Oz The Great and Powerful is out in theaters today!

Whenever a movie becomes a bit hit, it's almost inevitable that a sequel and/or a prequel will follow eventually.  And why not?  The story and characters end up capturing viewers' imaginations, and they want to immerse themselves in that world, find out more about the characters, follow their adventures going forward.

That's why I'm pretty sure that Oz The Great and Powerful is going to be a huge hit. After all, what movie has a greater following than Judy Garland's 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz?  Who hasn't heard "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" or "Follow the Yellow Brick Road"?  There's a big fan base from the movie and L. Frank Baum's original book series (I read all 14 books!) who would love to find out how two-bit magician Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs ended up as the Wizard of Oz, so the anticipation for this movie is huge.  I attended an advanced screening of Oz The Great and Powerful, and I have to say, it was OZ-some :)

About the film
Disney’s fantastical adventure “Oz The Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi, imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum’s beloved wizard character. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot—fame and fortune are his for the taking—that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity—and even a bit of wizardry—Oscar transforms himself not only into the great wizard but into a better man as well.

What I liked
Oz The Great and Powerful is everything a good prequel should be!  It's a story that stands on it's own, and at the same time it gives a believable explanation of what happened in Oz before Dorothy came along (as believable as you can get for a fantasy world, of colike urse!). I won't spoil it for anyone by revealing any plot details, but I will say that it gives some nice back stories for some of the characters and answers questions like "Why was there no ruler when Oz came along?" or "Why is the Wicked Witch of the West green?".

I also loved how much this movie pays homage to the style and spirit of the 1939 classic.  Just like in the Judy Garland movie, this one starts in black and white, then turns into color once the main character enters the land of Oz.  The color palate for Oz The Great and Powerful is very much like the one for The Wizard of Oz.  Check out the Emerald City:
In both movies, you have the yellow brick road with fields of bright red poppies on either side, and the graceful green spires of the Emerald City rising in the distance.  Of course, the modern version is much more detailed and refined, as you would expect with the advances in technology, but it's not too difficult to believe that you're looking at the same city.  It really feels like the world that Dorothy stepped into in 1939 and the one that Oscar steps into in 2013 are one and the same.
There's continuity in the characters as well.  The Munchkins look and sound pretty much the same (although I'm glad James Franco shuts them up before they do too much singing!).  Glinda the Good Witch of the South looks as sweet as ever, and you can imagine Michelle Williams as the younger Glinda aging gracefully into Billie Burke's character.  (note how she had to be content with a plastic kiddie star wand in 1939, but in 2013 she gets a graceful wand with a magical glow!)

The similarities between the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939 and 2013 are even more striking.  Her hair is stragglier and her dress is frumpier in the 1393 version, but even that is logical, because it's supposed to be her older self!  Her younger self is a lot sleeker, sassier and sexier, but I guess years of hating the Wizard of Oz really took their toll on her, and turned her into an old crone :)  She was actually my favorite character in the movie; like Elphaba in Wicked, this version of the Wicked Witch of the West is quite a complex character, not black-and-white evil.

What I didn't like
The dialogue and acting were perhaps a bit too faithful to the spirit and style of the 1939 movie.  James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams are all heavyweight actors, and they've all tackled some pretty powerful roles in the past, but I found their performances too campy and over-the-top. Maybe the fault lies with the dialogue, but I felt like they were just saying their lines without really getting into their characters.  The movie was very light and fluffy, like a cartoon, when I would have preferred something a bit edgier, like Disney's 2010 Alice in Wonderland remake.

See It
.... if you want to take your kids, or if you read the books/watched the movie as a child and want to go on a nostalgia trip.

Save It
.... if you're new to the world of Oz and you're expecting a gripping action thriller.

The story is exciting, funny and touching at the same time -- kids will love it, my daughter certainly did!  I was happy to see characters from the book series who were not featured in the 1939 movie, like the Quadlings and the China people, and I'm hoping this will help my daughter realize there's a whole lot more to discover about Oz, and inspire her to read the book series.

Disclosure: I attended an advance screening of the movie so I could post my opinions about the movie on opening day.  The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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