Oz: The Great and Powerful Review
As we drove home from this movie, my wife was talking to her mom on the phone and she said “it was really good! Not ‘Tim Burton-y’ at all!” And I realized:
She nailed it.
This does seem like the type of movie that Disney would trust to Tim Burton. Compare some of the aspects of the story to another classic story that was given to Burton: Alice in Wonderland. In “Alice,” you have the over the top landscapes of wonderland, in “Oz” you have places like the Emerald City. The Queen of Hearts easily compares to the Wicked Witch. Then there’s always creatures like the Cheshire Cat and the Flying Monkeys. This movie had “Burton” written all over it, but the Mouse went a different direction. And it is glorious.
As soon as the opening credits begin, this movie hooks you in. Not with over-the-top weirdness, but with subtle whimsey. Unlike many people, my first trip to Disney World was as an adult. But even as a 21 year old, I felt stripped of my cynicism and ran around the park with a childlike enthusiasm. The name “Magic Kingdom” describes well the feeling that permeates the park. Somehow, “Oz” packs that same feeling onto film.
I’ll pause here to say something: see this movie in 3D. I know some people think 3D is cheesy and is ruining film and will cause the end of humanity, but I’m serious, “Oz” was meant to be enjoyed with glasses on. The way that depth is used to create a world that you feel like you’re actually moving toward was incredible. I’ve seen 3D before, but not used as well as this.
True to the original, “Oz” begins in black and white, but the real treat is that the characters’ dialogue and cadence harkens back to the old style of hollywood. I found myself laughing at little gags that in any other movie seem campy, but work seamlessly here. The filmmakers have gone beyond entertainment and have created an experience instead.
The story is basically of how Oz (James Franco) came to be the Wizard. Within that story we also get backstory on the Wicked Witch of the West and Wicked Witch of the East and a perfect lead up to the original “Wizard of Oz.” For fans of the original, there are plenty of “I see what you did there” moments to enjoy. It’s a great story and the actors strike just the right tone between taking the whole thing too seriously and acting like it’s a movie for toddlers. Which it’s not.
My ultimate test for enjoying a movie is did it make me forget that I was watching it. I have dragged my wife to some truly terrible movies in the past (XXX: State of the Union jumps to mind) and the letdown is always that we weren’t transported anywhere. I’m still there, eight rows back on a creaky, red, faux-velvet seat, feet firmly planted on a sticky floor. What’s the purpose of a theater if it’s not a ship that’s taking us all to a shared destination? If I’m still there, stuck in a room that’s inevitably too hot or too cold, then I’d just as well have my money back.
And truly, that’s what makes Oz special. Within moments I was transported to another place, a place that made me feel like I was a kid again. A place that really did feel like magic. No pretense, no cynicism, just earnest excitement at what was going to happen next. It was 127 minutes of simple happiness, and that’s about the best I can ask for from a movie.