2013-03-08

Oz the Great and Powerful – Like a Fun Ride at Disneyland

by Yo Snyder

It’s been a loooong time since the last time Disney visited
the Land of Oz (anyone remember what that movie was?) However, I think that’s
what they were banking on. Time heals all wounds, and with some lessons learned
from their recent reimagining of Alice in
Wonderland
, this second attempt at reviving the Land of Oz on the big
screen is far more successful, and more importantly, enjoyable. Oz the Great and Powerful captures the
whimsy and fun of the classic film, some of the stranger, more fantastical elements
of the books, and combines all of that with some whiz-bang modern 3D technology
to create what’s ultimately yet another fun Disney ride that the whole family
can enjoy.

Oz the Great and
Powerful
tells us the story of the “man behind the curtain” that in the
classic Judy Garland film we weren’t supposed to pay any attention to. Here we
learn how that man came to be behind that curtain and, more importantly, who
exactly he is. We also learn how Oz came to be in the situation he was before
Dorothy went somewhere over the rainbow. These types of prequel stories are
always rather tricky; they have to properly tie-in with the well-known classic
without seeming to repeat too much or stray too far from that very familiar
material. This Oz does a fine job of placing little Easter eggs that lead into
the “sequel” from 1939 and of telling a new but familiar story in the Land of
Oz. Yes, some of the beats and motions of this story are very familiar to the
original, but there are enough variations to help set apart and keep it fresh.
It even takes a few elements from the books which they just couldn’t have done
with the technology available back in 1939; which, as a fan of the books, I was
very glad of.

Now there was one aspect of this movie that I normally don’t
comment on, mainly because it rarely merits any comment, and that’s the use of
3D. Most movies these days use 3D to either give it more “texture” and…well,
depth, and there are some that use it in overly gimmicky ways. Oz the Great and Powerful finds the right
balance between those two and uses its 3D to enhance that fun feeling of being
on a ride at Disneyland. There are times where it’s gimmicky but amusing, and
times where it helps add to the scope of what’s happening. Imagine my surprise
when for the first time in a long time I actually really enjoyed seeing a movie
in 3D and felt that it made the movie a better experience.

However, Oz the Great
and Powerful
isn’t all about whimsy and fun 3D gimmicks, it also tells a
rather interesting story. It turns out that the great Oz is nothing more than a
cheap magician and con man. We meet him as he puts on his show in a dusty,
backwater portion of Kansas. However, there’s more to this man than meets the
eye because he does want to be more. In fact, he wants to be someone great;
like his hero Thomas Edison. Well, one tornado later, he finds himself in Oz, a
land that’s been awaiting a great man, a great wizard, to free them from
darkness. Perhaps the most fascinating scene of the film is the moment when Oz
and a few others first realize that although he may not be the wizard the land
was expecting, he may indeed be the one they’ve been waiting for. Oz often said
in his performances that if you believe, anything can happen. Well, at his last
show in Kansas, one young girl took that to heart and begged him to make her
walk. Of course he couldn’t. But then he arrives in Oz where he comes across a
delicate young girl made of fine china whose legs have been broken. This time,
he pulls out a bottle of magic (glue) and restores her legs and helps her walk
again. It’s a touching, powerful moment, and the first step in Oz’s journey to
fulfilling his destiny. But how does that indicate that he may be the one the
land has been waiting for? Well, because it’s not unlike another story (a true
one, I might add).

There once was another land, long ago, that was also
awaiting the arrival of someone. However, they weren’t awaiting a wizard, they
were awaiting a messiah. And when that messiah did arrive, he wasn’t quite what
they were expecting. In fact, he was so far from what they were expecting that
even those who heralded his arrival had their doubts. When they asked Jesus how
they could know if he was “the One”, his response is rather interesting; “Go
back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight,
the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are
raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7:22) In short,
people could know that he was the One because of his actions. That’s still true
today because Jesus is still doing those things, still changing lives for all
eternity. The first hint that Oz might actually be the great and powerful one
came when he made the lame walk; see the parallel there? One of the many proofs
that Jesus Christ is and always will be the great and powerful One came when he
made the lame walk, the blind see, and saved our souls for all eternity. It’s
just one more case of fiction echoing reality.

Now, that’s not to imply that Oz the Great and Powerful is in any way a “deep” movie. In truth,
it isn’t. It’s mostly just a fun ride in a colorful world with enjoyable
characters. Most of those characters are rather slight, and in truth, it’s a
shame the three leading ladies didn’t have more to do or more well-rounded
characters. I was also disappointed that a fun little twist involving one of
those characters is spoiled by the merchandising for the movie and is even
given away in the opening credits (it’s quick, but it’s there). On the flip
side, I did appreciate that this is a fun movie the whole family can enjoy. Oh,
there are some scary moments, but no more so than the original film. The scares
here aren’t really the kind that creep you out, but more of the someone-in-a-Halloween-mask
yelling out “boo!” kind. In a way, that too captures the spirit of the original
film. I remember thinking the witch and her minions were kind of scary when I
first saw that movie as a kid, but that was part of the charm and fun.

This isn’t a perfect movie, and probably not even a real
great one. Some of the things that lead into the Judy Garland “sequel” have you
seeing the events from the 1939 film in a different light, and not necessarily
for the better. And, thinking back on what the Wizard of Oz is like in the sequel,
it certainly doesn’t seem like he really changed all that drastically over the
years despite his adventures here. However, despite it’s flaws, Oz the Great and Powerful is a fun
movie, and one that’s sure to engage the imaginations of the younger generation
it’s obviously aiming at. Yet I also found it enjoyable as an adult, if for no
other reason that it does have the feel of being a ride at Disneyland, which
somehow have that magical ability to help us all feel like kids again. That’s a
pretty good feeling to have after seeing a movie.

Score: 5 of 7 – Oz the
Great and Powerful is rated PG. There are some scary moments with the witches
and their minions, and Oz himself is a bit of a ladies man. I still think it’s
a movie the whole family should probably enjoy.