COLUMBIA (WACH) - Seventy five years after the release of the original MGM film, Disney presents Oz: The Great and Powerful, a prequel set 20 years before Dorothy crash-lands a farmhouse on an algae-colored witch wearing what appear to be less-than-sensible shoes.
Most agree that The Wizard of Oz is one of, if not THE greatest films to come out of Hollywood. The technicolor masterpiece was adapted from the first of fifteen L. Frank Baum novels decribing a colorful land purportedly located on the other side of an unseen rainbow, and accessable only by cyclone or hot air balloon. Fans of the film are extremely protective of the Kansas runaway and her Yorkie, and nobody (not no one, not no how) wants to see our merry ol' land tarnished in any way, and so it was with great trepidation that I went to observe the latest twist on our favorite twister.
The opening credits are a fantastic throwback to 1939 state-of-the-art special effects, setting the tone perfectly... sepia tone, no less. The first sequences place us at the state fairgrounds in Kansas as residents enjoy the traveling Baum Circus. This is our first introduction to Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmanuel Ambroise Diggs. His friends call him Oz for short, not that he has a ton friends. Played by the dashing James Franco it's immediatly apparent that the small time magician is doing his best to fool most of the people, most of the time. A shameless self-promoter, he boasts proudly of his astounding feats of prestidigitation, proclaimimg himself Great and Powerful. After flirting up a storm (get it?) with the strongman's wife, Oz tries to escape in his giant balloon. At the last minute his assistant ( Zach Braff ) tosses Oz his bag of tricks just as the balloon is re-routed via tornado to a rural area on the outskirts of Munchkinland. And so it begins.
The first person he meets is the beautiful Theodora. A backwards play on the name Dorothy... perhaps, but this chick is neither small, nor meek. Played by Mila Kunis, Theodora takes her new crush downtown to the bright lights of Emerald City. She introduces him to her even more beautiful sister, Evanora (Rachael Weisz) who also appears to be smitten with the new guy in town. Enter Michele Williams as a third female and now we've got some tension and a good little storyline cooking complete with magic apples, flying monkeys and a love triangle that proves hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned.
The basic plot and continuity between the MGM film and Oz: TGAP will be extremely satisfying to even the most ardent admirers. The references are many and subtle so fans need to watch and listen closely, but it's a real treat to meet the guy who will eventually engineer the Tin Man, learn the original purpose of Scarecrow, and find out what turned the Lion cowardly. We learn why Glenda travels by bubble, and we meet Finley, the first monkey to initiate the bellhop look favored by airborn baboons. The focus of the movie is seeing how Oz ended up behind the curtain, but he juiciest tidbit, in my humble opinion, is a hint toward the identity of Dorothy's parents. Delish!
Ok, so there are a few things that might bust your buttons. Let's first address CG animation. Some movie-goers love it, and some are vehemently opposed. I'm not a huge fan of unnecessary CG, however I would say that if computer graphic imaging was ever going to find a home, there's no place like Oz. That being said, Disney was heavy handed and Pixar'd all over the movie. I don't want to speak out of turn, but if I was Mila Kunis, I'd be pissed. Plus, once you see a hint of Pixar, you know what's coming next... sequels prequels and requels, games, action figures, soundtracks and of course, the obligatory app. (No word on whether Pink Floyd will play along)
Good news for kids: There is one Munchkin song and dance number. Good news for adults: There is ONLY one Munchkin song and dance number.
The movie ends in a similar fashion to the first flick, with door prizes for major players and a lesson on the true charactoristics that make one great and powerful. Directed by Sam Raimi and scored beautifully by Danny Elfman, I feel pretty good about sending you off to see the wizard. Why? Because, because, because, because, because....
If I only had a brain, I'd bounce over the rainbow to see if I can land a part-time weather gig at WOZZ in the County, and the land of Oz. I'd pawn those tacky slippers and get a nice split-level on Yellowbrick Rd, blow the rest on a spa-day in eCity, then maybe meet a nice scarecrow and just hit the hay.
Why, oh why, can't I?