I feel so horrible for not sharing this sooner, but since the DVD’s coming out soon, maybe the new timing is all right.
While this movie is supposed to be a prequel to the beloved movie The Wizard of Oz with the wonderful Judy Garland, don’t be fooled. It’s nothing like the original, and yet, in so many ways, it’s so reminiscent and nostalgic of the original, it’s truly magical.
Let me expand on that:
The film starts out in black and white, just as the original film did, and the shock of color when “Oz” (James Franco) arrives in the magical world of the same name is exactly the same experience. The colors are so vivid and beautiful, I felt just as I imagine people did when they saw the old movie in theaters for the first time.
Again, as in the original movie, characters who are present in Kansas at the beginning also appear in Oz. It’s not quite so obvious, as not all of them are humanoid as in the 1939 film (e.g. a man in a lion suit versus an actual lion), but you will likely recognize the voices if you’re paying close attention.
The story is mostly predictable, good versus evil, save Oz (kingdom, not the man, though perhaps in a sense, he saves/redeems himself), good witches, bad witches, fish out of water, man has to change his swindling, philandering ways to become a hero, but that makes it no less enjoyable to watch. I was a little unsure of Franco as such a comic and classic character, but he really becomes the man he’s meant to be as the movie progresses. I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers, but I will say that we learn how the “man behind the curtain” concept of the wizard’s mystery came about – one of my favorite lines and scenes in film history and in the original film.
Though Franco as Oz is the central character, and in fact the namesake of the film, the rest of the cast kind of steals the show. Finley the monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) is a gem, funny and truly perfect as the “sidekick” character, though his lines and especially facial expressions make him much more fun to watch than Oz at times. The little China Girl (she’s made out of porcelain China, not in a derogatory ethnic sense – I’ll admit, it took me a while to figure out the reference to “China” in the film!) is sweet, sharp, and an unexpected symbol of strength throughout the film.
All the witches slip seamlessly into their roles – Rachel Weisz as Evanora, Michelle Williams as Glinda, the good witch, and Mila Kunis as Theodora. I do think they went a little over the top in make-up for the newly created “wicked witch,” but it succeeds in being a modern, somewhat less derogatory version of the original Wicked Witch. The evil witches were just the right amount of evil. Quite dastardly to an adult audience based on some of the events and themes, but not too terrifying to a younger group.
It was a nice change to have Glinda be a little more flexible on the definition of “good” compared to the REAL goodie two-shoes Glinda from the 1939 film. Michelle Williams’ good witch was a little easier on Oz and his shortcomings as an upright person, because she knew that put in the right situation, he had the potential to become the hero the kingdom needed.
The film is photographed beautifully. It reminded me a little of Avatar at times, in fact, with the flora and fauna of Oz and the brilliant colors of the world. It may even be a little too reminiscent of Avatar, that James Cameron could cry foul if he really wanted to, but I didn’t find the similarity distracting.
It’s a wonderful story, beautifully shot, with a comedy and intelligence that we’ve come to expect from Disney films over the past few years. It succeeds in recalling the classic film its story precedes, while still establishing its own place in cinematic history.
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