Friday, March 8, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Movie Review

Indeed he is powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen...

We haven't had a great start to 2013, but the one exception so far has been with movies related to fantasy elements.  Much like how last week Jack and the Giant Slayer was an example of the reimaging of a classic story that worked (even though I wasn't in love with it), Oz the Great and Powerful is an example of a 'prequel' that expands on a classic story without stepping on the toes of the original.

Oscar (James Franco), who has maybe the longest full name in movie history, so he just goes by "Oz", is a magician in a travelling circus.  He's also a selfish con-man and womanizer that treats his friends poorly.  While Oz has his charms, he isn't exactly the most likable guy in the world.  Despite this, you do get some entertainment value from watching Oz try to bullshit his way through a situation or into a woman's undergarments.  The latter gets him into to trouble and he's forced to flee the circus in a hot air balloon, but the bad luck piles on as he's immediately caught in a tornado and whisked away to the land of Oz.

Upon arriving, he's greeted by the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells Oz the prophecy of a wizard that will save them from a wicked witch.  Theodora believes Oz is that wizard, but her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) isn't convinced.  Even Oz himself doesn't believe he has what it takes, but goes along with it due to the huge fortune he stands to gain, as well as the chance to hook up with either Theordora or Evanora.  I can't say I blame him on that second part at all.  Oz heads out on a quest to stop the Wicked Witch, joined by Finley, a flying monkey that pledges himself to Oz (and voiced by Zach Braff), and a small china doll (voiced by Joey King).

It's best to stop there are there a few twists and plot developments that caught me by surprise, but fans more intimate with The Wizard of Oz may figure these things out before I did.

What made Oz the Great and Powerful fun to watch was that there were a lot of nice little touches and callbacks to the original The Wizard of Oz without being totally obvious or winking at the audience when doing it.  It does a really good job of being respectful to the original Oz while managing to feel like an original story on it's own.  For younger audiences I think this will serve to get them more interested in the other stories of Oz and watch those as well.

Oz... is an absolutely gorgeous film.  The visuals play out like the trailer, starting in black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio. This part of the film had a much older, classic look to it.  When we arrive in Oz the color palate opens up and the screen expands to its full size.  The world they created was very vibrant and colorful, with tons of details in every scene and there was always something interesting to look at on screen.  I often found myself distracted by something in the background, and had that take my attention to the point where I almost lost track of what was going on.  The effects were top notch throughout the film, and the look and animation of China Girl was particularly impressive to me.   However, there were a few times it looked a little too CG-ish.  This may have been due to the 3D or the fact that I saw it on IMAX and didn't sit close enough to the middle, so sometimes things were blurry or looked off.  I did think this had really good use of 3D, and it's a time where I don't think seeing it in 3D would be a total waste.  There's a great waterfall sequence where you really feel how the 3D immersed you into the action, and you can also see how this will likely end up a ride at Disneyland.  Unless you can get there early for IMAX and get a seat in the middle, I'd recommend just standard 3D though.

Another thing that looked a little odd to me was the makeup for the Wicked Witch.  It was too clean or new looking, which I guess makes sense since this is her origin and she's younger, but I thought maybe a little more dirt or grime would have helped.

The cast all seemed to be having a blast.  I wasn't sure if James Franco was the right choice for the lead role, but my doubts quickly dissolved.  He really owned the role and was able to use his comedic chops to ham it up when needed.  I also think Rachel Weisz was really great as Evanora.  She's always been one of those actresses that's hard to take your eyes off of, but here I think she was having a lot of fun and chewing up a little bit of scenery.  Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams were also very good, but I can't say too much about them without revealing too much about their characters.

I was more impressed with the voice acting, Zach Braff in particular.  While I've always liked Braff (I'm a HUGE Scrubs fan), I've never thought anything of his voice until now.  He really does have a perfect voice for animated characters, and I thought his work for Finely was spot on and very funny.  I was also impressed by Joey King's voice work as China Girl.  There's a lot of emotion in her voice, and I would have guessed that the work was done by an older, more experienced actress.

One thing that caught be by surprise was that I genuinely didn't know this was directed by Sam Raimi until the opening credits.  That automatically made perk up a bit and take notice of certain things.  You could definitely feel Raimi's influence with some of the subtle humor and occasional scares, but otherwise it didn't feel like a Sam Raimi film.  In a lot of ways this may remind you of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, especially since Danny Elfman did the soundtrack, but Raimi out-Burtoned Tim Burton.  And yes, as with all Raimi films, there is a Bruce Campbell appearance.

The script by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire has a little something for everyone.  There's humor that only adults will pick up on, and things that are a little more for the kids.  I heard lots of chuckles throughout the film, so it definitely has a broad appeal.  While it is PG, there are a few good jump scares that caught me by surprise, so you might need to be careful with the really young kids, but I don't think it's anything that's going to give them nightmares.

Oz the Great and Powerful is a fun film that the whole family can enjoy together.  The visuals are outstanding, and there's plenty of humor and good performances across the board.  Enough respect is given to the source material, while creating a world that still feels fresh.  Older fans of Oz should enjoy this as well as introduce a new generation to it.  I highly recommend checking it out.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Great review! I agree the film felt very respectful to the classic, I really loved all the little references and they made the film even more fun to watch.

    1. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, but I think I went in with pretty low expectations. Those little references won me over. Thanks for the comment.