By Carl Kozlowski
There are some films that are just too classic to be messed with by creating unnecessary sequels and prequels. The Wizard of Oz is right at the top of that list.
The 1939 children’s classic has stood the test of time, not only with kids but also filmgoers of all ages, mainly because of its mix of pitch-perfect performances, witty dialogue and unforgettable musical numbers. This was pure movie magic for all those reasons, plus every inch of the production—indoor, outdoor, small location and large—looked real onscreen.
One might think that, with nearly 75 years worth of special-effects advancements occurring since the original was shot a new film set in the world of Oz would be even more mind-blowing.
But, unfortunately, the new prequel Oz the Great and Powerful, establishing how the famed Wizard of Oz took control of the kingdom that Dorothy and her friends traveled through, is so dependent on CGI tricks and green-screened backgrounds that it feels fake from the moment it switches over from the black-and-white scenes set in the real world to the colorful fantasy world.
The characters actually look as though they are walking through green-screen rather than any semblance of a real place, so it becomes nearly impossible to care about what’s happening to them and the dangers they’re supposedly experiencing.
Despite an energetically witty central performance from James Franco as Oscar, a circus charlatan who tries to woo and abandon a new girl in every Dust Bowl town he travels through during the Great Depression, Oz loses its way once Oscar is blown by a vicious tornado into the alternate-reality world of wonder. That’s a shame, because the film’s opening segment features terrific interplay between Franco and Zach Braff as his assistant, an invaluably entertaining relationship that’s almost entirely lost once in Oz.
Once in his new world, Oscar is immediately greeted by the gorgeous Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells him that Oz’s long-suffering people have been awaiting the arrival of a wizard who can free them from the clutches of the wicked witch who controls them. Seeing that Theodora also has a cute sister named Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and that both ladies appear to be jockeying for the title of being his queen, Oscar at first believes he has died and gone to heaven. Add in an unlimited treasure of gold, and Oscar immediately lays claim to the title and agrees with whatever anyone tells him he must do. That is until he realizes that there is a wicked witch he must kill first in order to gain this combination of women and wealth. He knows that his elaborate parlor tricks are no match for pure evil, and so he teams up with various factions of the kingdom—including the beloved Munchkins from the 1939 film—to fight her.
Sounds fun, right? Well, it should have been, but once Oscar is sent off to kill the witch, the script collapses. Oscar and his companions ramble in and out of scene after scene, eventually making the movie feel like it was made up on the fly by second-graders rather than professional writers Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire. Director Sam Raimi, famed for his work on the last decade’s Spider-Man trilogy, paints a pretty picture here, but just can’t bring it to life.
By the end, most viewers will likely find themselves asking “Are we there yet?” long before the characters reach their happy ending.