Guest Review By Madeline Bocaro
This film is a must see in 3D. The opening credits and graphics are actually the coolest part, taking you up inside the cyclone. For those who love MGM’s 1939 Wizard Of Oz, we must cite the references in the new Disney film…
The opening scenes are in black and white, with the 1939 film’s original square aspect ratio. The film changes to color when the magician (soon to be wizard) lands in Oz, and the film broadens to widescreen.
Characters repeat; the two women in the magician’s monochromatic life later appear as the bad witch Evanora and the good witch, Glinda. The crippled girl who begs the magician to make her walk again figuratively appears as the porcelain China Girl. There is mention that the magician’s former flame is now engaged to John Gale. As this film supposedly takes place prior to Dorothy’s excursion to Oz, could this be Dorothy’s dad or grandfather? In his ‘Professor Marvel’ black and white role, (James Franco) is a carnival magician/con artist with a tough audience trying to debunk him. He obviously does not have the magic of wearing Oz creator Frank L. Baum’s coat rubbing off on him, as Frank Morgan did. There are several lines of dialogue, referenced only with a few choice words, such as ‘my pretty’.
The Wizard awards symbolic gifts to three characters at the end; Glinda, China Girl and Monkey. The gifts are trivial and unconvincing compared to a heart, a brain and courage.
Oz is not a warm and fuzzy place. It is vast, with fantastic landscapes – scary jagged mountains and raging rivers. The art deco Emerald City is reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Munchkinland, where the yellow brick road comes to its swirling end, is crowded with not-so-cute and very tall residents. The Munchkins appear briefly, but they are not at all adorable. There are some scary and amazing creatures. The incredible River Fairies make one brief appearance. The one and only winged monkey is, in a twist, friendly. (The witch’s minions are ugly flying baboons). The monkey becomes the Wizard’s footman and companion. Lovely porcelain China Girl is the most beautiful and emotional character, but she is already broken, and her family and home (China Town) have already been destroyed. It would have been wondrous to see that place and its glass inhabitants in their full glory with the gigantic teapot structures still intact. Luckily, she travels with the Wizard and winged monkey throughout their journey.
The new ‘good witch’ (Mila Kunis as Theodora) transforms into a bad witch. Her sister (Rachel Weisz as Evanora), who portrays herself as good, is actually bad. Glinda The Good (Michelle Williams) does more of the fighting than the pathetic Wizard himself, and must constantly reassure him that ‘you can do this!’
The main difference is that this was not a musical. This is definitely a good thing, as nothing could live up to Harold Arlen’s classic original score.
There are no ruby slippers, no Autie Em, no crullers, no Lion, Tin Man nor Scarecrow, and no mention of the comforts and sanctuary of ‘home’. I suspected that something was amiss when too many of our beloved iconic images and characters of Oz were omitted from this film. Turns out that Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment, the owners of the 1939 MGM film, prohibited use of character likeness, the ruby slippers, even the shade of green of the Wicked Witch’s skin (they compensated by using a different shade), nor the mole on Margaret Hamilton’s pointy chin. Even the swirl at the end of the Yellow Brick Road was prohibited at first, but somehow made its way in.
The main theme is that anything is possible if you believe in yourself…and that people will believe in you if you do the same. Unlike the kind, bumbling ‘man behind the curtain’ of the MGM film, this ‘wizard’ believes that he is not a good man, and constantly needs to have his confidence and character boosted by those around him. He soon realizes that wizardry can be achieved by trickery, illusion and invention. He cites Thomas Edison as a true wizard, as ‘he could see the future and make it happen’. But really, the true unsung hero behind this story is Jasper Maskelyne who is NOT mentioned – the real-life magician who created massive illusions for the British military during WWII, camouflaging entire coastlines, creating subterfuges and deceiving the enemy by innovative trickery on a massive scale, literally using smoke and mirrors. If you want to see the real thing, watch a documentary on Maskelyne – The War Illusionist.
The farmers, tinkers and tailors of Oz all pitch in and volunteer their skills, becoming an army to fight the bad witches, under the direction of the Wizard. His intimidating celluloid effigy, flickering in light and smoke reprises the smoldering, scary Wizard head in the 1939 film. The citizens of Oz send a deceptive army of scarecrows - camouflaged by Glinda’s smoke - through the poppy field to infiltrate the bad Witch’s castle. Her flying baboons are overcome by opium, and the battle between good and evil begins. Glinda fights most of it single handedly – one on one with Evanora, while the wimpy Wizard wallows in self-doubt.
The effects were incredibly spectacular and entertaining, but the actors fell short on all accounts. None of the humans were magical, loveable nor admirable, especially the Wizard. The overall theme and feeling was creepy and hostile, not enchanting and dreamy. True, the Oz books were more in the vein of the new film, and the 1939 film fantasy was an anomaly in light of that. But no one who has seen the original could feel at home in this Oz.
Everyone should see the movie and ignore most of my criticism, because I am totally obsessed with the original Oz film. I think the next prequel should be called Planet of Oz - about when Oz was run by Apes, who were overthrown by the witch who subverted them as flying monkey minions. At the end you would see the Statue of Liberty in Emerald City, which would look perfect because she is green. Then some confused astronauts would land in Oz, and one of them would be Bowie and he would sing ‘Is There Life On Oz?’ Then chipmunks would take over and teach the Munchkins how to sing!