If there has ever been a great-looking OK movie, this is it. Oz the Great and Powerful is enchanting for about 25 minutes. I wish the rest of the movie had been more like its beginning, but it descends into an action-oriented formula package to appease the world audience. As a result, it loses the feel-good aspects, the whimsy, the harmony that one felt by the original 1939 eternal classic. What hurts, for an old-fashioned viewer like I am, is that the skill and talent to make a feel-good, corny, beautiful and enchanting fantasy was available at hand. Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”) is a capable and imaginative director, he even does visual svengali and silhouette tricks marvelously for the black & white Kansas scenes. James Franco as Oscar Diggs a.k.a. Oz and Michelle Williams as the Good Witch Glenda are cherubic and gosh-darn sweet. But there is too much anger and aggression underneath the surface, too many violent monkeys inducing heroes into obligatory chases.
Too much grating rage by Rachel Weisz (“The Shape of Things”) and Mila Kunis (“Max Payne”) as well, if you ask me. Here are two actresses who seem to know nothing but the opposite of light touch. They play witches who rule contemptuously over the Emerald City (Can I define what they are contemptuous of, and why?? No, I cannot). In addition to the coarse sibling rivalry angle, these actresses, who have been good in other parts, are too modern and emotionally detached. The kind of misanthropy projected by them and the general ominous tone is something I wanted less of, and I wanted more golden oldie musical numbers to be honest.
As the Kansas-born magician who must fake wizardly magic in the Land of Oz (he’s doing it for the riches), Franco utilizes his self-deprecating demeanor, rascally cracked laughter and pretty boy eyelash batting. Williams is very good as the wholesome good witch who sees right through his charlatan tendencies and flakiness. Zach Braff plays a couple characters (everybody but Franco, Weisz and Kunis seems to play multiple characters in this movie), one of Braff’s roles is of a wise talking monkey. Joey King is a 13-year old handicap girl from Kansas and a talking China Doll made of porcelain. Both Braff and King are hunky-dory, too, but they are given a few too many whiny lines that belong more on the Nickelodeon channel than they do in a classic franchise as this one.
Maybe it’s Raimi who loses his light touch, as apparent in the last third. Small moments are ballooned into superfluously large ones, the noise level gets turned up to 11, themes so easily intrinsic get siphoned into long dialogue exchanges. Visually, Raimi does accomplish twice-over whatever Tim Burton has accomplished over a whole career (Burton’s “Big Fish” is an exceptional gem). And “Oz” never descends into the kind of misanthropy that plagued Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” in which two hours of staring at dog-poo might have been more appealing to me.
For all the rainbow colors, yellow brick roads, gleaming sights at Emerald City that wowed me, it declines into a picture about the desire of blowing up the Land of Oz because the evil witch can’t have her way. Isn’t this glib and jaded screenwriting? I felt heartache over the wonder of what happened behind the scenes. I picture greedy execs at Walt Disney labeling “Oz” as a risk project, refusing a green light not unless they were to formula plug it with Witch-and-Armageddon trappings as their mandate. Perhaps, after all, Raimi did the best he could if you took into consideration all the studio pressure he felt.
Bottom line: I was giggly happy during the first 25 minutes, and only sporadically here and there after that.
130 Minutes. Rated PG. (Note: I don’t know how this is PG and not PG-13 considering the rattling noise that summons revenge and annihilation themes.)
ACTION & ADVENTURE / FANTASY FILMS / WEEKEND FAMILY & DINNER MOVIE
Film Cousins: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939); “The Wiz” (1978); “Return to Oz” (1985); “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” (2005).