Quadlings, tinkers, and a china doll join the familiar cast of Munchkins, flying monkeys, and witches to conjure a tale of a conniving carnie named Oscar Diggs’ rise to power in Oz the Great and Powerful. This prequel, of sorts, to the 1939 film titled The Wizard of Oz is based on works by L. Frank Baum who wrote the original book titled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was published in 1900.
Oscar “Oz” Diggs (played by James Franco) begins his journey in Kansas as an unsuccessful carnival magician who pulls upon more strings attached to women’s hearts than upon rabbit ears from out of hats. Oz yearns for greatness instead of the mediocrity he sees within his own existence. He despises his assistants and highlights their faults by angrily shouting insults at them. The sullen tears of a disabled girl (Joey King) who believes his powers will make it possible for her to walk again have no effect on him. Even the news from Annie (Michelle Williams), his beloved girlfriend from years passed, that she has received a marriage proposal from another suitor, does not persuade him to choose the promise of fulfillment that stands in front of him, that of a family life, over his dubious prospect for prominence. Enter the gale!
I will stop short of sounding a spoiler alert for all you stragglers out there who have not yet seen the movie. Giving away the details of a story’s denouement is wholly unforgivable. I’m still pissed off at the guy in front of me in line for Attack of the Clones who, talking to his buddy, loudly informed him and anyone else within an earshot that “Anakin gets his arm cut off in this one.” Thanks Jerk! But what I will say is that the extra few dollars to see the majestic Land of Oz in 3D is well worth it. The classic corridor themed opening credits are equally phenomenal, as is the water-spewing river fairy which made me blink, the storm of raining spears which made me flinch, and the billowy entrance of the Wicked Witch of the West which made my inner child cower.
The Wizard of Oz has always been a character that I’ve struggled to view as favorable. He is after all, a “humbug,” as the Scarecrow played by Ray Bolger in The Wizard of Oz put it. The genius of Oz the Great and Powerful lies in its ability to convince us to trade the trickery for the ingenuity, and to overlook the dastardly for the stealthy. With wicked witches in pursuit and the precious china in pieces, haggling over the would-be wizard’s virtuousness may not be the wisest course to take, depending on the seriousness of the character flaw in question and provided that he can indeed rid the land of the greater evil. And of course, for all of his slyness, we do need the Wizard to rid the land of the greater evil.
But for all the genius Oz the Great and Powerful exudes, one thing it cannot do is replicate Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow), Jack Haley (The Tin Man), Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion) and Terry (Toto) on the yellow brick road. Though I’m told a sequel is in the works that may reprise The Wizard of Oz characters we all have grown to love over the years, nothing will ever compare to their songs. The innocence of Judy Garland’s voice in Over the Rainbow, Ray Bolger’s whimsical If I Only Had a Brain, the tenderness of Jack Haley’s If I Only Had a Heart, and the hysteria of Bert Lahr’s If I Only Had the Nerve and If I Were King of the Forest are what I would have asked the Wizard for if I was a Hollywood director in Emerald City.