Movie Review: "Oz the Great and Powerful"

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The year was 1900 and a young man with whom many adventures and ideas had failed, hit with such success that his work’s would be fought over for years. L. Frank Baum is considered by many to be the creator of the fantasy genre with his widely triumphant series of books of the Land of Oz. Now, some 113 years later, Disney is adding to that legacy by relighting the torch Baum started but never touched upon, the Wizard.

Oscar Diggs, known by his friends as Oz, is a third rate illusionist in 1905 Kansas. A con and swindler at heart with all he comes into contact with, including young impressionable ladies, Oz escapes his past leaving behind a young Miss Annie Gale, in a hot air balloon, only to be sucked into a massive tornado. Once clear of the twister, he sees a whole new land before him, one so magical that it seems too good to be true. His first contact is the lovely Theodora, who finds Oz, believing he is the one true wizard come to fulfill the prophecy to save this land he shares a name with. Hurrying to get Oz back to the Emerald City to meet Theodora’s sister, Evanora, he learns of all that has happened to bring about this prophecy. But is all we see as it seems? Are Theodora and Evanora the good witches they say they are or is the witch Glinda the evil one? Can a con shed his past and become what he truly is? All will be unveiled as to who is the great and powerful.

Bringing this fantasy back story to life in such homage to its origin is one of my favorite directors, Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Evil Dead). His mastery of bringing magicians from different creative fields together to create the answer from the fragments of one man’s genius, what many of us wondered, who was the Wizard? With Mitchell Kapner (Whole Nine Yards, Romeo Must Die) penning the screen story and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rise of the Guardians, Rabbit Hole) working with Kapner on the screenplay have allowed Raimi to be the wizard. Their adaptation of our childhood thoughts of Oz is both whimsical in it’s telling as well as engaging in wit, from their effective way the Wicked Witch comes to be to the simple yet effective comical quips.

I was skeptical when I heard that Disney was going to bring this story to the big screen. Not that the story was going to lack, the technology wouldn’t be realistic to Baum’s imagination or the backing that Disney and Roth Films would throw behind this film. My concern was with the cast at hand. I can honestly say, I was put in my place and more than satisfyingly sat back and enjoyed the wonder before my eyes that the actors portrayed.  

As was with the first film, “The Wizard of Oz”, this film is filled with so many remarkable and talented veterans of the modern silver screen that it may be tough to have them all on screen at once. With Bill Cobbs (Night at the Museum, Go On) as the master tinker, Tony Cox (The Warrior’s Way, Bad Santa) as three feet of the fiercest herald you will ever meet, Knuck and even the popular Raimi regular Bruce Cambell (Army of Darkness, Burn Notice) makes the cut as the Winkie Gate Keeper. Doing double duty as both characters and voices of those who live in Oz is Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State) as Oz’ Kansas stage hand Frank, and lifelong assistant in Oz, the flying monkey, Finley. Keeping her acting chops solid is little Joey King (Ramona and Beezus, The Dark Knight Rises) portraying the young girl in the wheel chair and as the tiny china girl. All of whom were quite wonderful to see bringing these characters to life.

Of course this is the tale of the wizard and the witches and those who journey thru the wonderful Land of Oz. First we have Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, Constantine) as the powerful Evanora, bent on proving Oz is not who he seems. Stepping in to some big shoes to fill is Michelle Williams (Shutter Island, My Week with Marilyn) playing both Annie Gale (yes THE Gale who’s daughter will eventually visit Oz) and the bubbly Glinda who has been blamed for her father’s murder. Mila Kunis (That 70’s Show, Black Swan) playing the broken hearted Theodora. Then there was the wild card of the entire cast, James Franco (Spider-Man series, 127 Hours) portraying the iconic Oscar Diggs, Oz.

As I said I was originally not sure how this cast of actors from many different genres and styles would congeal on the big screen and yet I couldn’t blink as I was afraid I’d miss something. From Franco’s suave and smarmy way with woman and friends to his ultimate realization of his true worth, Kunis’ interpretation of the witch, to the loveable King as a spunky china doll, you just want to see more. They all were outstanding and well deserved of their casting by Raimi. Then again why should I have doubted him in the first place?

It is a film with wonderful acting that is supported, yes supported not overrun, by astonishing visual effects and costuming. The stunning vision of Oz to the evil flying baboons, the special effects team worked well in hand with the style of anyone’s dream of Oz. Even the costuming would make legendary stylists Bob Mackie or Edith Head proud with the quirky look of the witches, the style of the Ozian’s even to Oz himself it helped the illusion many of us have had in our memories from reading the books. Let us not forget the sets and props, as lavish as the throne or dark and fearsome as the forest were, whether real or CGI they bring forth the unsung silent character of the film. Bravo to all who worked tirelessly to bring this film to the screen.

This is a film that will surely keep to Disney’s high standards and be one to enjoy for many years. It is subtle in its morals yet high in its nature of life’s many challenges, “Oz the Great and Powerful Wizard” is a fanciful escape to a world we can always see in our dreams.

Take your family, your friends, or a loved one and enjoy a new classic tale of what we once thought could only be a dream. When you do you’ll find something you can relate to, or many of us can relate to, our self worth. To explain, for the new initiates to my reviews, I find connections between films and real life. In this film it is Oz before he becomes the Wizard. A man, who just wants to be the greatest, yet can’t get the break he needs. Or is it that he sabotages himself along the way because he doesn’t believe in himself? It is something we all do at some point in our lives; forget we are better than we think we are. Some of us settle into our ways as if we will never change, others find the will and blast through the wall of our own making and prosper to the glory of our triumph. Sometimes it takes others to help us believe in ourselves and see our worth. Whichever case it may be, don’t look at the gift with a blind eye, cherish it and thrive to your heart’s content. Live long, live life.

Follow my entertainment adventures throughout Southern California on Twitter @SCThrillsMarc.

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