ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT: Five Reasons I liked Oz: The Great and Powerful

By D. Lanier Shook                         June 16, 2013

Have you seen the 1939 Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. Well, you need to, since its a film classic. Have you seen any of the other Oz movies? There are several good ones out there? Have you read any of the Oz books? There were several written by Mr. Baum and a number of other folks. If you click here you can find out about the people who were so impressed by the Land of Oz they continue the story.

Oz: The Great and Powerful arrived in theaters a few months ago but I only managed to see it this week. The critics I’ve heard didn’t like it, but I thought it was really good. Here’s why.

1. It’s family friendly.

I liked Oz: TG&P because it was a decent movie I wouldn’t hesitate to say I’ve seen. There are hints that Oscar Diggs —Oz— is a scoundrel, but they’re just hints. The violence is limited since the inhabitants of Oz are “forbidden from killing.” Even the bad guys fly away unharmed — more or less. Maybe it’s not a sophisticated view, but to me this is the biggest reason I liked Oz:TG&P.

2. It’s true to the books.

I am a huge fan of the Oz books. They’re family friendly, kid friendly, fun, and thought provoking. For example, we learn in one of them how the Tin Woodman became a Tin Woodman. Apparently a Wicked Witch enchanted his axe to chop off his leg, which he replaced with a tin leg. This continued with all his limbs and eventually his head. In fact, we later meet the Tin Man’s head.

If one considers the 1939 movie to be the entire Oz experience, then Oz: The Great and Powerful is disappointing. But when you consider all the books Oz: TG&P is a significant element of the story. It not only tells the story of what happened before the events of the 1939 movie, but it also is true to the “spirit” of the books.

3. It’s well acted.

Oz: The Great and Powerful has a great cast. I’m not a diehard fan of James Franco, but I’ve only seen him in Spider Man and The Great Raid. But Mr. Franco does a great job as the cocky, never-say-die con-man who’s just what Oz needs. He does a great job and I liked him in the role — and not just because he went to Warren Wilson College. (Sorry, I just had to throw that in.)

The other actors prove their worth, too. Mila Kunis had perhaps the biggest ruby slippers to fill and she did a great job. Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Zach Braff were impressive, but I thought Bill Cobb’s tinker was especially impressive.

I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to Mr. Franco, whose father died during the production.

4. It’s well written.

The 1939 Wizard of Oz was a great movie that I really enjoyed, but it was a musical vehicle for Judy Garland. The book was a very rich story in which Dorothy was about 6, her blue and white dress had political significance in Munchkinland, the shoes were silver, and Oz was presented as a very real place. In later books Uncle Henry would travel to Oz and Toto would learn to talk. The success of the 1939 film is testament to Miss Garland’s skill as an actor.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is true to the book, while paying homage to the 1939 picture. Most importantly it considers Oz to be a very real place. It takes a lighthearted approach but factual to the magic of Oz, which is in line with L. Frank Baum’s books. Finally, it fits into the history of Oz by introducing the wizard.

5. It’s really good Steampunk.

Oz: The Great and Powerful is a steampunk bonanza. If you aren’t familiar with steampunk think of it as Victorian technology, society, and fashion extended over a hundred years. (Or click here for Wikipedia’s definition.)

Oz:TG&P includes gadgets, hot air balloons, Thomas Edison, and other trademark steampunk elements. This is particularly significant because the original books were very much steampunk. L. Frank Baum had wind up men, a city that rose from the water, and “wheelers,” people with wheels on their hands and feet.

I have to close with a passage from the original Wizard of Oz book that has stuck with me. After Dorothy’s house is picked up by the tornado it flies through the air for some time. A trapdoor is open and Toto falls through. Well, Dorothy is heartbroken but after a while she looks over and sees that the little black dog is sitting there, held up by the air pressure coming through the trap door. She scoops up Toto and they continue to Oz.

I like to joke that after that Toto was no longer a little dog with silky black hair. Instead he was a little dog with solid white hair that just stared out into space and didn’t say anything. Just had to mention that.

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