Niagara Gazette — There are a number of reasons why “The Wizard Of Oz” is a revered movie classic. Its message is timeless. The songs are melodic and meaningful, the acting is wonderful, and the Technicolor is superb. Its story about Dorothy Gale, a young girl determined to find her way to a mysterious place that holds the promise of a return to her beloved Kansas, speaks to everyone. Yes, you can go home again. The notion that you can’t is absurd.
If I had to describe “The Wizard Of Oz” in a word, that word would be: Magical.
Now we have “Oz the Great and Powerful,” which is a prequel to the original film. It purports to tell the story of how the Wizard ended up in Oz. There’s also the novel and Broadway musical “Wicked,’ which invents how the witches of Oz came to be, so why not an adventure about the Wizard himself? Why not indeed? Unless, of course, you’re going to screw it up.
The Walt Disney Company doesn’t so much make movies as it makes potential theme park rides. I have no problem with this, but don’t try to sell the public a cinematic bill of goods. “Oz The Great And Powerful” is a dispiriting and unimaginative pastiche of what plays like outtakes from “The Wizard Of Oz.” It’s like watching the footage left on the cutting-room floor.
The story is simple, but not enchanting. Oscar Diggs is a circus huckster in Kansas in 1905. His nickname is Oz. He’s a youthful con-artist with the gift of gab. He likes to flirt with the ladies, but he also likes breaking their hearts. One girl, Annie, is especially heartbroken. Oz likes to play the field. Along comes a tornado, but not a tornado as good as the original storm in Dorothy’s world. This is surprising because the new movie cost $215-million to make, with an added $100-million for marketing and promotion. One would think that with this kind of budget, we’d get a better tornado.
The tornado sends Oz to another world, one filled with a handful of Munchkins, lots of baboons, a yellow brick road that needs paving, and a trio of witches. These crones are Theodora (the future Wicked Witch of the West), Evanora (the one flattened by Dorothy’s house when she arrives in Oz), and Glinda, the fabled good witch. There’s also a bizarre little talking doll called China Girl that Mr. Oz will befriend. The movie opens in black and white and blandly seeps into color. Danny Elfman’s music is mirthless and sounds like everything he’s ever composed.
Because we already know that Oscar will not get back to Kansas, there’s not much suspense in that regard. His goal is to figure out where he is and how he can make some money off of it. It’s here that the film goes off-the-rails. With no Dorothy, no ruby slippers, no Scarecrow, no Tin Man, and no Cowardly Lion, misguided director Sam Raimi and his failed screenwriters, Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, have to take the story somewhere. What they’ve come up with is ridiculous.
The intrepid Dorothy was a lass of great gumption. In Raimi’s world, the key females, the witches, will be conned by Oscar and argue about him like unrequited lovers. In essence, their personal happiness will depend on the coy wink and the shallow words of a smooth-taking guy. These ladies are empty shadows without a sexist male certifying their self-worth. They wait and wait and wait for Oz’s approval.
The mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum, the author of the 14 Oz books, was one of the leaders of the woman’s suffrage movement in the United States. Matilda Joslyn Gage’s feminist writings had a huge influence on Baum’s fictional world. It’s why Dorothy was so strong and independent.
“Oz The Great And Powerful” doesn’t capture the spirit of Baum’s novels. It never makes you feel as if you’re seeing something remarkable, energetic, or fresh. Its use of 3D is acceptable, but not required viewing. James Franco is miscast as Oscar. The future Wizard of Oz needs to be a skilled manipulator not a sappy goofball. Franco’s a conjurer without credentials. The witches are Rachel Weisz (Evanora), Mila Kunis (Theodora), and Michelle Williams (Glinda), who also plays Annie in Kansas. The movie does not serve them well. Their characters mostly sit around and complain.
“The Wizard Of Oz” runs a swift 101-minutes and it’s packed with wonder on its journey to the man behind the curtain. “Oz The Great And Powerful” is a bloated 129-minutes long and it meanders into tedium because we already know that the man behind the curtain was just a character in a dream. And it’s Dorothy’s dream, not his.Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at email@example.com.