Oz: The Great and Powerful Blu-ray/DVD/Digital l Blu-ray/Digital l Blu-ray 3D/Digital l DVD/Digital DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi WRITERS: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire STARRING: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bill Cobbs, Tony Cox, Bruce Campbell
Walt Disney Home Entertainment RELEASE DATE: June 11, 2013
When we first heard back in 2010 that a new movie based on the fantastical tale The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum titled Oz the Great and Powerful was on the way with American Beauty and Skyfall director Sam Mendes and Robert Downey Jr. possibly attached, there was certainly intrigue, but there was also a whole lot of question as to the sanity of Disney. 1939’s The Wizard of Oz is a timeless classic, beloved by millions, and despite it being a remake in its own right (see older versions here) the thought of someone even trying to do anything set in the land of Oz seemed absurd. But as I said over three years ago, Baum’s world and characters are eternally ripe for reinterpretation.
Eventually The Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam Raimibecame attached, then stepped away from the planned World of Warcraft movie to take on Oz. Some complications arose, as is always expected. Downey Jr. was replaced by Johnny Depp for the lead, then James Franco was eventually cast to replace Depp. Obviously things settled down eventually and the movie got made, but does it recapture the same magic that the ’39 classic had, or does it swing and miss?
Oz the Great and Powerful opens with a fitting nod to the ’39 movie, an intro that’s entirely in black and white. It begins with Oscar Diggs (Franco), a small-time traveling circus magician who gets in a bit of hot water when crowds aren’t happy with his performance and the resident strongman finds out Oscar flirted with his wife. At the same time, a familiar storm is arriving, and the winds are vicious. In an attempt to get away from the strongman, Oscar jumps into a hot air balloon, which proves to be a mistake…at first anyway. The balloon is swallowed by a violent twister, taking Oscar on a dangerous journey. But when the storm clears, he finds himself soaring over the stunningly beautiful and colorful lands of Oz.
After a crash landing he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) who tells him of the prophecy in Oz that a wizard would arrive and stop the Wicked Witch who killed the last King of Oz before becoming the new king. Oscar is no wizard, but no one else knows that and the promise of acquiring the fame and wealth he so desperately desires is too much to refuse, so he decides to milk it for all it’s worth. Plus, he and Theodora hit it off immediately, and who could say no to Mila Kunis, amiright?
This begins an adventure toward his crown, but along the way he encounters multiple detours, where he meets new friends that help him in his journey and perhaps even discovers new traits within himself.
For fans of 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, there’s many things to enjoy about this movie. From a subtle mention of the name “Gale” early on and a herd of horses of a different color, to more blatant nods like some strategic scarecrows and a lion with bravery issues. Then there’s the big connections, such as the Yellow Brick Road or Kunis’s turn as a familiarly green-skinned witch.
If you’re NOT a fan of The Wizard of Oz but ARE a fan of Raimi’s earlier flick, Army of Darkness, the nods are much harder to come by. But I can assure you—apart from the Bruce Campbell cameo, which is obvious—they do exist, especially toward the end, and that’s pretty darn cool.
Nods aside, don’t enter Oz the Great and Powerful expecting another classic like The Wizard of Oz. The two movies share similarities, but are nowhere near each other on the list. Part of the reason for this is the insane amount of CGI. Most people prefer the practical effects of old, but we live in a different time now, and this flick is swimming in digital effects. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not always a bad thing—Oz looks gorgeous in glorious HD (if folks in the ’30s saw a movie turn from black and white into THIS, some pants would have required changing), but there was still far more CGI than I was comfortable with. That said, it is a massive 3D spectacle movie, and we all know what to expect from such movies.
The story is okay, but nothing that will blow your mind. It’s basic, but does its job in keeping your attention for most of the movie. It also does a decent enough job acting as a bridge to the ’39 movie, if that’s what you were hoping for. But with a planned sequel on the way, who knows where exactly Disney is planning to go considering Warner Brothers’ owns the rights to the old movie. Disney could re-adapt Baum’s Dorothy story, but they’ve already said she won’t be used in the sequel, so expect another story centering on Oz himself or something else entirely. There were 14 Oz books by Baum published between 1900 and 1920, so there’s much more existing content in that world than most people realize.
The only real problems I had with Oz the Great and Powerful was the writing and the performances. I like all of the actors on this cast, honestly, but the performances in general felt stale, and that could very well be because the script was not very good. There was a glaringly obvious lack of life to the movie’s characters, and that was difficult to get past. Again, the story was okay, but could have likely been much better with improved dialogue. This goes a step further with Kunis, who I adore, but who also had the unfortunate position of playing the earlier version of an iconic film villain. Every time the feared Wicked Witch of the West spoke, all I could think was “shut up, Meg” and that’s no good when trying to establish an evil character. She was perfectly fine as Theodora, but as soon as she goes green it doesn’t quite work anymore. Having a two-time Oscar winner on your cast as “Disgruntled Kansas Man” would usually bode well for a movie as a whole, but, for me, it just didn’t click.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a visual feast, and perhaps a fun adventure flick to watch with your kids. But it is missing some heart and some charm due to a mediocre storyline and stale dialogue, and that, unless you’re a major Wizard of Oz fan who simply loves any visit to the merry ol’ land of Oz, does cause problems when trying to watch it.
NOTE: These special features are from the Blu-ray/DVD/Digital. I’m not sure how many more or less are included on other options.
The Magic of Oz the Great and Powerful — Second Screen Experience: Synch your iPad with your Blu-ray player to watch the movie with lots of accompanying goodies.
Walt Disney and the Road to Oz: A really wonderful bonus feature that goes way back in time and talks about Walt Disney himself’s long-lasting desire to make an Oz movie, which was going to be titled The Rainbow Road to Oz. He first became interested in making it in the 30s, but Samuel Goldwyn acquired the rights for MGM first (ironically inspired by Disney’s 1932 Three Little Pigs short; say, that second pig’s outfit sure looks familiar…perhaps something a certain aquatic bird created in 1934 might wear?), which turned into the 1939 classic, but that’s not where Walt’s desire to make the movie ended.
My Journey in Oz by James Franco: A 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with James Franco talking to various cast and crew from the movie, including director Sam Raimi and stars Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Zach Braff.
China Girl and the Suspicion of Disbelief: A look at the little China Girl (voiced by Joey King) who joins Oz on his journey, and the making of the character. Both China Girl and Finley (a monkey voiced by Braff) were CGI in the movie, but these bonus features show a lot of the actual puppets that were used in filming so the actors had something physical to work with, and that did was make me wish digital effects weren’t so heavily relied on.
Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz: A look at the work of production designer Robert Stromberg, the aforementioned two-time Oscar winner who had a tiny role as an extra in the movie. Stromberg’s work is one of the high points of the movie for me. The movie has too much CGI for my liking, as I said earlier, but there was also some really great actual sets built for this movie, and you can to check some of them out here. This is an example of digital effects used well. Build the central focus with your hands, then accentuate it with a computer if necessary.
Mila’s Metamorphosis: Pretty much speaks for itself. A look into turning actress Mila Kunis into the Wicked Witch.
Mr. Elfman’s Musical Concoctions: Again, pretty self-explanatory. A look at the creation of the movie’s musical score by Danny Elfman.
Bloopers: A collection of bloopers, including one with Bruce Campbell! Though I was hoping for an Evil Dead/Army of Darkness blooper with him and that sadly never came.