By Dale D. Dalenberg, M.D.
March 12, 2013
Oz was always too big for L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel.
Baum himself enjoyed years of success thanks to the traveling musical show based on his work, replete with dancing girls and romantic subplots that were intended more for adults than for children. The 1939 MGM film masterpiece transformed Oz by giving the picaresque tale of Dorothy’s adventures a villain, the Wicked Witch of the West, who had only been a minor nuisance for the one short chapter in the original book. And Broadway gave the Witch a back-story in Wicked.
But now, we have a new back-story. Oz TG&P gives us the Wicked Witch as a woman scorned after a romantic tryst with none other than. . .you guessed it, the Wizard. Hell hath no fury. Wicked gave us a Witch who was an outcast because “it’s not easy being green.” But Oz TG&P ups the ante on sheer witchiness, because she’s got something to be really mad about this time, and something the droves of teens in the audience can sink their teeth into. This witch’s problem is that she gave it up too easily to the man from Kansas, a wizard unready for romantic commitment, and now she’s regretting her hastiness. She’s gone from green at love to green with a flying broomstick.
The Wizard, a hapless cad from Kansas, charlatan magician and con man, finds himself in Oz by way of tornado while trying to flee his romantic and other entanglements in Kansas. But instead of escaping such things, he finds himself smack dab in the middle of a three-way witch fight. There is a fair bit of magic, with the good witch Glinda making bubbles, and the two baddies throwing fireballs and Emperor-of-the-Galaxy-style green lightning. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like this was really just a chick flick with magical trappings, a film about three sisters fighting over a dude who is afraid to commit, only he grows up in the course of the story to recognize which sister is worthy of his affection, and in the end he is ready to settle down and start a family with her, only in this case he is settling down to rule the country of Oz from a throne in the Emerald City and the family is one little china doll who needs new parents.
Speaking of the china doll, Oz TG&P does have a few treats for fans of the Baum books. The china town was in Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” but it was left out of the 1939 movie. It is charming to see it show up in the new movie. The flying monkeys were in the book too, but they were only evil because the Wicked Witch had control of the wishing cap that forced them to grant her three wishes. After they escaped the thrall of the Wicked Witch, they were good monkeys. Oz TG&P features one of those good monkeys, presumably in the days before the Wicked Witch of the West gets control of his kinfolk.
The film makes him into a new character named Finley who becomes the Wizard’s valet of sorts. He makes for an endearing addition to the story, dressed in a bellhop uniform that is very similar to some of the pictures of the monkeys in W. W. Denslow’s original illustrations for “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
True Oz fans may bristle at the departures from Baum’s vision (in the book, for instance, the china people freeze into statuettes when they leave their village, but in the movie the china girl stays animated after leaving home to go on the voyage.) But, overall this version of Oz is a fair representation of what the Oz books were all about. They are certainly no farther from the Oz vision than some of L. Frank Baum’s own spin-offs of his fantasy world, like the Oz musical or the films from 1914.
The main failing of Oz TG&P is really not anything that you can blame on this film or its makers. The main failing is simply that it isn’t a timeless classic. But how can you top or even match a film like the 1939 Wizard of Oz where every moment of that film, every visual, every line of dialogue has become iconic? Simply put, you can’t. As for me, I’m just happy that Disney has pulled off a qualified success a couple times now in the Oz arena, and in both instances was reasonably respectable to the source material.
I refer, of course, to the 1985 Return to Oz which did a nice job of folding the second two L. Frank Baum Oz books into one movie.
Finally, a comment on the 3-D. Oz TG&P was made for 3-D, not retrofitted after the fact for 3-D. Starting with the old-fashioned stereoscope style title sequences and on into colorful Oz, this film’s 3-D absolutely pops. Go see it in IMAX 3-D, if at all possible. A little technology goes a long way toward making this less than timeless film a little more of an experience.
The Wizard, all smoke and mirrors, the man behind the curtain, can relate.
Oz the Great and Powerful
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Sam Raimi
Featuring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams. . .