Audiences soar over the rainbow in ‘Oz’ prequel

By Michaela Ard

There is no place like the world of Disney when it comes to bringing fantasy lands to life on movie screens, and the powerhouses’ newest big-budget picture, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” is no exception.

Director Sam Raimi and actor James Franco rejoin forces in this effects-driven prequel to 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” and the result is a colorful, action packed adventure that focuses more on heart instead of courage or brains.

This interpretation of L. Frank Baum’s novels about the Land of Oz focuses on the story of Oscar Diggs, also known as traveling circus magician, Oz the Great and Powerful.

Oz is played by a toothy-grinned Franco, who described the character as having numerous personality traits, both admirable and unfortunate.

“[Oz] is a bit of a charmer, he’s a conman, he’s a magician, he’s an adventurer,” said Franco in a conference call. “He can be brave and cowardly, he has a tender side and so it’s all kind of wrapped up in one character.”

Just like the 1939 film, “Oz the Great and Powerful” begins in black and white, and the audience encounters Oz’s womanizing ways and greedy tendencies.

This is symbolic because in this part of the storyline, Oz sees success in a very black and white way: be a great man by making money and earning fame.

It is not until a frantic hot air balloon ride through a whirling tornado that Oz is transported to the breathtaking Land of Oz, a place with vivid colors and fantastical beings, whether they be humans, animals or fairies.

Some of the breathtaking areas within Oz include China Town, Glinda the Good Witch’s Kingdom and the Emerald City, the latter two of which were first seen on screen in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“They had all the elements you need in order for people to recognize the world of Oz,” said Franco. “You had the yellow brick road and the Emerald City, and witches, and flying monkeys and . . . munchkins.”

What aided the stunning visuals was the mystical music that enhanced scenes of romance and heart-pounding adventure.

“The best part of the picture for me was, as a director, was once I had worked on the [movie] for like two years and eight months, was to hear Danny Elfman, our composer, create such a fantastic score,” said Raimi in a conference call. “He took the emotions that were in the movie and he elevated them. He took the drama and deepened it . . . so he basically made everything better. He was the secret sauce that brings it to the next level.”

What made this children’s film all the more interesting was how the minor characters steal the show from the all-powerful Oz.

Two of the best supporting stars are the CGI creations Finley the flying monkey and China Girl. The characters are voiced by Zach Braff and Joey King, respectively.

These characters have multiple levels of depth because Braff and King also play characters in Kansas in the beginning of the film.

Braff portrays Frank, Oz’s mistreated assistant and King plays a girl in a wheelchair that asks the “magical” wizard to make her walk again.

The two cannot be helped by the Oz in Kansas, but the mortal man is able to make amends with his friends in the world of Oz.

The witches, played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, were exciting as well, and they had as many twists as the tornado that first transported Oz.

A flaw within the blockbuster, however, was its lengthy 2 hour and 10 minute running time and the pacing within the story.

Many elements were crammed into the production, so editing would have made this fun film even better.

Rating: 3/5

Courtesy Walt Disney


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