In the Merry Old[er] Land of Oz – Oz the Great and Powerful, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful 2013With how beautifully Disney rendered the Land of Oz, it is a shame that they don’t have the rights to do a remake of the 1939 The Wizard of Oz film.  I would love to see the actors from this film reprise their roles and to see a new Dorothy (hopefully one younger than a teenager) embark on an adventure in the same land of special effects as this story.

When I first saw the previews for Oz the Great and Powerful, I was sceptical.  When I was little, The Wizard of Oz (along with The Little Mermaid) were films that I loved in theory but was scared to actually watch more than once.  (Furthermore, The Wizard of Oz is one of those stories that one can better appreciate with more life experience.)  As a result, I never had much affection for the story.  With all of the blockbuster fairy-tale epics being released lately, I was not particularly set on seeing Oz.

The reason that I was actually sceptical was that the story would be a prequel.  Would there be enough story for one?  Dorothy’s adventure was self-contained, and because I never read any more of the original Frank L. Baum books, there was not much to build another film on.  A story about the Wizard?  A Wizard who is exposed as a fraud and a buffoon in the original film?

Oz the Great and Powerful only pretends to be a children’s movie.  It isn’t.  The main themes about belief, magic, and good-heartedness are countered with shades of grey, illusion, technology, and romance that would escape a child entirely, or confuse the heck out of them.  Dorothy was a protagonist that anyone could support (she just wanted to get home), but the Wizard is a more nuanced character.  As an adult, he arrives in Oz with more baggage (both literal and figurative) than the girl Dorothy.  The audience spends the first few minutes in the black-and-white Kansas circus seeing what an eejit he is.  Even if Dorothy was a brat, she was still a child.  An adult should know better – and yet James Franco’s interpretation of the Wizard is relatable.  We all know adults who have questionable morals and yet seem to be good people at heart.

The three witches are well-interpreted by their actresses, even if the characters themselves are a little one-dimensional.  I don’t think they had enough material to work with and there was only so much time in the story to develop them.  The Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda did such excellent portrayals that they deserve to be in a remake of the original film so that we could see more of them.  The Wicked Witch of the West was underused in this film.

The main quibble I had with this film was the theme of belief vs. illusion.  The Wizard is a carny magician who dreams of being a great inventor like Thomas Edison (this being set in 1905).  As a magician, he is a master of illusion.  In Oz, a land with real magic, he is initially out of his element, but his ability to make others believe in what is not real soon turns him into the Wizard.  Everything to him is a show.  Some of the characters learn his secret, but they only support him more.  The takeaway theme from this movie seemed to be that you should know what you believe in, regardless of what it seems.  The people of Oz believed in the Wizard not only because he seemed powerful, but because he led them well and because he wanted what was best for them.  Another takeaway theme would be that illusion can be just as important as the reality behind it.

Other than “know what you believe in” and “illusion can be just as important as the reality behind it” being themes beyond children and a hard concept to grasp for teenagers and adults, the film is every bit as much of a family film as The Wizard of Oz, minus the musical numbers.  Will young children be scared?  Probably.  Will they like the monkey and the china doll?  Probably.  I would recommend the film for ages eight and up.

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