Oscar: I don’t want to be a good man… I want to be a great one.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Many movies and TV shows in recent years have attempted to give new origin stories to iconic characters and worlds. In 2013, Disney gave us an origin story of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz from the director of the Spider-Man trilogy, Sam Rami. In similar vein of those movies, this movie is well intended and visually interesting but is rather awkward.
The story involves circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) in Kansas who is hurled from a hot air into the magical world of Oz. Though desiring to take fame and fortune, he encounters a trio of witches named Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams) who believe him to be a powerful wizard that the people of Oz need. Thus Oscar is drawn into taking on Oz’s problems. Along the way he encounters some friends including a flying monkey named Finley (Zach Braff) and a living china doll known as China Girl (Joey King).
The story is basically one of Oscar attempting to find redemption. Oscar originally isn’t too happy about being this powerful wizard for Oz but realizes that though he may not be the person they need he can at least be a good man. It does a good job of trying to stay true to the Wizard of Oz mythos of the original movie without relying too much on it but tying in various parts of the original source material that make it feel like a prequel. Although the movie has the whole liar revealed trope with Oscar pretending to be a powerful wizard when he’s nothing more than a lowly stage magician it very much works in context of the wizard of the original movie in merely being a man behind the curtain with smoke and mirrors.
The visual style of this movie is interesting. In similar vein of the original Wizard of Oz movie, it starts out black and white before going to full on color, which is good. But it doesn’t stop there. The opening in addition to being black and white is also not in widescreen to showcase the smallness of the world Oscar is in. And when the movie does go into the world of Oz it goes to widescreen to show the vast, gigantic, and wondrous world. Some of the CGI is overdone in its color however and it looks much more like a cartoon. There’s not much when it comes to practical effects and in trying to show off the world and less on the substance of the characters that inhabit it.
James Franco as Oscar felt miscast. It’s not that Franco is incapable of good work but his performance feels rather awkward and uneasy in interacting in the world around him. Sometimes his performance can result in him being goofy and at times overacting. During the climax, he uses a smoke machine and image projector to present a giant image of himself as his true and all-powerful form but his voice doesn’t really give that sense of awe. Even when he’s trying to pretend to be the wizard he comes off as goofy more than anything.
Mila Kunis, similar to Franco, is capable of doing good work but is largely miscast here as well. Not only does the make up look ridiculous but also her voice as the Wicked Witch is in no way dramatic or intimidating and it gets really hard to watch at times. This is supposed to be a really maniacal and frightening villain but she just comes off as horrible in trying to convey that nature.
Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch was rather plain in her performance and although the movie tried to convey her as the main source of making Oscar into a better man but her performance just feels like she’s going through the motions as opposed to being a real catalyst.
The greatest of the three witches is easily Rachel Weisz as Evanora the Wicked Witch of the East. Her performance pretty much steals the show in every scene she’s in.
Zach Braff was good as Finley the flying monkey but by far the greatest aspect of this movie is the China doll. The scene where Oscar meets her and puts her back together is moving and magical. Everything involving the doll is amazing here from the animation, the voice acting, and the expressions. The aspects of the movie involving this doll evoke the most emotion all throughout the movie.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a movie with good intentions and creative visuals. It has good imagery but its characters and execution in the writing could have used some tweaks. The scenes that work are great but what doesn’t really can get uncomfortable. The sum of the parts is a mixed bag but as a whole this is something that needs to be put back together with similar care as the China Doll.