There is a special place in my heart for the original 1939 Warner Brothers owned Wizard of Oz movie. I think almost everyone can say that. It is an absolute classic, beloved on multiple levels for multiple reasons. Based on the books of L. Frank Baum (he wrote about 13 Oz centered books), it is a simple story with a perfect lesson (you already have all the tools you need, you just have to realize that you have them). It is also epic with a true sense of grandeur for a movie from the 30s/40s. The sets were stunning and beautiful, plus the transition from Sepia tones to the amazing colors of Oz is fantastic.
I have also seen the 1985 Return to Oz, which gave me nightmares at the time. I don’t remember much about it – except that it terrified me. It seems to have had that effect on most people who have seen it.
Sam Raimi started his career making Super 8 movies with his friends Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell and his brother Ted Raimi in the woods near their Michigan homes. They are responsible for the Evil Dead franchise (my favorite is Army of Darkness, because by then it’s a comedy), Darkman, the Hercules and Xena TV shows, the Toby MacGuire Spiderman Movies, and now the latest trip to Oz.
Oz is a carnival magician, traveling with the Baum Brothers circus through Kansas. He makes his living scamming locals with his tricks and illusions. We see him interact with his assistant Frank, a girl in a wheel chair and a former flame –important because they re-appear as different characters later. The circus strongman discovers that Oz has been flirting with his lady, and sets out to cause Oz some serious pain. Oz hides in a hot air balloon, and flies off, directly into a tornado.
The tornado transports him to the Wonderful World of Oz, with all of its surrealistic colors and wildlife. He stumbles into Theodora, who assumes he is the wizard of prophecy, sent to save the kingdom from the wicked witch and in doing so, become king, with all the riches and power that entails. That sounds pretty good to Oz, so he sets off with her to fulfill the prophecy. Incidentally, neither of the other two witches he meets are fooled by his charms, and are completely aware that he is a con man.
The movie is charming and colorful. Kids will love it – nothing is too scary, except for the wicked witch’s flying baboons, they were pretty terrifying. Raimi brings the same lighthearted fantasy from Spiderman to this. The music is by Danny Elfman and adds to the tone. I didn’t see it in 3D, but I would imagine it was spectacular in 3D. The colors were amazing, and the look was fantastic; however, while the visuals were great, I felt no connection to any of the people in the movie. I did love the river fairies.
· James Franco as Oz: Franco is good, but a little annoying. I can’t tell if he is annoying because the character is annoying, or just because Franco is annoying. It’s a puzzle. I find that I appreciate him more in smaller roles – for example, he and Kunis in Date Night.
· Mila Kunis as Theodora: Kunis is good in everything she does, and the fantastic look of Oz flatters her crazy big eyes and makes her look even prettier in this movie. Ironic, considering how she ends up. I felt like her performance was really big in some parts, but that may come from trying to fill the set (the sets were huge). It almost felt like she was performing as if she was in a stage production in some theater, and wanted to make sure the back row could get what was happening for her performance. I know that’s an odd thing to say, but it’s just my opinion. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it certainly fit this movie.
· Rachel Weisz as Evanora: Weisz was actually better in this than she has been in most of what I have seen her in lately. Probably better than anything she has been in since the Mummy. She makes Evanora feisty and confident, and really fun.
· Michelle Williams as Annie/Glinda: I thought Williams did a really good job in this as well, providing some depth to a character that doesn’t really have a lot. She is never fooled by Oz, and knows exactly what he is from the start, but is willing to help him find the ‘good man’ within himself. Plus, she gets a little action sequence, which she seemed to enjoy.
· Zach Braff as Frank/Finley: I’m not going to lie to you – I hated Garden State, but I did enjoy most of Scrubs. It was nice to see Braff, and he provides some fun, heart, and soul to Finely, the flying monkey that Oz confides in.
· Bill Cobbs as the Master Tinker: This man has been so great for so long, I just wanted to mention him, and that he’s good in this. The character is nothing you haven’t seen him do before – but he does get to wear fake hair that you’ve never seen him wear before.
· Joey King as the girl in the Wheelchair and the China Girl: The China Girl is an amazing effect. She looks fantastic through the whole movie, enough that I was constantly worrying she would break.
· Tony Cox as Knuck: Not sure how I felt about this role, it seemed to make fun of Tony Cox more than let him perform.
I loved the visuals of this movie, but honestly, that was the only thing I loved. Everything else was just okay for me. I didn’t feel any connection to any of the characters, and Oz himself was so irritating that I wasn’t really invested in what happened to him. And, there’s not nearly enough Bruce Campbell in this Sam Raimi movie.
6 out of 10 – similar to Jack the Giant Slayer – great to look at, but that’s about it. Gained points for the China Girl – she was amazing, and looked real. Lost points for Munchkin half-song, really? Gained points for Bruce Campbell being there…lost points for him not being there long enough. Simultaneously gained and lost points for the flying baboons – they were terrifying and cool! And hey – poppies!Bonus Video 1: Franco and Kunis in Date Night…
Bonus Video 2: Army of Darkness – so fun.
Bonus Video 3: Rachel Weisz at her best – the Mummy
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews…