The magic of the Wizard of Oz is indelibly etched in my memory as it must be for all movie lovers who wax nostalgic for childhood. How could one ever forget Dorothy’s quivering hand nudging open the portal to that new and strange colorful world? Or the high-pitched munchkins who fêted her and sent her on her yellow-brick journey? Or the motley band—scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion—of her lovable companions? Alas, fond remembrances of times past cannot expunge the present. I now live with the knowledge that I will never be able to erase the bitter memory of being subjected to Oz, the Great and Powerful. Any attempt at reverie has been rudely interrupted by pondering when the necromancers in Hollywood spawned their own twister and sucked all the magic of childhood into its vortex. Oscar Diggs (James Franco) might be a huckster in the story, but he pales by comparison with director Sam Raimi, who has no shame about recycling every possible element from its predecessor and jumbling it into a sappy backstory about how the “wizard” learned that true love and goodness are the only real magic.
I could almost forgive the banal storytelling if the performances weren’t avert-your-eyes bad. Franco’s supposed to be filling the shoes of a messiah prophesied to deliver Oz from the clutches of wicked witches, but there isn’t an ounce of heroism about him. He plays the role like a smart-aleck frat boy whose over-confident grin is just waiting for a bash-in. (The tawdriness of his gigantic projected face was beyond belief.)
Mila Kunis (Black Swan) complements him perfectly in her sorority-babe-level interpretation of Theodora, who transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West thanks to eating an enchanted apple bestowed upon her by her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). We’re supposed to believe Theodora’s a good girl gone bad, but to me her bronzed skin, raven-black hair, and puffy, hot-red lips bespoke little but carnal lust from the get-go; her appearance would have been more appropriate for a model posing for a Penthouse photo shoot. If that isn’t cheap enough, wait until you hear her cackle; it made me think of the laugh emanating from the lips of a drama-major bimbo trying to scare other bimbos by telling horror stories around a slumber-party campfire.
As Glinda the Good Witch of the South (I guess the good wind was blowing in a different direction in earlier days), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn) is the only bright spot. She has an innocent charm that would have been well-suited to the role if she’d been given better lines to say than variants of the “believe and it will come true” cliché.
No matter. The Hollywood movie moguls know that the kiddies don’t care about acting anyway. Not to mention that many adults of our present generation seem to have regressed to pre-pubescence as far as discernment is concerned. Mainstream audiences will be happy to know that the new Oz has plenty of meretricious visual delights in store for them. Little boys are sure to find the witch’s fireballs “cool,” while little girls ogle “awwww” over the little monkey in the bellhop’s uniform. Adults and kids alike will be pleased with the china doll that joins Oscar on his adventures after he saves her from the rubble of her village that was ravaged by the Wicked Witch. After all, she has a blue pinafore just like Dorothy’s. The familiar is what comforts us. And Raimi the Slick and Smug knows it.
To combat this trend, filmmakers would do well to heed the advice of sage old Mrs. Doubtfire: “Don’t talk down to kids. If it’s something you’d enjoy, they’d enjoy it too.” Is it a vain hope that kids can learn to enjoy more than this puerile tripe? Perhaps, if the Star Wars prequels and soon-to be-consummated bloated Hobbit trilogy are any indication. Yet I still hold out hope that movies like Oz, The Great and Powerful are little more than a passing infantilism that the Good Witch will blow away in one of her bubbles on the wind.
Joe’s Grade: D