Reviewed by Ian Forbes
There’s a hilarious legal tight rope that Disney had to tread in bringing Oz The Great and Powerful to screen. Bored and procrastinating the start of this review, I hit up the IMDb trivia page for the film. Here’s the bullet points: While Warner Bros. still owns the rights to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum’s books about Oz are public domain. As such, Disney just tweaked the shade of green for the wicked witch, avoided certain character likenesses, and you won’t find any mention of ruby slippers.
What does that all mean? Who knows. I don’t really care. And honestly, I never really cared about this movie when word spread about it, or when Johnny Depp was possibly going to play the Wizard, or when Robert Downey Jr. was considered, or when James Franco landed the role. And after seeing it, I still don’t care.
You can probably chalk a good deal of my apathy up to being far too cynical to enjoy a movie (pushing the boundaries of its PG rating) wherein so many of the characters all have the propensity to feel like they’re going to say things like “gee willikers” or “good gosh”. Those aren’t lines in the movie as far as I can remember but I’m not going to put a whole lot of effort into this one.
The movie takes far too long to get going, with a good 20 minutes in the front-section that could be lopped off with nary a missed beat. Director Sam Raimi stuck with the familiar convention of beginning the movie in sepia-tone (and even a 4:3 aspect ration), expanding into the widescreen format and bringing in bright and shiny colors once Franco’s two-bit magician character lands in Oz (via tornado of course). And if I were to say anything positive about the movie, it’s that they did some interesting things with the 3D from time to time. I slapped on my 3D seal of approval below but just know that it was more for certain events and actions than for the overall immersiveness. The backgrounds are still rather flat, and at times I wondered if they were intentionally making them look bad in order to harken back to the days of painted matte landscapes.
The acting overall isn’t anything to write home about (and I barely want to write this review either). Franco’s characterization was stoner-lite, and the notion of him being led to the Emerald City wasn’t lost on me. Zach Braff hams it up early on as a human and then gets to voice a winged monkey … with about the same level of cheese … damn, now I want a sandwich. As for the witches, Michelle Williams seems to be channeling some PBS kids show hostess and Mila Kunis might be giving the worst performance of her career here as she’s woefully miscast. Her charm is in counterbalancing sweetness with dry wit; there’s really no wit to be found anywhere in the script so the balancing act is completely lost.
Pretty much the only person who comes off halfway decent is Rachel Weisz. She grounds Oz in a more stable manner than it probably deserves and makes everyone else look like they’re mugging the camera. Actually, the second best performance is a CGI China doll voiced by Joey King. That’s not really a good sign. Neither is the runtime. At a touch over two hours, and with pacing that I’d generously describe as ‘slow’, there’s a lot of tightening that longtime Raimi editor Bob Murawsky could have done. It also would have been nice to get more Bruce Campbell but I can say that about most films. I’m not sure how his name made the opening credits considering he’s on-screen for less than a minute but hey, he’s Bruce Campbell.
I will give Raimi credit for his treatment of the flying monkeys (the big ones, not Braff’s bellhop monkey). They’re scary and I’d like to think younger kids might think they’re too scary. But considering parents can’t seem to understand that there’s a reason movies get rated, and they decide saving money on a babysitter is more important than being kind to the others in the audience, I bet the kids handle it just fine.
Also, for those of you who were excited about this movie, do remember that I’m a generally jaded film critic (who was thinking “there’s no place like home” more than a few times while sitting through this in the theater). The effects are generally good (aside from some of the background CGI elements) and if you can enjoy all the un-ironic line deliveries a movie like this can throw at you, you’ll probably find it entertaining. For me, Oz The Great and Powerful didn’t live up to either of those adjectives, and I’d have preferred a movie about Australia or even Seth Green’s werewolf character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but to each their own.
Oz The Great and Powerful hits theaters on March 8, 2013 and is rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.
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