‘Oz: The Great and Powerful:’ James Franco Gonna James Franco

Oz: The Great and Powerful’s backstory includes a king that was killed and a prophecy that says a wizard is supposed to come save and rule the people of Oz. There are several witches, one who rules over one section of Oz, maybe? Or she just hangs out there, because they still need that wizard? Two of the witches are sisters, and they spend their time in the castle in Emerald City, but they’re not in charge either? Or are they? Where did this prophecy come from? This great wizard has to save the people from what, exactly? Good questions, me! These are a few of the many that are never acknowledged, let alone answered, in this vague, lackadaisical Oz-ish movie.

According to my extensive research (one article I read somewhere), L. Frank Baum, the author of most of the books in the Oz series, didn’t concern himself much with continuity, opting for flighty fun over the detailed world building that someone like that crazypants, J.R.R. Tolkien, did with Lord of the Rings. The filmmakers could have easily and rightfully taken liberties with the world of Oz, liberties that did not (or did!) contradict the 1939 film. Any decisions at all would have helped contextualize the conflict and solidify the plot, protagonists, antagonists, etc. Instead, we end up with a sort of prequel that doesn’t give us any further insight into the world of Oz. It’s almost like the filmmakers were scared to say anything new for fear of upsetting purists. Then why try to say anything at all?

The character development and relationships are tenuous and sloppy, perhaps as a result of not really knowing from where any of the conflict truly arises. The evil is trite and convoluted, the characterizations, meek and dashed off. Though sloppy, the structure is extraordinarily derivative of The Wizard of Oz. It begins in black and white, “at home” with our wizard, Oscar (James Franco), a con man and a circus magician. He gets lifted off to Oz in a twister, where everything becomes colorful, and he finds entertaining companions to journey with him to the Emerald City to defeat the evil witch. Then, he gives his new friends gifts at the end! There is no reason that this movie, a prequel of sorts, a NOT REMAKE of The Wizard of Oz, has to be structured like that. It plays off less like an homage and more like an attempt to grasp at familiarity and ally itself with The Wizard of Oz. It should have been an effort to create something new and fun and interesting.

James Franco. Why. He clearly stopped trying a long time ago. He is so self-conscious on screen, as in too much into the idea that it is himself on the screen, saying those lines. I don’t believe he was always like that. Ever since his little meta foray into the soap opera world and the worst Oscar broadcast in a long time, he’s just been kind of insufferable to watch.  Oz is supposed to be a conman. In order to con people, you have to have charisma, charm, finesse, attitude. You need much more than what James Franco has, which is really adorable eye wrinkles when he smiles, and that’s about it.

Zach Braff was the best part of the movie. He starts out as Oscar’s frustrated, sassy circus assistant, then becomes the voice of his mouthy bellhop monkey slave. Literally all of the jokes in the script, all of the funny lines, went to Zach Braff. And that character really is funny. It was almost worse that the monkey was that well written because then for the rest of the script, I was wondering where the snappy dialogue was.

Some of the visuals were good; the actual, physical details of Oz were well done and held my interest. Though for the first ten minutes or so we traverse the pathways of Oz with the wizard, the scenery looks like it could easily be the really cool next version of Temple Run.

I think the heart of the problem with Oz: The Great and Powerful is that it is unequivocally a kid’s movie. The Wizard of Oz is not. In 1939, they didn’t really have the luxury of niche targeting for films, but the original was much more skilled at appealing to a wide, able-minded audience that included adults and children (who, depending on their threshold for fear, may or may not have been scarred for life after viewing it. But you know, a good kind of scarred for life). Oz: The Great and Powerful tries to subdue the really dark and bring out the light and fluffy, but this results in a sometimes entertaining, pretty confusing, and mostly plotless movie shoved into a seven decade old structure and held together with a too thin thread of a funny monkey lines.

Grade: C-

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11 years ago

Ahhh I am just sitting outside Chicago, IL I just had a cup of coffee and thinking hey I really would love to view this in 3D!!! What an ahhhmazing job from the insurmountable James Franco!!! Oh boy Oscar leave my jacket alone!!

11 years ago

Thank you! I had to remind myself after the movie that it was a Disney film and not as dark as it almost seemed.

11 years ago

If you have read The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, you know that they missed a chance to go darker. Like Batman style darker. Not talking the animal erotica from that book, but in the tone, the character interactions, and how the Wizard truly was a power mongering con man.

Someone needs to give me THAT Oz movie.

Larry Putzgerald
11 years ago
Reply to  PunkA

That would be awesome. Too bad the studios love making movies with mass appeal. Especially movies like Wizard of Oz which already has the name recognition.

10 years ago

I have to agree with this assessment. I can’t recall a leading man with such a lack of presence. If he were playing the role of a not too bright stoner playing the role of a not too bright con man, he might be believable.