Hello g33ks, m33ks and anyone else out there who can rest. The first MUST SEE FILM OF THE YEAR (as Disney has been saying now that Jack the Giant Killer has spectacularly crashed and burned) is upon us. Oz is a prequel to one of the greatest classic films OF ALL TIME! A film that is so iconic that even Disney wouldn’t dare remake it. Of course I’m talking about Walter Murch’s 1985 classic film Return to Oz starring Fairuza Balk … Before I’m burned at the stake for that joke, Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic film starring Judy Garland is at least for now deemed totally untouchable. The filmmakers decided that instead of re-imagining or rebooting the film into a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit style trilogy; they would go back and adapt one of the earlier works from the series of novels and tell the story of the rise of the Wicked Witch and how the Wizard came to take his place in the Emerald City.
Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spiderman, Drag Me To Hell) was an intriguing choice to direct. He has a rabid cult fan following due to his schlock horror roots and a larger fan following due to his success with bringing Peter Parker onto the big screen. That said Spiderman 3 was the last time he was given the reigns of a project worth HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of DOLLARS and it didn’t go very well. A lot of that failure was due to studio interference but the idea that there would be a hands off approach for this film is laughable. Disney has a huge amount riding on Oz, no one will forget if they released a film based on such a property and absolutely ruined it.
As we saw last year when Disney released John Carter … even the House of Mouse can find themselves in big trouble if they release a massive flop. The only reason Disney didn’t feel a major backlash from that was because The Avengers was such a major success. This year they have a big slate of tentpoles: Monsters U., The Lone Ranger, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. To predict success from Pixar and Marvel Studio’s sequels is pretty fair but if The Lone Ranger and Oz both were to flop they’d have a lot of red ink to clean up. So knowing what the studio has riding on this film it comes down to how good a job they did with it. That’s where this review becomes quite difficult.
Sam Raimi has put together a visually stunning, homage to the classic original Wizard of Oz. As it comes to creating a spectacle he more than does his job making black and white Kansas a worthy setup to the beautifully saturated colors of the Land of Oz. James Franco stars as the heart stealing carnival magician Oz; along his side are Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora and Michelle Williams as Glinda. The three witches all have a place in protecting the people of Oz from the evil menace that is The Wicked Witch. Upon his arrival, Oz meets Theodora and utilizes his considerable skill as a stage magician to make her believe he is the legendary Wizard that the people of Oz have waited for to become their new king. Franco plays Oz as someone who wants to be great in a world where Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison are the greatest men in their fields. All Oz wanted was to be spoken of in the same regard as those two men and now he finds himself put upon with massive responsibilities. There are benefits to being King of Oz, that include a treasury that would make Scrooge McDuck envious and possibly even his choice of the hearts of the three beautiful good Witches of Oz. Seeing Oz as a trickster and ladies’ man is an interesting take on someone we only know as the well meaning old man from the original film.
Without derailing the experience by spoiling the story there are a few pieces of misdirection at play for the audience from the film itself. I think it’s pretty cool that Disney’s marketing group has managed to keep from spoiling it right away but if you go to a toy store before seeing the film you’ll have at least a piece of the surprise ruined. Aside from the two major twists the story has predictable beats, that all the best blockbuster films tend to follow. This isn’t necessarily a knock on the film, but you don’t get extra points for playing it safe either. That said this is only a problem if you’re an adult going to see this film. I think its been a while but this may be the first major blockbuster in this vein aimed squarely at kids.
This may be why some people have been highly critical of the film. Kids who are new to the Oz story or who have seen the original and want more are this films main audience. Sure their parents can enjoy this film, and those without kids will enjoy it as well but you’re just along for the ride. This is meant to be a film that blows the minds of a 9-13 year old. For the kids in that age group this film will register with them more than pretty much anything else Disney will release on a major scale this year. Planes is for 6-10 year old boys, Monsters U will be for really young kids and their older teen siblings and their parents. Lone Ranger is for Teens and Young Adults. Thor and Iron Man won’t be nearly as cartoony as The Avengers and won’t register in the same way that Whedon’s mash up did last year. If you’re a clever young girl or boy, with a vivid imagination this is probably your Disney film of the year. For everyone else it’s a safe, fun, visually stunning journey. You’re not going to drag everyone you know to see it, but its definitely a good time at the theatre.
– Mr. Khon