I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who wasn’t a fan of The Wizard of Oz. The 1939 film practically defines the term “classic” with iconic themes and visuals that have stuck in the collective mind of moviegoers for over 70 years. Sam Raimi promised stunning 3D and a Wizard-focused origin story, but really only delivered on half of that.
Whenever Hollywood tampers with something as sacred as Oz, it’s hard not to be apprehensive. The images of Judy Garland as Dorothy, Munchkinland, the Yellow Brick Road and the green gates of the Emerald City are burned into our memories since childhood, and Hollywood has a tendency to sully those memories by “reimagining” these classics.
Oz started out a bit like a parody with James Franco‘s Wizard as a flimflam magician at a traveling circus. He’s immoral, a cheat, a liar, a charmer, and soon he gets into trouble with the circus strong man and is forced to flee in that famed balloon to be sucked into a tornado. The tornado imagery was promising. The objects flying by were reminiscent of Dorothy’s unconscious journey over the rainbow and the 3D provided good simulated motion, making the gimmick pay off. Even the switch from black and white to Technicolor seemed faithful to the original, yet still “inside” enough to give the audience a little wink every now and then.
Upon crash landing in Oz, the Wizard meets three witches: the innocent Theodora (Mila Kunis looking sick’ning), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and the famed Glinda (Michelle Williams) who believe him to be the prophesized savoir of their land. They send him on a quest that has him teaming up with new friends Finley the monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and a porcelain doll (Joey King) he finds in China Town—get it? China Town? Together they must journey through the dark forest to destroy the Wicked Witch’s wand.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of conspiring and conniving at the Emerald City and it’s clear that the three witches aren’t exactly buddies. Without spoiling the Wicked Witch’s identity, though I think it’s pretty obvious from all the stills they’ve released, one of them turns evil and we get to see her cackle and ride off on a broom a la Margaret Hamilton in the original.
Because of some legal hang-ups, we don’t see the iconic red slippers—even though one of the witches must have them, since Dorothy only gets them when she drops a house on the Wicked Witch’s sister. The design of the Emerald City is also slightly tweaked and Williams’ Glinda wears a more toned-down, simple dress instead of the poofy pink gown of Billie Burke. The changes aren’t incredibly noticeable, but they make the film lack that true Oz feeling that so many of us remember.
While the 3D is impressive, the film starts to feel about a half an hour too long and seems to struggle with whether it’s a parody, a modern remake, a reimagining or a sugary children’s tale. Most kids’ films combine jokes for the parents with fun for the kids, but it feels like Oz can’t always decide which direction it wants to go.
Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful might be fun in IMAX 3D, but with the lack of zip in the story, it might not be worth the steep price of admission for visuals alone.