Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

It’s not that often that I get to see new movies. 🙂  The reasons are lengthy but boil down to: I only see 1-2 movies in a theatre per year and at least one is a child’s movie, I don’t have cable, and I only have streaming Netflix and not the discs so basically, if it ain’t on Netflix, the chances are not that great that I’m going to see it. Plus I split the kids-movie detail with my husband, so I see about half of the main releases. (This means that to date I STILL have not seen Wreck-It Ralph. I know.  No, really, I know. ^_~)

Anyway!  When I recently took a long work trip to San Francisco, I had a six-hour flight both ways.  Lucky me. 🙂 On the return flight the DirecTV option was free for some reason!  So I took advantage, and although “Wreck-It Ralph” was available, I (for reasons that are valid but I won’t go into) opted to save that for later and selected “Oz The Great and Powerful”.

I'm sure if you actually see it in 3D, it's like being inside this poster.

I’m sure if you actually see it in 3D, it’s like being inside this poster.

When I heard of the movie’s upcoming release, about a year or so ago, I wasn’t sure what I thought about it.  I am well-used to Disney doing really awful live action movies.  Even the recent ones that I’ve enjoyed (“Tron Legacy” for instance) have been more like… “I’m not sure why I’m enjoying this, because I can see EVERY SINGLE TURN this script is going to take, but I like it anyway!”  On the other hand, Sam Raimi and I are old friends who go way back.  Yep.  We are buds.  I won’t take this line of thinking so far as to let anyone think I’ve actually met him, oh no, but like… I saw “Army of Darkness” when I was in college, so… 😉  No, but seriously, I did discover the whole Evil Dead thing when I was the appropriate age, and I have a fierce love of Bruce Campbell – as everyone should – and you can’t really separate Bruce from Sam. I mean, if you love Bruce you have to at least like Sam because Bruce is in nearly every movie Sam makes; conversely, if you love Sam, you have to at least like Bruce, for the same reason. *G*  It doesn’t hurt that I adore Bruce, who comes across as the most incredibly snarky yet still honestly NICE guy ever, and Sam is a really INTERESTING and inventive director.  I – um… this is really turning into an unnecessary digression, isn’t it. 😦  *Ahem*

So the thing I like about Sam Raimi is that he’s got a very recognizable style. I really appreciate and like directors where you can look at a movie and say “Yep, that’s Sam Raimi!” or substitute, say, “Wes Anderson”, “Tim Burton”, etc.  So my hopes were mixed for this film, because Sam Raimi is a great director, but Disney has – pardon me but it’s true – ruined films by good directors before this.  I also dislike prequels as a rule, but that is not a subject I’ll go into here. 🙂  SO – I was wary.  I heard good reviews but I was still wary, because a lot of times I and the general movie-going public disagree. *G*

Well, here’s the spoiler-free Teal Dear (TL;DR = Too Long; Didn’t Read) summed up version: I liked it.  I had issues with a few things, but I liked it over all and I call it a solid film from Sam and a successful live action film from Disney. Yay!

She is never not adorable. Seriously.

She is never not adorable. Seriously.

Here’s the spoiler-free longer, but still not too long, version: I really liked it as a standalone movie.  I went into it without any spoilers so other than most of the cast I didn’t know what to expect.  I did have some issues with a little bit of the casting but most of it was excellent, particularly Rachel Weisz.  The film was a little bit pat in spots, but one of my favourite things was the China Girl – not for how cute she was, though she is adorable, but for the way that she links back to the opening sequence.  Also, an issue that I have with 3D movies is that I normally don’t see them in 3D (remember what I said early on about not seeing them in theatres often, and even when I do I usually opt for the cheaper 2D), and when you view a film in 2D that was created for 3D, the sequences with the 3D effects usually stand out. Painfully, sometimes (like “Hugo”).  But Sam Raimi’s visual style lends itself extremely well to 3D, and as a result, there are very few moments where the scene’s effects fall flat without the 3D aspect present.  In particular the twister scene is excellent; I can see how it would be enhanced with 3D, but it’s really well-composed even without it and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

I was less impressed with the hat flying out at you, since that was more obvious, but ya know.  Raimi likes flying objects. 😉

I wasn’t able to view this film as a prequel, or as related to the Oz books by Baum.  Why?  Well, although Disney had to avoid all direct references to the MGM movie from 1939, they still seemed to follow that film’s continuity rather than the books’.  Having read the books a lot throughout my youth and now going back to them with my kids, the movie bears very little similarity to the books.  The Wicked Witch is not green in those books, Glinda is not the witch of the North, lots of other things.  They DO pick up extra details from the books: the Quadlings, the China Dolls, some of the beasts that the Wicked Witch commands.  There are also direct visual cues that clearly are inspired by the MGM film even though they’re not replicas of them: Glinda travelling by bubble, etc.  So – this movie feels like it’s intended to be a prequel to the MGM movie even though, by legal rights, it can’t be.  It isn’t based on any existing Oz stories and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be linked to that world.

The Wizard himself... duh. :)

The Wizard himself… duh. 🙂

Having said that, it does not work for me as a prequel either, and here’s why: James Franco.  I think he gives an excellent performance and is a real natural; but if you look at his performance in this movie, and then you look at Frank Morgan at the end of “The Wizard of Oz” and how he presents the character, it’s night and day. I cannot see James Franco developing into that man, pure and simple. 🙂  I mean, it would be nice for Franco’s Oz to say, in his old age, “No my dear, I’m a very good man, I’m just a very bad wizard”, but that’s not who this character is.  There are also aspects of the Oz and Glinda relationship that make me want, on a personal level, to keep this movie separate from the MGM film.  And I’m not talking about a romantic relationship, but if I go into it, I’ll be giving spoilers. I’m trying to avoid the spoilers.

My casting issues are mainly with the Wicked Witch of the West.  I just don’t buy her.  I actually love her origin but I don’t buy her performance, I’m afraid.  Not her fault, I think she was just miscast.  If you don’t know who plays her… DON’T look it up.  It’s worth not knowing for the scene when you find out. 😀  That was one area where I was kept guessing for a little while, and I enjoyed that.  I liked Glinda, but I thought the interpretation of her character was a little one-note.  She’s smart and strong, and that’s great, but she also ends up boring.  There are ways to have a female character be strong and inspiring and GOOD without having her be dull.  I felt the women characters in this didn’t quite make the grade; the most interesting ones are evil, and the good ones are uninteresting. 😛

The Oz Ladies. There are differing reasons why I feel like each of them is kind of an incomplete character, but they're also all kind of awesome in their own way.

The Oz Ladies. There are differing reasons why I feel like each of them is kind of an incomplete character, but they’re also all kind of awesome in their own way.

So!  I recommend this movie, I think it’s appropriate for kids ages… let’s say, ages 8 and up?  I think anyway… And I’d like to see it again.  I’m really looking for someone I can discuss it with, but nobody I know has seen it yet, so if you want to have an in-depth discussion in the comments I am ALL for that! 😀

 

I actually like how they "updated" the whole travel-by-bubble effect from the MGM movie.

I actually like how they “updated” the whole travel-by-bubble effect from the MGM movie.

 

I do hope that Disney does something else with the Oz rights, though.  The books are SO good, and I love that they tried to adapt “Ozma of Oz” before – back in the 1980s with “Return to Oz”  – but it’s too bad that film turned out the way it did.  I love it, and I loved it when I saw it in 1985, but it really is messed up.  They took what was already a story with a few slightly weird/frightening elements and made parts of it downright sinister – changing the gnomes from funny little elf-like guys into giant creepy rock faces, having Mombi take over Oz, and LORD ABOVE, committing Dorothy to an asylum at the beginning for electro-shock therapy…!  WHO MADE THESE CHANGES? 😀  There’s so much whimsy in the Oz books, and some of it is dancing the edge of creepy, but it’s never sinister.  I hope Disney knows enough to blame the creative changes and NOT the original content for the failure of Return to Oz, because they have huge amounts of material to mine in order to make another Oz movie and I’d hate to see that wasted. Especially since they’re basically holding those stories hostage so that no one else can do them, either. 😛

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2 thoughts on “Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

  1. Great review! Phil and I recently watched it, and I have to admit that I did not like it. Oddly, my likes and dislikes of the movie align pretty well with yours, but the dislikes (primarily the wicked witch of the west, I thought she was very miscast and I did not like her origin story) just really outweighed the likes. I also did not like James Franco. 😦 I would love to see more Oz movies, and I would especially like to see them stick closer to the books!

    • Thanks! I don’t think it’s odd if our likes and dislikes align, b/c it proves that we both saw the same movie. 😉 It just means that the importance of those things was weighted differently for both of us! I really wish the witch hadn’t been so miscast. That’s a huge issue. I know I said in the review that I like her origin story, but in a way I also don’t. I can totally see how you don’t. My ability to like it also comes from my divorcing it both from the books and the MGM movie – if I link it to either, I dislike it HUGELY. But I consider almost everything in this film to be in a different universe from either of those, I just view it as a separate entity, and in that regard I like it. *shrug* If that makes sense. 🙂

      I was thinking, too, that although like you I’d LOVE to see more true-to-the-books Oz stuff too, I also do appreciate their using an original story in a movie. What Disney normally does is take a pre-existing story and adapt it heavily; in this case they took a pre-existing franchise and reinvented it, which is questionable, but at least they didn’t take a classic story and mess it up. Just a classic story setting. And by doing that, they didn’t mess it up, IMO. I’m honestly nervous about them trying to adapt any of the books again, but at the same time, I’d love to see them as movies!

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