Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful features shallow characters, save for two wonderfully written and acted side characters. The movie is earnest and it’s easy to see that it was trying to work with what it had but vanilla story arcs and predictability hamper the film. The antagonists don’t feel that menacing and have motivations that make the film feel like a high school teen drama. Visually the movie is a grab bag ranging from breathtaking scenes to distracting CGI that feel like the movie focused more on showing off its technical prowess than working on story. Story arcs aren’t fully realized on screen and there’s an overall shallow feel to the film. However, the strong second half features enough heart and charm in its characters to pass as a children’s adventure story for the more forgiving fans and families.


Aiming to recapture the magic and wonder of the 1939 classic, Oz the Great and Powerful released this past Friday. Starring Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, and James Franco this spiritual prequel is directed by Sam Raimi and released on theaters everywhere March 8th, 2013.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful tells the story of Oscar Diggs (Franco), aka Oz, who is circus magician in a travelling circus. He is a womanizing con artist who uses cheap tricks to lure in audiences. He performs with his assistant Frank (Braff), who sticks with his friend no matter how badly Oz treats him. When an angered strongman discovers that Oz has been talking to his girlfriend he chases Oz throughout the circus but not before Oz escapes in an air balloon. Thinking that he has finally escaped, Oz gets sucked into a cyclone that will forever change his life.

My biggest problem with Oz the Great and Powerful is the fact that the film’s main protagonist is one dimensional and unlikeable. I understand that this is set up for his character arc but it’s not satisfying and by the time everything is wrapped you could argue that Oz doesn’t change that much at all. He remains somewhat egotistical, as can be seen in one of the scenes involving gifts, and shows a very shallow remorse for the characters he affected with his actions. There’s very little change and redemption for Oscar Diggs, and although you can see where they were trying to go with the character I don’t feel that it was fully realized on screen. James Franco brings enough charm to the character to make him entertaining, but at the end of the film I just didn’t feel like he was a well-written protagonist.

Even the antagonists of the film seem so underdeveloped with motivations that make the movie feel like a high school teen drama. There’s not enough time dedicated to establish characters and prove their villainy, and instead we are given rushed plot twists that are underwhelming and predictable. In fact, almost all the antagonists’ terrible actions are done off screen. The rest of the film is just chasing characters from one scene to the next. It’s hard to be a great movie when both your protagonist and your antagonists are so underdeveloped, but luckily for Oz the Great and Powerful there are two side characters that make the film fun.

Both Finley (Braff) the flying monkey and China (Joey King) the china doll are wonderfully voiced and are such loveable characters. It took a little while to warm up to Finley but the endearing personality and humorous asides make Finley a great companion for Oz. Braff’s comedic style is a hit and miss but the jokes he delivers are all perfectly timed. Stylistically I wasn’t as impressed with Finley’s CGI. He often stuck out and felt like his character design could have used more polish. China on the other hand is both wonderfully animated and a great character. The introduction of China was one of the more powerful scenes of the film and one of the few scenes where we do see some change in Oz. Joey King does a wonderful job of voicing the ambitious but fragile character and ended up making China my favorite character of the movie. Together these two lovable side characters bring enough fun and entertainment to the film help save it from its otherwise lack luster characters, especially when the first half of the movie is such a slow crawl.

China and finley

Suffering from a less than stellar first half, the film manages to make up for it in the second half. Dialogue is incredibly stiff and awkwardly delivered with acting that makes it feel cheesy. Things move at a very slow pace and it creates a very awkward tone. I would have liked to see more time dedicated to demonstrating the tyranny of the wicked witch in Oz to establish her as an evil character. The second half of the film is better and by the climatic battle the characters have worked their charm enough to make it exciting. The digital effects are fantastic and I found myself invested in the action. All said and done there’s enough heart in the movie to make it enjoyable for families as well as fans of the 1939 movie. There are a lot of subtle nods and callbacks that are fun to look out for and even if it is somewhat of a shallow take, it’s cool to see the world of Oz expanded.

Visually Oz the Great and Powerful is a grab bag. Some of the visuals can be distracting and plastic feeling with characters that don’t mesh well enough with the real world, like the river pixies or evil plants in the dark woods. It can make it feel like a very busy candy coated spectacle that feels more like the movie is trying to show off its technical prowess without actually working on story. There are also plenty of gimmicky 3D shots that personally take me out of the film. I’m a fan of 3D when used cleverly but Oz the Great and Powerful tries to shove it in your face. On the other hand China is the strongest animated character of the film and she blended really well with her live action counterparts. The animators did such a wonderful job of conveying so much emotion in the movements and facial expressions on a china doll. Emerald City is a grand spectacle to look at but after a while it loses its luster and you can see how empty it feels and could easily join the ranks of some of the hollow Star War Prequels sets. This can be said about majority of the locations in Oz the Great and Powerful, especially when the live actors are on screen. The movie looks its best as the climatic battle begins in Oz and the heroes begin to set their plan in motion. Everything comes together and looks extremely satisfying on screen.

Overall Oz the Great and Powerful is earnest enough and you can see that it was trying to make the most with what it had. Living up to the 1939 classic was a monumental task and though it didn’t reach that goal it’s still has enough heart and charm to pass as a children’s adventure story and please the more forgiving fans as well as families.

Oz the Great and Powerful features shallow characters, save for two wonderfully written and acted side characters. The movie is earnest and it’s easy to see that it was trying to work with what it had but vanilla story arcs and predictability hamper the film. The antagonists don’t feel that menacing and have motivations that make the film feel like a high school teen drama. Visually the movie is a grab bag ranging from breathtaking scenes to distracting CGI that feel like the movie focused more on showing off its technical prowess than working on story. Story arcs aren’t fully realized on screen and there’s an overall shallow feel to the film. However, the strong second half features enough heart and charm in its characters to pass as a children’s adventure story for the more forgiving fans and families.

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3 responses to “Oz the Great and Powerful

  1. Pingback: Movie Monday Update Week of March 11th | Thinking Cinematic

  2. I was never really interested in the Wizard of Oz save for the cool Ruby Slippers, and that it was filmed in technicolor. So this movie totally slipped under my radar and I didn’t hear about it till relatively recently.

    I like James Franco, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams and had hoped that this might be the adaptation that grabbed my attention, but all the reviews have pointed to a firm no. Maybe at its core The Wizard of Oz as a narriative is boring to me, or I don’t get it because I’ve never gotten excited at any of the adaptations.

    Great review! I might just see it anyway because of the pretty colours 🙂

  3. Pingback: Movie Monday Update Week of June 10th | Thinking Cinematic

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