It’s a difficult thing to do a prequel to a classic like the Wizard of Oz. Look for instance at the critique of Peter Jackson’s handling of the Hobbit. Frank Baum’s body of work was creative enough to warrant doing a prequel, rather than trying either a re-do of a classic (its already been done, even as a musical with Michael Jackson— the Wiz)or a sequel. On the whole then, no matter how much hype, it would be difficult indeed for Disney to pull off a blockbuster prequel, and this film is not it, despite Sam Rami’s best efforts. In fact what we ended up with is pleasant enough, but it’s more lackluster than blockbuster. So what are the pluses and minuses of the film.
On the plus side, the cinematography is ‘colorful’ enough when we get to Oz, and like the classic film we go from poor old black and white Kansas to an uber-colorful Oz. I feel badly for Kansas. Secondly, there is a notable absence of songs, much less memorable songs like ‘we’re off to see the wizard…’ and actually this turns out to be a good thing as it lowers the schmaltz factor by a notch or two. Thirdly, the CG and special effects are done well enough to be enjoyable to watch. Since this is a fantasy there is no problem with things stretching the reality factor past the breaking point. You suspend your disbelief from the start with a fantasy like this, and you don’t complain about the ‘unrealistic’ character of things. The flying monkey named Finley and the china doll are kind of fun as ‘Oscar’s side kicks.
What should we think of the ever smiling James Franco, and Michelle Williams as the two leads on the good side of the ledger? They play their parts well enough to be likable, but despite the fact that James plays ‘Oscar’ he won’t be winning one for this performance. On the evil side of the ledger, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weiscz are passable, but not exceptional, even when Mila morphed into her green self. To be honest there are some holes and dead zones in this movie at 2 hours and 7 minutes, and it doesn’t really get going until well into the second hour. No one is sitting on the edge of their seats when this film comes to an end.
Here is a good place to talk about the conceptions of good and evil in the film. As Glinda the good witch says, the truth about Oz is he is egocentric, selfish, arrogant, and a fibber. Despite all this, there is something to be said for the man— he has the potential to be good, which as the film says, is more important than being ‘great’ or famous. In a sense then, the film becomes something of an allegory of how one becomes a good person. And the answer is interesting. Glinda, as it turns out is also Anna from back in Kansas, or perhaps better said, she is the fantasy Anna that Oz always wanted. But here’s the thing. It is precisely her belief in Oscar, and his great desire to become what she and others see in him, that turns him in the direction of being a good person. Interesting. Do we become what others think we are or can be, our best selves, precisely because we want to become what they think we are? Inquiring minds want to know.
This film, as a family film is harmless enough. It’s not too scary, not vulgar, not too violent, and it has a few sweet moments along the way. It is also very eye-popping in terms of color when it comes to landing in the land of Oz. Is it worth spending the extra money to see it in 3D? Not really. Are there better children’s movies already out there just now? Probably not. But you may want to save your money for the summer when we will have the sequel to Despicable Me. Give me the minions over the munchkins any day.