Oz the Great and Powerful

by Alex Stroup, staff writer

It's good to know that sometimes I can still be surprised by a movie. It isn't uncommon for me to leave a theater thinking some version of, "That movie really wasn't very good but so-and-so was very good in it." With Oz the Great and Powerful, I finally get to experience the reverse: I still mostly liked the movie, even though I didn't really care for any of the performances—at least not those involving humans.

This is a movie that answers a question that not many of us have been asking: How did the Wizard of Oz get to Oz, and what are the details of Oz's intrafamily witch squabbles? As such, the movie starts—as all Oz movies must—in Kansas, where we meet Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a con man/magician traveling with a circus under the name "Oz, the Great and Powerful."

Oz isn't a good person, and he quite bluntly says so early in the movie. He doesn't even want to be a good person. When his womanizing catches up to him, escape comes in the form of a convenient hot air balloon. Again, as is necessary for Oz movies, the balloon heads straight for the nearest tornado—and after a harrowing CGI journey, he finds himself in a land unlike any he's ever seen.

Theodora (Mila Kunis) is the first person he meets, and she informs him of two important things: She's a witch, and he appears to be the fulfillment of a prophecy that a great wizard will fall from the sky and save the Emerald City from another terrible witch, becoming ruler of all in the process.

Once he learns that there's a lot of gold in the city's vaults, Oz is fully on board, and it's off to be the wizard.

There are essentially four human roles in the movie: the three witches in Theodora, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Glinda (Michelle Williams), and a wizard. All four give such stilted and vaguely weird performances that it is quite likely this is exactly what director Sam Raimi wanted from them. Towards what end, though, is hard to imagine.

Fortunately, just like Dorothy before (or is that after?) him, Oz picks up some companions on his quest against the evil witch. First up is Finley the Flying Monkey (Zach Braff), who after being saved by Oz from a lion swears an oath of lifetime servitude. Oz, not being a good guy, puts him to work. Their next companion is a little girl from China Town.

China Town is an area in Oz made up entirely (and "entirely" includes the residents) out of china. The town has been ravaged by the witch's evil flying babboons and all the residents taken except for one little girl (Joey King). Oddly, it is Finley and this little girl who provide the more real performances in the movie.

So if I didn't like most of the people on screen, why did I still enjoy the movie overall? Part of it is that Oz the Great and Powerful is a somewhat cynical take on Oz. Unabashed, selfless earnestness is vital to what makes The Wizard of Oz an all-time classic but it probably would have been impossible to capture that again. Instead, in this version of Oz, the characters are flawed agents in their own lives. They act out of self interest, manipulate others, and even the good guys gleefully engage in deceit.

Also, while there are moments that don't quite work, the movie is generally a visual delight, and seems to improve as the movie goes along (one of the first moments in Oz requires Franco to interact with a river fairy and you won't believe it for a moment) with a good payoff in the big finale. This is also the rare movie that may benefit from 3D. Especially—and surprisingly—the opening, which follows The Wizard of Oz in being in black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Despite that old-timey look, they kept these scenes in 3D and the result is sumptuous. The narrow aspect ratio also allows the very useful trick of elements breaking that frame, augmenting the 3D without throwing things directly at the audience.

To the extent that Oz the Great and Powerful is worth seeing, it is for the visuals, which means it is best seen in a theater and may not play well at all on the average home TV setup.

The PG rating is emminently fair. While some scenes (tornado, mean flying baboons, climactic conflict full of noise) may be too intense for younger kids, there is a minimum of person-on-person violence and never any gore.

  • Oz the Great and Powerful is a Walt Disney Picture's release.
  • Wide theatrical release on Friday, March 8, 2013
  • Directed by Sam Raimi
  • Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Joey King
  • Running time: 127 minutes
  • Rated PG for for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
  • Alex's rating: 6 out of 10



  1. By carolinakid

    Entertainment Weekly gave OZ a C+. I'll wait for the DVD.

  2. By Lani

    Looks like it's currently running at 60% at RottenTomatoes.com:

    It suffers from some tonal inconsistency and a deflated sense of wonder, but Oz the Great and Powerful still packs enough visual dazzle and clever wit to be entertaining in its own right.

  3. By oregontraveler

    I think the subject matter will help this from becoming another John Carter for Disney. However, I'll probably wait until it hits the dollar theaters or maybe the drive-in to see it.

  4. By cstephens

    I thought the movie was ok, and I actually liked the performances individually and in spots, but while I'm not nearly as good as Alex in articulating what I liked and didn't like, I think the problem for me was the script. Visually, the movie is stunning, as was evident in the trailer. But even though you know the journey is going to be Oz's development, I kinda didn't care. I remember they advertised was some connection between this film and the "Alice in Wonderland" film that starred Johnny Depp. I loved that film and so had been looking forward to this one, but I thought it fell flat overall.

    I do disagree quite a bit on one point from Alex's review. We did see the film in 3D, and the gimmicks got old really fast. It was fun in a few of the early parts of the movie, but when they repeatedly relied on the 3D device many times in the course of the movie, and by the end, they are still in fact throwing things directly at your head, it had just built an irritation in me from what I thought was an overuse of that in the film. I suppose an argument can be made that it goes along with the illusion and magic theme touted by Oz, but to me, it cheapened the film.

    They've already talked about a sequel. The trailer would have to wow me considerably for me to want to see it.

  5. By tea4two

    Based on the trailers, we weren't expecting anything deep from this movie, so we weren't really disappointed by the lack of a meatier story. The early trailers seemed to emphasize more of the dark aspects of the story, which intrigued us and made us interested in seeing more. Then the trailers changed to emphasize the silly humor, which made us less interested in the film and the characters. I agree with Alex that the characters weren't nearly as developed as they could have been. It would have been great if the story had spent more time dealing with character development and the darker side of the story. Overall, we also liked China Doll and Finley better than the humans. But, as everyone seems to agree, the visuals were stunning. The opening credits were one of my favorite parts of the movie! Even Mr. Tea thought the tornado was well done (and he is very, very picky about movie tornados!). Enjoyed seeing this movie, but don't feel compelled to buy the DVD.

  6. By jimthedj

    Any more kid friendly, it would not be popular with adults. Everyone is quick to criticize, but i think Disney learned their lesson on making a movie too dark and dramatic like they did with the remake Alice in Wonderland.

    In a day where there are few movies that both an adult and a child can watch and not be "kids movie", this movie hit the mark and was well done. Any more dramatic or dark, kids would not have been able to watch from being to boring or scary.

    I think this move was the perfect "prequel". It answered questions you always wondered from the original, tied them up neatly and blended perfectly. 3D is the only way to see it, adding the same dimensional difference as color film did for black and white.

  7. By Alex S.

    I was surprised that they didn't keep the B&W opening in 2D and then switch to 3D in Oz.

    But I'm glad they didn't. The 3D opening titles were marvelous.

  8. By tea4two

    Quote Originally Posted by jimthedj View Post
    Any more kid friendly, it would not be popular with adults. Everyone is quick to criticize, but i think Disney learned their lesson on making a movie too dark and dramatic like they did with the remake Alice in Wonderland..
    "Dark" doesn't have to mean gory or disturbingly creepy. Look at "Tangled" -- a great example of Disney using dark character elements to create a meatier and more resonant story line (e.g. Mother Gothel the emotionally abusive mother figure?). "Pinocchio" is pretty dark, too. I didn't find either of these movies to be dark or gory in the Tim Burton sense of the word. And, as far as I know, adults and kids enjoy watching these movies together. And while you may think that everyone here is criticizing the film, a quick re-reading of the comments shows that everyone who has seen the movie did like something about it, even if it was more about the amazing visual effects than storyline.

    Quote Originally Posted by Alex S. View Post
    I was surprised that they didn't keep the B&W opening in 2D and then switch to 3D in Oz.

    But I'm glad they didn't. The 3D opening titles were marvelous.

    Totally agree -- the opening titles were so beautiful! And we loved the aspect ratio change when the sepia segment changed into color, too!

  9. By cheshirecatgirl

    I also loved the opening credits, they really drew me in. I saw the movie in 2D, so I can't comment about 3D elements. But I did think the human characters were lacking. I felt the witches' relationships and characteristics were not explained or shown satisfactorily. Also, I thought James Franco's grin was really annoying.

  10. By Jimbo996

    I'm disappointed that there were NO breakout performances in this prequel. In the original, there were so many terrific performances that you stay glued from the beginning to the end. From Dorothy to the Scarecrow to the Good Witch to the Wicked Witch, they were all great. Now, all you have are the visuals. This is like one star subtracted from Alice in Wonderland who had terrific performances from Johnny Depp and Helen Bonham Carter.

    My feeling is why this version when we really needed a big screen adaption of "Wicked" the musical.

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