Oz the Great and Powerful, If Only It Was Either

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I saw Oz the Great and Powerful with the family last night in 2D. The kids were keen to see it and were very familiar with not only the original MGM classic film but had also seen the stage version of Wicked. Despite the mixed reviews, my husband and I decided to venture forth on opening weekend with adjusted expectations.

This film is based on classic characters but not the actual novels. It presents the story of a 2-bit sideshow conjuror/con man/cad and his transformation to a beloved wizard and savior of the magical land of OZ.  James Franco plays the titular Oscar Diggs (aka Oz). He gets transported to the coincidently named land of Oz via twister “quelle surprise” and lo and behold is coincidently the answer to a savior prophesy made by the late and sadly murdered king. Seriously?

The story suffers from a terrible case of prequelitis as it is simply not that interesting and populated by characters that don’t resonate (yes even that creepy china doll didn’t cut it for me). To make matters worse, the plot does not withstand logical scrutiny. There is some confusion surrounding the 3 witches played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams; all performing better than this film deserves. Which one is the actual murderer? This presents an unnecessary muddle. There is no mention of motivation whatsoever, yet the land of Oz is terrorized by a dastardly murderous witch, just because.

I may be venturing into spoiler territory, but seriously, we kind of know the next chapter, so it is not hard to connect the dots. The best part of the film is the 3rd act where James Franco’s Oz finally learns how to think beyond himself and realises that magic is a matter of perception. The wondrous inventions (fireworks, movie projectors) of his world appear magical in this land despite the existence of more powerful magic (hello flying witches who can hurl bolts of energy from their finger tips, when convenient to the plot that is).  Please do not ask me to explain, as I mentioned it defies logic. I thought there was sweetness in the homage this film paid to the MGM classic as it started with black and white and full frame aspect ratio in the Kanasas-set 1st act and then switched to colorful widescreen

I was neither disappointed nor pleasantly surprised. The graphics were standard CGI animated fair that did not dazzle. The story was a bit draggy and predictable. James Franco neither has the charm nor charisma to make up for a lackluster script. In fact I used to think he was a good actor, when all that I had watched him perform in were supporting roles. Now he is akin to Keanu Reeves – the next generation. He plays a great stoner, but most of his films succeed despite his presence. There is a bit of physical comedy and a few jokes that made my kids laugh. The film really lacked the emotional centre that made the earlier MGM film a classic. This film never bothered to lay a foundation on which to develop the characters to a level that I could care about their peril.

Neither I nor my youngest daughter cares for gratuitous 3D films, so we tend to avoid them. Another dimension would not have made this a better film. There were obvious visuals that were placed for the benefit of a 3D audience, with flying baboons (scary for young children) and other things coming toward us on-screen. We do not feel that we missed anything by seeing it in 2D. This has no re-watch appeal for me or my husband. The kids really enjoyed it, so that is saying something. As for a recommendation….it is an adequate rental or if someone else is willing to take your kids, then why not. I had hoped for more from Disney and Sam Raimi, but going in with lowered expectations meant all was not lost.

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