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MOVIE REVIEW: The Great and Powerful Oz Represents Truth in Title

 

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The Great and (semi) Powerful Outlaw!

 

Wizards and witches and cleavage, oh my!

 

Those were some of my initial thoughts as I exited Disney’s prequel based take on the land of Oz, that stormed through (pun intended) box office sales in its early release.  To be fair, my cousin Garrett – whom hesitantly attended the flick with me – had the nearly identical post-viewing thoughts.  (You can chalk that up to male DNA.)

 

Witches

I mean really… can you blame us?

 

Likewise, I had my own hesitancy stepping into the theater to see a flick based on an uber-classic piece of movie cinema with the added bias that I’ve never really been what you would call an enormous fan of James Franco (Oz). My expectations of The Great and Powerful Oz were anything but.

 

Indeed, I was suckered in by the vibrant candy-colored trailers, along with my affection for Dorothy’s original classic adventure from 1938.  Throw in that I’m a fan of director Sam Rami’s films – specifically his Spider-Man trilogy (co-starring Franco) – along with the fact Disney has a decent track record with family entertainment, and I figured what the hell. It’s only another two-and-half hours of my life I could be devoting to honorable social causes.  I can always get started on those another day… maybe.

 

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“I know, I can’t believe they cast me for the lead role either!”

 

The plot of The Great and Powerful Oz (aka GAPO for the purpose of saving future me from carpal tunnel surgeries) is a fairly straightforward tale of how the man behind the curtain came to be the wonderful wizard.  Of course the answer to that is “because of the wonderful things he does”… remember now?

 

 

*NOTE:  I’m doing a bit of a 180 here in that I’m actually letting you know there aren’t any real spoilers below. So don’t be afraid to read my critique.

 

 

The Wizard

Oz

Could have done better… but could have done worse!

 

To reinforce my statement above, I usually like James Franco about as much as getting a colonoscopy while being subjected to a Millionaire Matchmaker marathon.  My previous exposure to his roles have been through viewing his hard-headed idiot type characters that have egos the size of Taylor Swift’s list of ex-boyfriends.  It actually served him well in the Spider-Man trilogy, and it surprisingly it serves him well here too.

 

The difference this time being that I finally feel like he shows signs of some genuine goodness with his portrayal of Oz when it matters most.

 

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“And what if I put my hand there…?”

 

In an interesting twist of Franco-fate, Rami explains that Franco wasn’t his first choice for the wishful wizard-to-be.  In fact, he wasn’t even the second choice.  Rami originally wanted the part to be played by today’s modern day Tin-Man, Robert Downy Jr, followed by another Disney favorite, Johnny Depp.  Franco expressed interest and scored the role after the other two never panned out.  Talk about 3rd time being the charm… or depending on your viewpoint, chopped liver.  Personally, I think Depp would have made for a more entertaining Oz as he’s proven himself very capable in a top hat, but in the end Franco fits the bill adequately.

 

 

The Witches

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All three of these ladies are ‘racking’ some serious heat.

 

Attention all XY chromosomes reading this review!  If you had any reluctance to see Disney’s version before the events that took place in the classic Wizard of Oz from 1939, flush all of your preconceived notions down the yellow brick toilet.

 

With the casting choices of Rachel Weisz (Evanora), Mila Kunis (Theodora) and Michelle Williams (Glinda) as the witches of Oz-wick, there is male friendly eye candy for the better part of the entire movie.  And I’m not just talking about gussied up actresses in frilly dresses, I mean three very attractive ladies wearing corsets that provide lift all the way to the women’s lingerie department on the third floor.  I was impressed any of them could breathe, let alone speak their lines given how tight they seemed to be cinched up.

 

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Which witch is which?

 

If my memory serves me correctly – and trust me I wouldn’t forget this – when one of the witches starts tearing her apparel off piece by piece after eating a rotten apple, the only two words that immediately popped into my head were, “Don’t stop!”

 

If that weren’t enough, leave it to Hollywood to turn the (eventual) Wicked Witch of the West into a sexy modelesque version of the original that I wouldn’t hesitate to make magic with at the drop of a black pointy hat.  I’m not going to lie though, a stick figure drawing of a woman would get me going at this point, so you may want to take the latter comment with a grain of salt.

 

 

The Sidekicks

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“Do they serve peanuts on this flight?”

 

In a somewhat rare reversal of expectations, the most touching displays of emotion came from two of the CGI-rendered characters, China Girl and Finley the flying monkey (voiced by Joey King and Zach Braff respectively).

 

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“Own fine China? I AM fine China!”

 

Finley

“What do you mean I sound like the intern from Scrubs?”

 

Now that I think about it, the little scene-stealing duo accounted for most, if not all of the scenes involving laughs or watery eyes.  Leave it to a computer-generated monkey and a porcelain figure to do a human’s job.  If the whole movie was a metaphor for the Tin-Man, China Girl and Finley made up the proverbial heart.

 

As to be expected, Rami’s best friend and attached-at-the-hip co-worker, Bruce Campbell, showed up for his usual 60 second cameo for a touch of comic relief.

 

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Believe it or not, this is Bruce Campbell before makeup. (Kidding… but it didn’t take much.)

 

 

The Visuals

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The effects of The GAPO definitely pop! (Pun intended.)

 

Much ado was made of the use of technicolor with MGM’s original Oz release to provide the film with a vibrant palette of color to contrast the use of sepia for the opening and closing scenes.  With technology having brought us to a point where computer-generated effects and 3D movies are now a dime-a-dozen, Disney had huge red ruby slippers to fill with regards to creating something great and powerful for Oz’s updated look.

 

Having done my homework like a good little outlaw, I discovered that initial reaction actually favored experiencing this movie in 3D on the big screen.  As it turns out, my research paid out off spades.

 

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“Quick, I know a nice little green motel where we can get a room!”

 

From the very beginning, the black and white kaleidoscope opening sequence mesmerizes you, to the final, epic main event at Emerald City’s center ring – the combination of CGI and 3D effects were about as close to enthralling as one can get.

 

Emerald city

“We built this city, we built this city on yellow brick road!”

 

Stop me if you’ve heard me claim this before, but this film ranks up there with some of the best use of 3D technology yet.  The world of Oz was so immersive, I thought I could smell banana on the breath of a few of the flying monkey’s breath.  If you’re willing to skip a meal or two during the week, the 3D version is actually worth its weight in Emerald City gold.

 

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“Any chance I can get this all in 100’s in a to-go bag?”

 

One other noteworthy observation was that I watched The GAPO in my local Muvico’s new MuviXL Theater which is supposed to enhance sound, picture clarity and color contrast on an immensely larger-than-normal screen.  Honestly, I didn’t know I was in this new genetically enhanced theater until exiting and I’m willing to concede that part of my positive experience may very well have been thanks to the new upgraded tech.

 

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Just look how much bigger those doors are! It has to be better, right?

 

Given my expectations going in, I truly ended up being very pleasantly surprised, and not just visual aspects, but with the entire finished product.  Even without the original film of 1938 film for reference, the movie is a solid standalone film that provides an entertaining escape from reality, along with some heart felt moments and humorous lines as well.

 

Nevertheless, there is no denying that everyone and their mom’s pet hamster has seen the Judy Garland musical that truly launched Oz into popularity, so the kind of pre-return trip to Oz is an even more satisfying trip down memory lane.  Credit for that is best paid to director Rami, who stuck to the source material as much as possible (ala Spider-Man) without getting sued in the process.

 

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As close as one can get to the real Oz – without getting slapped with a lawsuit from MGM.

 

You see, MGM still owns the rights to certain aspects of the Oz property, including the Emerald City design and the ruby red slippers; the latter of which was noticeably absent this go-around.  Given all of Rami’s creative inclusion of other subtle – and some not so subtle – references to the original, the infamous red footwear ended up being an afterthought after all was said and done.

 

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“They can take our ruby red slippers, but they can’t take away our, MUNCHKINS!”

 

Last but absolutely not least, I can’t forget to mention that Danny Elfman was tapped for soundtrack duties and ended up delivering a very memorable score.  (Many Outlaws know my odd fascination with excellent movie scores and their overall ability to make a good movie, well… great.)

 

The GAPO may not reach the lofty classic status of its predecessor, but it’s without question a visually stunning and ‘great’ addition to the Oz story arch that left my cousin and I clicking our heels and chanting, “There’s no place like Oz, there’s no place like Oz, there’s no place like Oz.”  (Although we strategically waited until we arrived in the privacy of our vehicle to do so.)

 

Oz Beer

It was only appropriate that we saw a movie about Emerald City on St. Patrick’s Day, thus my cousin and I decided to celebrate appropriately immediately following the flick.

 

The moral of this review, if possible, get your ‘pretty’ little self to a big screen 3D theater to see this movie as it was meant to be seen and don’t forget ‘your little dog too’.  (Well, not really… unless your theater permits it.)

 

4 Spurs

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