“I Don’t Want to Be a Good Man, I Want to Be a Great One.” – Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs
Since its release in 1939, the illustrious fantasy-musical; The Wizard of Oz, an adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s beloved children’s novel; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has been engraining itself into the memories of adults and youngsters alike through its catchy melodies, imaginative world-building and groundbreaking practical effects. In 2013, Walt Disney Pictures sought to return to the Land of Oz with Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the novel and, in a way, its silver screen counterpart (despite ownership of the harmonious classic belonging to Warner Bros. Pictures), with celebrated director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) attached to helm the project, ascertaining its potential as an enchanted prequel. Shortly after its release, however, most seem to forget about the film, which is unfortunate given that Oz the Great and Powerful is a largely enjoyable fantasy adventure that pays homage to the iconography and timeless sense of wonder present in the original musical while avoiding an absence of its own, unique ideas.
Plot Summary: After Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs, a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from his dusty abode in Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he believes he’s hit the jackpot as he’s told to assume his rightful place as monarch of Emerald City. But, when Oscar meets the sisters of Theodora and Evanora, who aren’t entirely convinced that he is the great wizard their prophecy has spoken of, Oscar is summoned on a quest to slay the Wicked Witch that threatens Oz and prove his worth…
Whilst Oz the Great and Powerful may seem like just another cinematic interpretation of the whimsical Land of Oz, Walt Disney Pictures actually had to be very cautious with what aspects of the story they utilised, on account of Warner Bros. Pictures owning the rights to specific elements of The Wizard of Oz, as previously mentioned, including the ruby slippers Dorothy Gale dons throughout the runtime. These restrictions even extended to the particular shade of green used for the Wicked Witch’s skin, for which Disney employed what its legal department considered a sufficiently different shade dubbed; “Theostein,” a portmanteau of Theodora and Frankenstein, yet Disney could not use the signature chin mole from Margaret Hamilton’s renowned portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West.
In terms of the actual narrative, Oz the Great and Powerful tells the origin of the titular Wizard of Oz, whom we all know from previous iterations to be a fraud. Before he was viewed as a mythical wizard, Oscar Diggs was merely a talented illusionist and an egotistical, womanising con man performing at a travelling circus in Kansas. ‘Oz’ (as his friends call him) underpays his assistant and recruits many beautiful women to appear in his performances, manipulating them with lies and empty romantic gestures. However, while Oscar receives an abundance of characterisation during the story and is evidently a gifted magician, James Franco’s performance is primarily to blame for the character’s shortcomings, as Oscar suffers from an underbaked character arc and a lack of empathy in certain scenes, suggesting that Franco lacks the charisma necessary to win over the audience amid Oscar’s immense arrogance. Dissimilarly, the supporting cast of Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff and Joey King are all sufficient in their varied roles, human and otherwise.
Recreating imagery like the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City in addition to introducing a handful of never-before-seen locations, such as a miniature village compromised of larger-than-life crockery and ceramic residents, known as China Town. Oz the Great and Powerful impressively brings the Land of Oz to life via a combination of expansive sets and green screens. Similar to the original musical, Oz the Great and Powerful also opens in a colourless, tight aspect ratio for the Kansas sequences before widening out and blossoming into colour once Oscar enters the Land of Oz, making for an unforgettable visual juncture. Moreover, the cinematography by Peter Deming is frequently effective in implementing Sam Rami’s familiar style of camerawork, as the camera is repeatedly rocketing towards characters’ faces, particularly when they’re reacting to the surprising number of jump-scares.
Although the original score for Oz the Great and Powerful by Danny Elfman isn’t one of the composer’s finest, nor is it exceedingly memorable, tracks like Main Titles, A Strange World and The Bubble Voyage are all remarkably uplifting, whereas the orchestral tracks; Bad Witch and Witch Fight, are much more ominous in tone, allowing Elfman to exhibit his grand, gothically melodic roots.
On a separate note, all of the CG effects throughout Oz the Great and Powerful hold up well for their age, aside from a few wide shots where the environment surrounding the characters appears excessively distant and overly bright. And whenever physical sets are employed instead of green screens, they are magnificently multicoloured and extensive.
In summary, while Oz the Great and Powerful suffers from some tonal inconsistency and an underdeveloped character arc for its protagonist, the film retains enough spectacle, wit and creativity to be entertaining in its own right as a bewitched prequel. Faithfully reproducing iconic imagery like flying primates, a golden-bricked road and a cackling, broom-riding Wicked Witch, I feel nearly every fanatic of The Wizard of Oz (and/or its source material) will find amusement in this non-musical, fantasy blockbuster. Rating: low 7/10.