Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Because I love the musical Wicked so much I really didn't think I was going to enjoy Disney's alternative prequel to The Wizard of Oz very much. But the film turned out to be so much better than I thought it was going to be that I ended up feeling frustrated that it didn't manage to be far better than it was!

The story of Oz the Great and Powerful is almost completely different to the story of Wicked. Whereas Wicked has the "Wicked" West of the West as its main character, this prequel chooses to focus on the Wizard. In this film, the Wizard is a man called Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) who's working as a circus magician in Kansas. Oscar is also a shameless womaniser, but one day this womanising gets him into trouble and he's forced to flee the circus. He gets into his hot air balloon and is soon swept into the path of a tornado. He then finds himself in the land of Oz. The first person that he meets in Oz is a young woman called Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes that Oscar must be the wizard who is expected to fulfil a prophecy about defeating a wicked witch. Theodora soon falls in love with Oscar and offers to take him to the Emerald City so he can meet her older sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Oscar is delighted to become the ruler of Oz and to accept the pile of money that comes with it... until he finds out the part about defeating the evil witch. Nevertheless Oscar goes off on a quest, with a flying monkey servant called Finley (Zach Braff), to defeat the evil witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). He learns a few surprises along the way...

When this film is good, it's really good. I loved the opening credits and the first 20 minutes or so of this film are excellent. I loved the China Doll character. She's the most likeable character in the whole film and is extremely well-voiced by Joey King. Some of the conversations between Oscar, Finley and China Doll Girl are actually quite funny and provide many of the film's best scenes. There's some excellent CGI and Oz really does look like a fantastical, magical land. It's a beautiful-looking film. Danny Elfman provides some beautiful music in this film. A lot of reviewers have complained about James Franco's performance in this film and feel that he was miscast as the Wizard but I honestly didn't mind his acting. Of course Franco isn't the ideal choice for the character. Both Robert Downey Jr and Johnny Depp were offered the role of the Wizard before him but they each turned it down. Downey Jr turned it down simply because he wasn't interested. Depp was interested but he'd already signed up to do The Lone Ranger so he had to turn it down as well. Both of these actors are brilliant at playing loveable rogues and would have definitely brought more charisma and likeability to the Wizard. But still, Franco in no way ruined the film for me and he gave a solid performance. It was actually the film's sexism that spoilt the film for me. Just to warn you, in discussing my major problem with the film I'm going to have to give a spoiler away.

This film has been accused of sexism and now I've seen it I can completely understand why. All of the witches are very underdeveloped and two-dimensional in this film and are given barely any backstory. Their stories all completely revolve around Oscar and two of them fall madly in love with him. Evanora's character isn't quite as poorly-developed as the other two because of Rachel Weisz's portrayal. Although Evanora is still a very two-dimensional character on paper Weisz still manages to bring some sassy charm to the role. As a result Evanora was my favourite out of the witches. But I absolutely couldn't give a toss about Theodora or Glinda! In this film Theodora's character starts off as good but it then turns out that she's actually the Wicked Witch of the West. Theodora's abrupt character change halfway through the film wasn't at all believable. She goes evil just because the man she loves is in love with someone else! Oh, puh-leeze! Having someone go evil just because someone else has broken their heart is such a boring cliché. Also, Theodora is really annoying. She falls in a chemistry-less love with Oscar in less than a day and is already talking about marrying him before they've even reached the Emerald City! She then spends the rest of the film's first hour simpering after him. In the second hour she basically whines, glares at people, and gives earbleeding shrieks. And Glinda's character is completely bland in this film. She's nothing more than an insipid, wide-eyed damsel in distress and her character just seems so feeble and helpless. She even manages to get captured by two flying monkeys whilst she's holding onto her own wand! Even Oscar seems more capable than her! The witches in this film are nowhere near as well-developed as Elphaba, Glinda and Nessarose are in Wicked. Also how come Theodora and Evanora - who are sisters - have completely different accents? Theodora has an American accent and Evanora has an English accent. It's never explained.

Oz the Great and Powerful has a lot going for it. It certainly has its entertaining scenes and moments and I liked it more than The Wizard of Oz. I've never been much of a fan of that film. But having said that this film just can't hold a candle to Wicked. The female characters in that musical are much better-developed and far more likeable. Also, it has fantastic songs and the story is much more compelling and moving. It's one of my favourite musicals. Oz the Great and Powerful is still a charming and enjoyable film but it could have been so much more.

Rating: 3/5

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