Making the Grades
Creating a prequel for a movie as legendary as the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz takes a fair amount of ego, but then ego is what Oz The Great and Powerful is all about.
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), known on the traveling circus circuit as Oz, is a minor-league magician and con artist with a mediocre show. He aspires for greatness but only the kind that comes with adulation and not ethics. At each stop, he woos women with a slight-of-hand trick, a cheap trinket and a story about his dead grandmother. Knowing he’ll be moving on soon, he doesn’t worry about any kind of long-term commitment.
Then, while trying to escape the angry boyfriend of one of his conquests, Oz is swept away in a tornado and roughly deposited in an enchanted land that shares his moniker. He’s surprised to discover his arrival has been foretold and that the good people of Oz believe he will restore peace in the land by disposing of the evil witch. The helping part of the prophecy doesn’t interest him but the room full of gold that comes with the role does. Trying to find the easiest way to rid Oz of the witch and snag the prize, he sets off down the yellow brick road with a flying monkey (voice by Zach Braff) as a companion and baggage carrier.
Although there aren’t any talking lions, scarecrows or tin men in this adventure, Oz encounters a broken china doll (voice by Joey King) and three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) who all see possibilities in the illusionist but aren’t sure if he can live up to the reality of what he can be.
It is Oz’s transformation from indifferent to actively engaged that becomes the essence of this visually stunning story. Yet like the original movie, Oz The Great and Powerful isn’t aimed at young children. Huge, screeching, flying baboons, along with soldiers armed with spears and fireballs that fly from the sky create plenty of moments of peril. So do the evil actions of the witch. At 130 minutes, the film also feels unnecessarily drawn-out, although the length of the story gives Oz time to make positive personal changes in a more believable way.
Paying homage to the 1939 production, this film begins in sepia tone then bursts into color once the magician reaches Oz. But because Warner Brothers own the rights to the images in the original MGM film, Director Sam Raimi was limited in what he could include in this prequel. Luckily fans of The Wizard of Oz will still find plenty of allusions to the production that starred Judy Garland as Dorothy, the girl with the ruby red slippers.
However just as Dorothy was disheartened to discover the truth about the great wizard behind the curtain in the Emerald City, some viewers may be disappointed to find that showmanship and deception are still at the core of what this prestidigitator depends on. He is admittedly a much-improved man thanks to his time in Oz, but his propensity for monkey business still raises moral questions worth discussing.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Oz The Great and Powerful.
During his magic show, Oz’s assistant Frank (Zach Braff) uses a variety of sound effects. How do these add to the performance? What objects are used to make different noises? Check out this short film on old time radio sound effects.
Oz doesn’t want to be good, he wants to be great. How does he define the difference between goodness and greatness? How do you define greatness? How does Oz’s treatment of his assistant Frank and later Finely the monkey show what kind of man he really is?
Oz considers lies to be steppingstones to greatness. How does Finley feel about the untruths? How can a person discern when someone is lying? Besides trying to fool others, how is Oz dishonest with himself? How do others help him discover the goodness within?
The three rules for a showman are to, “Show up, Keep up, and Shut up.” What does Oz learn about “showing up”?
What gifts does Oz give to his friends? What is the significance of each one of these presents?