by Katie Gile
It’s been 74 years since audiences first ventured over the rainbow to Oz. And if any studio had the guts (and the bucks) to bring us back, it’s Disney.
“Oz, the Great and Powerful” is set before Dorothy ever skipped down the yellow brick road, and tells the story of a man named Oscar Diggs.
Diggs, who performs as the magician “Oz, the Great and Powerful” in a traveling Kansas carnival, is a hustler and something of a sleaze. His apathy to anyone who can’t do something for him is only outweighed by his wandering eyes and double-dealing tongue. And just as a familiar funnel cloud builds in the distance, Oz’s self-serving attributes remove him from his comfy hustle and into a hot-air balloon destined for points beyond.
The twister whips him out of his sepia Kansas world and into the stunningly beautiful Land of Oz. He’s greeted by the beautiful, mysterious Theodora, who greets the disheveled Diggs as the subject of a prophecy and escorts him to the Emerald City where her sister Evanora resides. It doesn’t take long for Oz to show his skirt, however, and the consequences lead him on a journey that might just make him a better man.
James Franco stars as the titular Oz and does so quite fittingly. Playing a man who we know we shouldn’t believe in, Franco sells the part, and it’s not clear whether it’s his performance or simply intelligent casting. Even in the many moments when we laugh at Franco’s disingenuous delivery, it suits Oz and becomes very hard to separate the two. To his credit, when Oz is faced with the chance to be the great man he always wanted, Franco’s ability to internalize a conflict and let the audience bear witness was captivating.
Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams star as Theodora, Evanora and Glinda, respectively. As the three witches, each plays a different role in Oz’s development into a decent man. Kunis is charmingly naive, her heart on her sleeve as Oz sweet-talks her. Weisz is a snow-covered volcano, with much of her on-screen work laced with subtext. Williams is ever the good witch, her sweet girl-next-door vibe endearing us to her immediately.
Screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire craft an engaging tale entertaining for adults and suitable for children. Its moments of triumph and bravery as well as those of disappointment and heartbreak were equally rich. And the characters within, based on Frank L. Baum’s books, were fleshed out and fully dimensional. By inserting moments of character choices where lesser writers would provide lengthy exposition, they give us our due as viewers and keep our constant attention.
Director Sam Raimi’s handling of “Oz” was just fun. His ability to portray both action-driven scenes on a massive scale and intimate, character-driven scenes with equal measures of importance and interest made for a spectacle with plenty of substance.
And spectacle is one definite thing this film can say for itself. From the Gary Jones’ costume design, Nancy Heigh’s set decoration to Peter Deming’s cinematography, the practical design in “Oz, the Great and Powerful” was beautiful. The prosthetics on the Wicked Witch were a little shaky, but as character unlike the witch we thought we knew, it’s an interesting change. And like the live-action 2010 3-D romp “Alice in Wonderland,” Disney is again flexing its considerable animation muscles. If there could be one thing alone that grips the audience from opening titles to technicolor credits, it’s the outstandingly beautiful artistry. In 3-D, the gorgeous details of the scenery and characters come to life as they create a stunning environment that we never want to leave.
Going in, we expect a beautiful film with all the benefits of modern technology and a fun few hours in the theater. In that respect, we get more than what we expected. Though “Oz” isn’t a perfect movie, it’s extremely clever and a true spectacle as only Disney can deliver.
OZ: THE GREAT & POWERFUL movie review
by Katie Gile