Follow the yellow brick road down the rabbit hole.
I was five years old when I saw Victor Fleming’s The Wizard Of Oz for the first time in my life. I remember that exact moment like it was yesterday. My mother held me in her lap, our dog Sandy lay in mine, my father was laying on his couch sipping a cup coffee, and they would both tell me all the wonderful memories they have of watching that movie growing up. Those memories would eventually become mine as I now recount all of the joyous times I was transported to Oz every time I watched that fantasy classic. I would eventually go on to name that film as one of best movies ever made.
Now here I am, 15 years later, recounting my memories of watching the original and am now watching its prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful”and judging it with the same fairness as I did with the original. My verdict? It’s a good prequel, but Oz fell a little too far down the rabbit hole if you know what I mean.
Preceding the events of the fantasy classic The Wizard Of Oz by whatever-something-amount-of-years, Oz: The Great and Powerful follows the story of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a struggling magician in a traveling circus who dreams of rising above mediocrity and amounting to greatness in the world.
Unfortunately, Diggs is also a crook and a womanizer. When he escapes a few enraged circus freaks by stealing a hot air balloon, he’s gets trapped in a whirling tornado that transports him to a place he’s never seen — Oz, the wonderful land of munchkins, emeralds and yellow brick roads. It is here where Diggs discovers he’s part of an ancient prophecy: that a wizard named after the land of Oz will descend onto the land, and free the people from the tyranny and evil of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Here is a movie that functions as an appropriate prequel, a good movie that actually fits into the magnificent story of The Wizard Of Oz and makes it work within the established timeline. Co-Written by Tony award-winning writer David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote both his stage and screen adaptations of Rabbit Hole), the plot in Oz: The Great and Powerful can be defined in adjectives to the first movie: traditional. Imaginary. Creative. Dynamic. Classic. Every piece fits into this puzzle, and ultimately adds up to what is a straightforward prequel that provides background for the first movie, even if it wasn’t needed before.
The cast is strong here as well, with James Franco shining the most out of a cast list that consists mostly of women. Here he portrays a spirited man, a man full of charisma and humor that makes the screen vibrate with his very presence. Both his energy, his passion and his kindness is contagious with other characters, and the end result is a near-flawless chemistry with every character on-screen (with the exclusion of the Wicked Witch of the West, who I felt was severely miscast in this film. I dare not spoil it though by telling you who it is).
As a movie and as a prequel, this film succeeds. The plot is enjoyable, the cast is skilled in both vocal and physical performance and the visual effects reach out and dazzle you with its many bright colors and details that instantly transport you to a land of fantasy and wonder (Even though it is a little too resemblant of the art direction in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland).
The biggest problem with the film, however, is its balance. Director Sam Raimi (who is most known for the Evil Dead and Spider-man trilogies) is the visual effects master behind this film, but unfortunately, he depends too much on it. The most enjoyable moments of this film involved Oscar displaying his joy and humor through his energetic and witty dialogue with other characters, which was both affectionate and entertaining at the same time. Everything else was overdone, and at times Raimi depends on the visual aspect of his film as if its the only thing it has going for it.
The last 40 minutes of the film especially becomes so redundant and prolonged, dragging out a scene of conflict between the munchkins and the witches just to provide action and flashy effects. This part of the film doesn’t seem to have purpose or motivation in mind, and the reptition of visual effects and CGI eventually becomes dizzying and nauseating.
My recommendation: Don’t go into this movie expecting it to be the masterpiece that The Wizard Of Oz is. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment and inevitable failure. Instead, see Oz: The Great and Powerful for what it is: a charming, ambient and lively prequel to the original fantasy classic made 74 years after its original release. When looking through that perspective, the return to Oz couldn’t be more glorious, even though the yellow brick road now looks more like a green screen rather than a stage set.