great that Oz is still popular enough to be worthy of a major Disney feature film, but history has shown that modern retellings of this story tend to miss the point. And with everyone comparing it to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, a movie that was basically a generic fantasy movie with Wonderland names bolted on, I was less excited by the prospect of the same happening to Oz. Friends had told me how awful it was, other friends were amazed, so last night I decided to see it for myself.

Oh, incidentally - Spoilers, Sweetie.

I think it was a mixed bag. Visually it's spectacular - it takes what the MGM film does and pushes it up a notch. So many scenes designed to echo similar scenes of its predecessor - Glinda's bubbles, the tornado, etc - but with a twenty-first century twist. In the original, when the Wicked Witch of the West appeared amongst the Munchkins (on a spiraling origin point to the Yellow Brick Road), she appeared amidst some glowing orange smoke. Here she does the same, only it's bigger, it's scarier and she blows a friggen hole in the ground doing it. The backdrops - even having Kansas look like an old MGM sound stage - manage to stay consistent with the 1939 version, but without appearing retro. Which worked well - if this was a movie that was supposed to tie into MGM.

It's the same issue so many Oz films have - trying to tie into both the books and the MGM movie (Return to Oz suffers from similar problems). All the imagery in"Oz The Great And Powerful is from MGM - the Winkies (falling just short of the "oo-ee-oh"), the Munchkins (cause Baum didn't make them midgets), the Witch of the West, even down to the sets and the black and white "everyone in Oz has a Kansas counterpart" conceit. Which is fine, if you want to be a faithful MGM prequel, it's exactly how to do it. But then they make Glinda the Good Witch of the South (just like the books), the Wizard gets his original literary name (right down to his initials spelling O.Z.P.I.N.H.E.A.D.) and if you notice in the final scene Glinda has the Silver Shoes on, not Judy Garland's Ruby Slippers (though why Glinda has them and not Evanora I haven't a clue). So it confuses things - it doesn't lead into the MGM movie well at all, nor does it become a faithful adaption of Baum's books. Instead it just sits between the two in an awkward "I dunno what I'm trying to be" place. Those expecting a faithful prequel to the Movie end up asking why Ginda's forgotten which side of Oz she lives in, while the book fans are wondering why she's suddenly got Ozma's backstory. So basically, it wants to please those who are coming to Oz cold (if those people exist), which doesn't seem right since so much of the film depends on nostalgia.

I have to admit, to finally see the Wizard and the Wicked Witches battle for control of Oz had me on the edge of my seat - Baum hinted at it, Wicked bypassed it, but here we see how the Great Humbug could defeat someone as powerful as the Wicked Witch of the West despite having no skill of his own. But overall, the acting was pretty blah - James Franco only shines because everyone else is so poor (especially that Wicked Witch - put her in front Margaret Hamilton or even Idina Menzel and she'd soil her broomstick).  Does everybody in Oz really need to be so simple and dense? Don't get me started on the various "betrayed love" motivations thrown about and the stupid Wizard/Glinda kiss at the end. That was annoying. Glinda, the Sorceress I know and love from the books, is way more savvy and clued up than the dumb blonde we had here.

I hear they're doing a sequel, which could be good to try and close up the gaps that this movie left between it and The Wizard of Oz. Like all Ozmologists, I'll probably end up rushing down to see it as well, but probably without any anticipation. As a specacular visual feast, Oz The Great And Powerful is, to coin a phrase, wonderful. But if you want properly drawn characters, decent acting or something faithful to Baum's original text, then you may want to look elsewhere.