The Odds of Oz

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.

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  • david

    I thought the 3d effects made the movie worth watching. They added far more to the experience than say, the effects of Avatar 3d. I have spoken with 5-6 other adults and all agreed the opening 3d sequences were mesmerizing. Had I been on drugs, I might be insane right now.

  • Jon

    Twenty minutes into the film I was wishing that I had brought a book or my tablet with me. My wife leaned over and asked if I wanted to sneak into another movie. The characters were flatter than onion skin. The plot was entirely predictable. The acting was devoid of emotion. He’s clearly a charleton, why can’t everyone see this? Why do we care about this man? The story never improves, his character barely improves, and, sadly, the most enjoyable characters were computer generated. Why does Hollywood continually ask us to believe that chronic frauds can become virtuous people in five minutes? Sure, jerks can occasionally shine, but then they go back to being jerks. Change is really difficult and takes time and practice. I liked your question regarding whether people become better because of the expectations of those around them. Positive expectations surely can’t hurt.

    I saw an interesting connection with The Dark Knight in that the masses were once again in search of hero and the powers that be were complicit in supplying one that was not totally legitimate. In OZ, Glenda says something like, “You were not the hero we were expecting, but you are the one that we need.” Here she echoes something similar to a comment made by Commissioner Gordon near the end of Batman. Perhaps there is a trend in “realistic” fantasy films to identify the need for higher power, and not believing in a transcendent deity and not wanted to hug the abyss, they must create a fiction to inspire the masses. But, eventually the idols will fall.

    Overall, I’d recommend renting the movie only after the entire Netflix cue is depleted.