o z t h e g r e a t a n d p o w e r f u l
8th March 2013
James Franco, Michelle Williams
2nd March 2013
We're off to see the wizard. Again. Indeed we are and Sam Raimi seems to have pulled off a magic trick himself, with a smart script and some inspired casting he's managed to make a family film for Disney that is individual and enjoyable.
This being a prequel we are in Kansas sometime in the 1900s with the wonderfully named Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs (a perfectly cast James Franco), or Oz for short; a small time circus magician and big time seducer of women trying to make a (dis) honest buck through dodgy magic tricks. Franco describes Oz as 'a cross between Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin'. His womanising ways look to being the end of him when he crosses the wrong strongman and his escape in a hot air balloon (natch) gets him caught up in a twister and thrust into Oz where he is immediately mistaken for the messianic Wizard they have all been waiting for. He is taken by the beautiful, innocent and naïve witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) to the Emerald City to meet her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and claim the throne and of course the riches that accompany the position. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth Oscar embraces not only the role but also Theodra with the same old music box ploy he used on all the other women. The cad. However, our Evanora is no fool and sends him off to kill the wicked witch who it turns out is actually Glinda (Michele Williams) and of course no more wicked that Mother Theresa. Those Emerald City inhabitants are actually the wicked ones and thus our small time magician becomes embroiled in a big time battle for the lives of the inhabitants of Oz and to prove that he has a good heart after all.
Raimi really has done a good job here. It's not easy in this day and age to create something of 'wonderment' but there really is a sense of that when Oscar crosses over into Oz. Vibrant colours, enormous flowers and lily pads and rainbow waterfalls. It's Alice In Wonderland meets Middle Earth. Oscar winning production designer Robert Strombert's previous work includes Avatar and Alice in Wonderland but here he and Raimi used a fair few actual sets. From the travelling circus in Kansas to Chinatown (not what you think...) the sets and CGI in the movie are not only exciting but also in keeping with the original, it's paying a nice homage whilst being right up to date technologically. The only thing that seemed to be unnecessary was the 3D element. As usual.
This is pretty much a perfect cast. The witches are all marvellous. Williams manages to pull off sweet and pure Glinda beautifully and never irritating which is no mean feat and Weisz and Kunis are clearly having a ball over in the Emerald City. Franco is just pitch perfect as the boyish 'can't help himself' Wizard in waiting and really nails the journey from a selfish gadabout to a goodhearted hero. He took magic lessons from Lance Burton and clearly has a knack for it, his magical flourishes are done with flair. Zach Braff gets a small but amusing turn as himself before he transformed into the winged bellhop monkey who is the Wizard's conscience and his interaction with Franco is fun all the way through. Braff was on set a lot for the takes and puppeteering sometimes and it shows, it really feels the monkey has his mannerisms and physicality, it works very well. The other outstanding performance is Joey King's China Girl. The doll itself is so beautifully created and thanks to some puppetry and other techniques, the interactions between her and Oz and other characters works beautifully. I really want a China Doll...I wonder if I can buy one at The Disney Store.......
The costumes are remarkable, I am sure I am not alone in saying I wanted each of the witches outfits from top to toe, they all look smoking hot, all of the time. Again I'm sure Disney will 'help' us on this and we can all go out this Halloween looking NOTHING like Mila Kunis but 150 quid lighter in pocket, they are good like that. Credit to Michael Kutchse and Gary Jones for creating costumes that looked modern and sexy but again held onto the sensibilities of the original and the time. They just about get away with Mila Kunis' sexy red riding outfit complete with tight leather trousers ( I mean come on) but overall costumes are ravishing, not a foot wrong. Not even the bellhop monkey.
Ultimately this is just a fun movie. Towards the last act it is almost as if someone panicked about it not being Disney enough and stuck a few cheesy moments in but that doesn't ruin it. The themes of the movie are much in keeping with those from the Wizard of Oz, believing in yourself, realising that you had all the love you needed all along, the importance of a good heart. There are enough cheeky little nods to the original to keep die hard fans happy (particularly the gifting scene at the end) and enough innovations to keep new fans amused too.