My family and I are a little late to see Oz the Great and Powerful. We had seen the 4D Sneak Preview at Disneyland California Great Adventure in March, which really made us want to go see it. And, so far, Oz is the greatest grossing film of 2013. But, after watching it yesterday, I would say our feelings were mixed.
The movie walks a fine line between the book by Frank Baum and the 1939 movie, intending to be a logical prequel to that film, explaining how Oscar Diggs from Kansas becomes the Wizard of Oz. (This is an almost impossible task given that the 1939 film was presented as Dorothy's dream and that the Wizard in the dream was really just a snake oil salesman in 1939, but we'll go with it. Several characters in 1905 Kansas wind up in Oz as well, though it's not presented as a dream.) Several online have speculated that Oscar's gingham-wearing sweetheart Annie, who is giving him up to marry John Gale, is meant to be the mother of Dorothy (Gale), who somehow ends up orphaned and living with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. For us, the first half of the movie was sort of boring. After the 15 minutes in black-and-white, the next half hour or so is an amazing visual spectacle. Oz is not showing in 3D here anymore, ceding theater space to Jurassic Park 3D, I guess. But the first half is obviously meant to be an exhibition of 3D majesty. However, the first half does not have a compelling plot. Also, the acting is pretty bad. Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch of the West is just awful, and Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch of the South (not North, as in the book/movie for some reason) appears with the same noblesse oblige as the most popular girl in class being asked to be in the school play because they need the prettiest princess.
The second half picks up a little and has a few tricks and turns that were harder to spot than the thinly veiled secrets of the first half.
My biggest unease about the film hit me in November when I saw the trailer. I turned to my friend and said, "Why would witches need a wizard to come and save them and their people?" And my uneasiness grew once Glinda acknowledges that Oz is a con man but says that he might still be the man they had been waiting for. What? You are a witch with magical powers, but you need a carnival magician to rouse your people to fight another witch? What kind of craziness is that? And it gets even worse -- a neutral witch is turned into a revenge-seeking green Wicked Witch (you know who I'm talking about now) because she wants Oz to marry her but realizes that he was toying with her affections. Huh. I was listening to an NPR story on the L. Frank Baum books, and one of the threads was that Dorothy was a feminist character. She bravely leads these male misfits on a successful journey and defeats a witch. But this movie is decidedly not feminist. Glinda is not a coward, and deals the final blow (by accident), but she's not a proactive protagonist. She is a protector, and she does see through Oz's blustery, but in the end she is the girl the hero gets, not a heroine.
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