Caliburn24 here easing down the Yellow Brick Road to see Oz the Great and Powerful.
Sam Raimi has delievered another franchise after his Spider-Man trilogy and Evil Dead trilogy. This time he has entered the fantasy waters and captured a part of the Emerald City of L. Frank Baum. There are other films that trample on the literary territory, but the screenwriters, Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, are able to respect Baum’s works while making it fantastic enough for today’s audiences. It does not have the brutality that is in line of early fairy tales like 1985’s Return to Oz, but Raimi brings more of sense of fun and humanity to this film. James Franco is perfectly cast as the con man magician, Oscar Diggs, whose nickname happens to be Oz.
The film opens up with the Disney castle logo, it is in black and white with a cropped screen, and this film plunges into the halls of the castle and out the other side to show the title and credits. It is set in Kansas of 1905 at a traveling circus. There is a firebreather who blows fire across the entire screen. Oz is trying to get a Kansas girl ready for their magical act. He gives her musical box which he says is from his grandmother. They are interrupted by his assistant, Frank (named after the director Frank Oz as an in joke?), played by Zach Braff. He of course is well known as the lead from the tv comedy Scrubs and has some fun playing Oz’s assistant. Oz’s words to the audience is a running theme in the movie, “When you do believe, anything is possible.” A young girl in a wheelchair, played by actress Joey King, who wants to walk again. Oz has to refuse and he is booed off the stage. He remarks to Frank, “You’re just a trained monkey” which of course resonates later in the film. The double parts of the real world and Oz characters is similar to the 1939 MGM musical, but Raimi adds another twist to it.
Annie, played by Michelle Williams, talks to Oz. She explains to him that she is going to marry John Gale. Of course, Gale is the last name of Dorothy Gale, so we can see the roots of the earlier film. Frank warns them about the Strongman who is angry that Oz gave his wife a musical box. Oz escapes in a trap door and runs through the carnival workers. A pigeon flies out of Oz’s coat and off the entire screen. Strongman’s hand reaches toward the audience. Oz of course is taken into the tornado. Shards of wood plunge into the balloon basket and a cable snaps loose and is flung at the audience. Oz pleads to a higher power, “Get me out of here and I’ll do good things!” He awakens and snowflakes scatter across the entire screen. Oz finds that the balloon is now safe floating through a full color land of Oz. Raimi uses the 3D to full effect with the race down the Great Waterfall, past rocky outcroppings, and finally down the falls. Theodora explains the king’s prophecy. The writers are very clever in setting most of the film in one region of Oz, the Quadling Country of the South, so Oz lands near Glinda’s Palace at the very southern region of Quadling Country. On reaching the more gently running river, there is scenary that reminds me of the exotic plant life in Dark Crystal. There is also more 3D effects with a blue humming bird flying across the screen and then some butterflies.
He comes to a stop at a pond and Oz hears a sound. Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, who wears red hat, coat, and black leather pants, greets him. Kunis looks like she is having fun playing the innocent girl seduced by the con man and for her later role. She warns Oz about the river fairies, malicious winged creatures with tiny, bulbous heads and sharp teeth. One whistles “Pop Goes Weasel” several times before Oz whistles the last part and the fairy blasts water into Oz and the audience’s face. She tells him about the king’s prophecy that a wizard would fall out of the sky and save the people of Oz. Theodora also explains how the Wicked Witch poisoned the king. He follows along with her belief. At night, Oz shows her the musical box and teaches her how to dance. They find Finley, a monkey dressed as a bell hop, trapped by vines. Oz goes to free Finley who points out that he is scared about the lion. It leaps at the audience and is stopped by Oz’s flash powder. This may be the Cowardly Lion. Finley says he owes a lifedebt to Oz. Very much like the lifedebt Chewbacca owed to Han Solo. Oz explains to Finley about his Three Ups; “Show up, keep up, and shut up.” He confides in the monkey that he is not the wizard and wants his help.
They reach the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City is in the distance. Short actor, Tony Cox, plays Knuck, the royal herald of Oz. Finley does an exaggerated introduction of Oz and has to carry Oz’s bag next to the carriage. Knuck opens the door to the throne room. They are met by Rachel Weisz plays who Evanora. She is dressed in a sparkling green flapper-style dress, but while viewers might think that is a hint to her identity, it may be misleading. Evanora shows Oz the Royal Treasure of Oz where he slides down a hill of gold to throw coins up to the audience. Evanora explains that he will become king when he defeats the Wicked Witch. Oz tosses a coin and says, “I’m your wizard.” Finley and Oz travel the Yellow Brick Road. The monkey sees smoke coming from China Town. In Oz, this is actual china, a town made of tea pots. There are shattered pieces of china and the duo hear the voice of a girl in a broken house.
The China Girl is voiced by Joey King, no song by David Bowie here, but her legs are shattered which Oz repairs with Quick Drying Glue. They are disturbed by the Flying Baboons that had destroyed the town. China Girl joins Oz and Finley on the witch hunt. They enter the Dark Forest which has two crows that warn them, “You’ll die!” before flying off. The trio are menaced by plants with beaks and lamp-like eyes that screech at the audience. They manage to escape and reach the graveyard where it looks like the witch is about to enter. Finley distracts her by making cow moos. Oz takes her wand is about to destroy it when he is stopped by the witch. This is Glinda the Good Witch, who of course is played by Michelle Williams. Glinda wears a stunning white dress though the feathered front looks like the Sorceress from the He-Man cartoon. She reveals to Oz that it is Evanora who killed her father. Evanora sees this in her crystal ball along with Theodora whose tears scar her cheeks. They send the Winkie Guards and the Flying Baboons after them. There is some strong visuals in this film, a light hearted touch, and a faithful approach to Baum’s Oz.