“The Great and Powerful Oz” is a Disneyfied downfall compared to the 1939 classic. Big names like James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams bring clout to the release but turn out flat characters overshadowed by the extraneous use of CGI. However, the film is not a complete flop — the effects make up for what the screenplay and dialogue lack.
The plot recalls Dorothy’s Oz in many ways — for instance, beginning the picture in black and white. James Franco plays the great and powerful Oz, an inept magician in a traveling circus who is a womanizing con artist, hungry for fame and desperate for money. In his haste to flee getting pummeled by a cross “muscle man,” Oz jumps into a hot air balloon and gets sucked into a tornado. Out of the tornado, he descends into the technicolor world of Oz, with a yellow brick road leading to the emerald city where much of the story unravels.
Franco in “Oz” is Franco in a tux. He is a shallow character with a poor script. Common to Disney is a Prince Charming who leaves the audience with the satisfaction of a happy ending. Franco breaks the stereotype by being unlikable. He is more interested in acquiring Oz’s wealth than in heroism.
“Oz” is a “cinema of attraction.” The visuals overcompensate for the narrative, the characters and the plot. The effects are well done, and it is quite the visual spectacle, especially in its use of 3-D. What has been cumbersome in previous 3-D movies is mastered and well-designed. From the opening credits, it is like a puppet show, coming to life in a circus fashion.
However, the circus is in shambles when it comes to the dialogue. Many of the lines are corny. In fact, too many of them are downright cheesy and too predictable. There are attempted plot twists and moments of potential conflict, but resolution quickly ensues.
In a lot of ways, “Oz” gives contemporary audiences a rendition to connect back to the classic. Despite its faltering, “Oz” is a re-envisioning of Victor Fleming’s masterpiece. There is a yellow brick world, an Emerald City and evil, flying monkeys.
The more favorable accomplishments of the film include a lovable flying monkey bellboy. Finley functions similarly to Donkey in “Shrek” as comedic relief. Finley is more of a performance; he gives the audience something to latch on to and carry throughout. From Finley, the audience can enjoy laugh-out-loud moments that make Disney seem reinvigorated. Traces of other fairy tales, such as “Snow White,” also find their way into the narrative, adding a hue of familiarity while at the same time recycling Disney’s own classics.
“Oz” also flirts very much with early cinema methods wrongly attributing it to Edison’s inventions. The film uses magic lanterns as they were used in the mid-to-late-19th century, toying with methods of image and screen manipulation as precursors to the motion picture. In a lot of ways, “Oz” pays homage to its predecessors and does so in an entertaining way uncommon in today’s Hollywood.
“The Great and Powerful Oz” may not live entirely up to its name, but with low expectations, it will pleasantly surprise.