If you’re going to do a movie called Oz The Great and Powerful, you’re inviting comparisons to “the” movie about Oz, which has stood up for 74 years. This movie compares well in many ways, but in the end I’d say it takes itself a tad too seriously.
It’s new on DVD, and having missed it on the big screen, I find James Franco is a better wizard than I’d been led to believe in the various reviews I’ve encountered. He doesn’t have the flamboyance of Frank Morgan or the over-the-top showmanship of W.C. Fields, for whom the original movie character was written. What he does present is a scoundrel who somewhat regrets he’s a scoundrel and wishes to do better, and at that Franco does a nice job.
Oz The Great and Powerful borrows some of the familiar tropes from “the” film, including starting out in black and white and converting to color when the story flows from Kansas into Oz – with the added treat of filling out the widescreen frame. That was nicely done, and done better than the film manages other links to the original.
As in “the” film, characters from Kansas find themselves in Oz but in different form. Here’s the girl he couldn’t help, here’s the good friend he doesn’t appreciate, and here’s the good woman in his life. But at the end of “the” movie, we’re presented a logical explanation of the similarities. Here those similarities are apparently little more than a remarkable coincidence.
Don’t get me wrong, as a fan of “the” movie – it’s on my short list of all-time favorites – I really enjoyed Oz The Great and Powerful, much more than Disney’s previous attempt to reboot the franchise, Return to Oz back in 1985. But I’m also one of the precious few who kind of liked Return to Oz (which actually did a better job of integrating the “real” L. Frank Baum story into the film, or at least the immortal W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill imagery, than even “the” Oz movie).
It’s all effective fantasy and a smashing good story. It just doesn’t have the whimsy of “the” film. They just don’t seem to be having as much fun as the group seemed to be having back in 1939. Here, when Oz meets the munchkins, there’s much ado and the little people begin to dance and cheer and sing. The reluctant wizard makes them stop and chill. It’s a cute scene, but it exemplifies the difference: This Land of Oz needs a little more warmth, a little more whimsy, a little more joy.