Monday, March 11, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Confession: I've been looking forward to this movie since I first heard it was in the works. If I've never mentioned it before, I love just about all things Oz.

I've probably seen the classic Wizard of Oz film a hundred times. I'm even a fan of Disney's less than stellar Return to Oz. L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that started it all, is my favorite book of all time. I still have the old copy that my aunt gave me for my 6th birthday and read it about once a year.

I admit, I haven't read all the Oz books. But it's worth mentioning that there are dozens of them. Baum himself wrote 14, and I'd love to at least read his original series. Thus far, I've gotten through the first six. I also haven't gotten around to reading Gregory Maguire's Wicked series, though I've heard good things.

Anyway, back to this movie. I was excited when I started seeing trailers for the new Oz. I was intrigued by the idea of a prequel to the classic story that I'd grown up loving. At the same time, loving the original made me skeptical about how good it could possibly be. I had high hopes, but I was cautious.

Oscar Diggs is portrayed by James Franco. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of his. I was somewhat disappointed when news came out that he would be playing the Wizard, as opposed to Johnny Depp or Robert Downey, Jr., who were both attached to the role at one point. That being said, Franco did a great job. He was able to believably play the flawed hero without overselling the part.

Also taking prominent roles are the three witches that had been previously introduced in Oz film history. There's Glinda the Good, who really has no mystery to her character. Then there are Theodora and Evanora, sisters who never had names in the movie or in Baum's books. I know these characters have names in Wicked, but Maguire's work is completely separate from this movie franchise.

The mystery surrounding the sisters mostly has to do with which direction each of these sisters will go. One would be destined to live in the west, the other would end up in the east. We know how their stories end, this is an interesting portrayal of their beginnings.

Theodora is the naive younger sister of Evanora. Her naivete becomes her undoing when she falls in love with Oz, who is little more than a womanizing con man. With some helpful manipulation from her big sister, she proves the old saying that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

As with the orginal film, Oz encounters people and creatures that remind him of folks he'd known back in the real world. Glinda is the spitting image of a woman he loved back in Kansas. A winged monkey who assists him in his quest is similar to the man who was his magician's assistant at his circus. And the little China doll whose legs Oz glues back together is the same as a wheelchair-bound little girl who came to his magic show begging him to make her walk again.

The difference here is that we're not left believing that Oz is a dream land, as it seemed to be where Doroty was concerned. That makes it a little harder to swallow the idea that he could encounter these people from his old life.

I love that there are tons of nods to the original movie. Oz's real world love wears a gingham dress, similar to Dorothy's. She mentions a possible engagement to a John Gale. Any relation to Henry Gale, Dorothy's uncle? The circus where Oz performs his magic act is named after L. Frank Baum. And when the Wizard flies to Oz in his hot air balloon, he literally flies over the rainbow.

I loved this movie. It was amOZing. OZsome. StupendOZ (okay, that's the last one, I promise). I highly recommend seeing it. And see it in 3D. I usually hate 3D, but it's really well done with this movie.

On a side note, I'm also hoping that this will interest a new generation of readers to explore L. Frank Baum's original literary work. They're such great books that really don't get the attention they deserve. If you haven't had a chance to read any of them, by all means, pick them up.

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