I went through several stages in anticipation of Disney’s “Oz The Great and Powerful.”
First, I felt resentful. If Hollywood was going to produce a big-budget epic on the subject of Oz, how could they overlook the material from Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series? No, I committed to myself. I was not going to shell out my money to support that unforgiveable betrayal.
Then, through a combination of my partner’s enthusiasm and the ubiquitous movie trailers, my curiosity was piqued. They came up with a compelling cast. I thought: could a movie really be bad with James Franco, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz? It looked like fun. And really, maybe the film world is big enough for more than one new story about the legend of Oz.
But next, I read the New York Times review. Wow. I haven’t read such a lambasting in quite awhile. I was back to the stage of writing off this new rendition of The Wizard of Oz as a highly likely disappointment. Here’s a little excerpt from film critic Manohla Dargis:
Can the major studios still make magic? From the looks of “Oz the Great and Powerful,” a dispiriting, infuriating jumble of big money, small ideas and ugly visuals, the answer seems to be no.
Ultimately, I decided to judge for myself. I went to see the movie with my honey-bunny and a friend just this afternoon.
The one sentence synopsis: “Oz The Great and Powerful” is about a charlatan magician Oz (James Franco) who learns how to change his shifty ways when he’s transported to a fantasy world, and he’s the one person who can serve up justice for a people terrorized by a wicked witch.
So what can I say? The kids in the audience liked it (and there were plenty of them). But as a cross-over movie for adults, “Oz The Great and Powerful” fell flat for me. There wasn’t much to hold my interest in the story. Meanwhile, the one-dimensional characters and cutesy devices (a rescued porcelain doll) worked against that interest, in an eye-rolling and cringing way.
It’s unfortunate because I think kids’ films can work for adults, through delightful imagination (the Harry Potter series) and/or an interesting subtext (The Golden Compass). “Oz The Great and Powerful” has a little bit of the former, but mostly it felt to me like an unsuccessful mash-up of vintage and modern fantasy sensibilities. On the latter score, you could find a more intriguing subtext in a pre-school picture book. Good is good. Evil is evil. And according to Sam Raini’s Oz, only men have the psychological complexity to waffle a bit in between the two.