The baggage that this film carries around with it is oddly unsynchronized. The film comes out on the heels of Disney’s 2010 film Alice in Wonderland (as the advertising reminds us the films share producers, that being Joe Roth who’s given us Tall Tale, Heavy Weights, Snow White and the Huntsman and Knight and Day). Like Alice, Oz the Great and Powerful is Disney’s attempt to return to their canon with a sense of discovery. The film feels like an exercise in attempting to remind the viewer (or for some of the younger audience, introduce them) of the world that we once held special in our hearts and hopes that the nostalgic connection of the Wicked Witch, Munchkins and such is enough to avoid seeing all the glaringly boring elements of the film suck the last dollar value of this once beloved property.
In this film we see Oz (James Franco) as a travelling circus magician who earns his trade by using staging of cheap tricks to wow the audience, and woo the women. His one wish in life is the leave Kansas and become a great man. He manages to hop into his hot air balloon and be caught in a tornado which takes him to the land Oz where he is told he’s the great wizard who’s come to fulfil a prophecy and free the once great land of the Wicked Witch that’s been oppressing the people. He takes this opportunity to his advantage and allows the people to believe he’s this wizard and goes along for the ride to see where it’ll take him.
Beginning with what it was I liked about this movie, there was actually a lot. The film begins in black & white presented in a 1.33:1 Academy Ratio, to show the time we’re being placed in. The opening credits of the film feels like something from a 1930s cheap magic show with all of these mysterious feelings and paper title cards floating around on screen that just starts us off on the right tone. Along with the eventual introduction to Oz as the con man magician who’s doing what to us feels like dated stage magic comes off as charming because we’ve already bought into the time and the feel of the film.
Then we make it to Oz (yes… Oz goes to Oz, I know it’s funny) and we’re on our adventure. It’s easy to compare the visual style of Oz (now that the film has switch to colour and a 16:9 aspect ratio with full 3D) to Alice in Wonderland, but I actually feel it feels more like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The likes of Franco, Kunis and others do feel like they don’t quite exist in this world that we’re being presented but I wouldn’t be that fast to say that it’s a bad thing entirely. It definitely removes (in a lot of the scenes) the weight and reality of the world but at the same time it also allows for us to not worry about this film being any version of ‘real’. When we get to visit places like China Town, which sadly is not a land filled with Jack Nicholsons but instead is a town entirely comprised of porcelain China is when the film truly shows its bright side.
While most of the main characters, Oz, Theodora (Mila Kunis), and Glinda (Michelle Williams) all felt more or less like empty shells of characters throughout the film I did find solace with some of the more minor side-characters. Finley (and Frank in the opening scene played by Zach Braff), China Girl (Joey King) and Knuck (Tony Cox) were all a joy to have in a scene. The small bits from Knuck especially reminded me a lot of Tony Cox‘s other performance in films like Bad Santa where he was always bringing a character who knew that he was getting the short end of the stick but just owned it.
Regardless of how much I want to distract away from the bad of this film I cannot ignore that it exists. The plot is a more or less bore, a lot of the witch ‘action’ (if you can call it that) is silly at best and when we get to the end of the film where get the Wizard of Oz as we know him from the original film we’re confounded as to how this all worked out, really. While I get the happy good beats bad idea of films like this but how does Oz’s tricks truly beat real witch magic?
In addition to all of these complaints one cannot ignore the biggest acting failing in this film and that is Mila Kunis. She’s always been a favourite of mine, but somehow when you place in a role where she’s asked to scream and cackle a lot it becomes effectively the cinema equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. However, even if we let Kunis slide let’s not forget the even bigger question that this film fails to discuss: if in The WIzard of Oz the story of Dorothy is one of a girl who goes away to a dream land to discover things about herself how is Oz (a different person) able to go to the same dream land where he experiences the same thing (since we see people in the real world sharing roles in Oz: Michelle Williams, Zach Braff and Joey King)? When you can answer that question I’m sure you’ll get all of the Wizard’s gold shipped to you one time.