Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
In Oz, nothing is what it seems
Although I guess my family is somehow related to the original author or some such thing, I've never really been incredibly fond of The Wizard of Oz. I know there's tons of people who love it, including my mother, but it never really quite grabbed me enough where it's a movie that I'll sit down and watch intentionally. That being said, it might seem an odd choice for me to decide to watch Oz, but we all know I'm pretty non-judgemental when I first go into a movie regardless of what I expect since I've been surprised by a flick on more than one occasion. It helps that the sultry vixen Mila Kunis is in there too, I can assure you that. Of course, I get ahead of myself - it's not a matter of why I decided to watch the movie that you are here to learn, but rather what I thought of it. Did it soar on the winds like a hot air balloon, or did I find it to turn a little green in the face?
At the local traveling circus, we are introduced to all manner of fun things - fancy gun slingers, clowns on bikes, strongmen - through a nice sweeping shot. We then arrive on the magician's trailer, where inside we get an introduction to Oz (James Franco) as he woo's some young woman for use in his show (and quite probably something not suited for a Disney film had his life not taken a bit of an unexpected twist). During the show, we witness some wonderfully done magic tricks - including cutting the wires "holding up" the levitating girl - as we also see some of the behind the scenes magic of sound management back in the day. Things go a bit sour, however, when a little girl asks the magician to make her walk - being as he isn't actually magical or wish-granting, Oz stumbles a bit to pass it off ("Oh, I can't today because the planets are aligning") and promptly ends up getting booed off the stage.
The weather is picking up as he returns to his trailer, and meets a nice lady whom we are led to believe he's known before. As they have a heartfelt conversation, some trouble stirs up as the circus strongman apparently finds out that Oz has been smooth-talking his lady friend (as well as numerous other girls), and Oz makes a hasty retreat to the half-his hot air balloon. As the strongman pulls him closer (and no doubt his life flashes before his eyes) Oz cuts the rope tethering him to the ground, and off he flies! As with many things, this victory too is cut short as the crowd below runs in fear, and Oz turns around to be greeted with the sight of a tornado drawing his balloon in! Helplessly sucked in, Oz is spun about and flipped around and narrowly misses being killed by numerous things from fences to musical trailers when suddenly things grow peaceful in a strange way. Things around him start to lift up in a gentle way, right before he is thrown up into the air above the clouds.
When Oz next gathers himself to take a look, he finds himself greeting snow to his face. The camera view widens from the more classic 4:3 ratio to the more modern 16:9 widescreen, and colors grace the screen to signify something rather important: we aren't in Kansas anymore. From here in, we get to watch as Oz goes about learning how things aren't necessarily what they seem, and his progression from normal con-man "wizard" to the great and powerful wizard we all know (unless you haven't seen the Wizard of Oz I guess). Along the way we are introduced to three witches (one of which we only see the feet of in WoO), a friendly flying simian, a little girl made of china, evil flying baboons, and all manner of other side characters and pleasant scenery along the yellow brick road.
I'll get it out there right now, this movie looks like a lot of CG. Backgrounds, although wonderful and magical to look at with all of their vivid colors and bright lighting, certainly feel like the majority of this movie was done on a green screen. Nothing wrong with this, as it gets pulled off rather well, but there are moments (particularly any time someone tries to pick up the china girl) that it's a bit more noticeable than others. Of course, things like flying monkeys are opted for CG instead of the rather low-tech suited folks as in the first, but anything thats generally human - witches, munchkins, tinkers and farmers - all give a good feel of being real and on stage for shots. It's a bit like Avatar in that sense, good looking CG with fine acting and plot, although at times things can look somehow off because of it. The graphical elements really feel at their best (IMO) in scenes where Glinda uses her magic to create banks of rolling fog, as the way the fog rolls over it and swirls with movement within particularly impressed me.
Costume design is a bit of a swing here. Oz wears the same outfit through the entire movie (as do most characters), but the range of outfits within the movie is quite diverse. From the monkey side-kick's little bellboy outfit, Theodora's (Mila Kunis) very Carmen Sandiego reminiscent red outfit, the elegant and glittering emerald dress of Evanora (Rachel Weisz), to the white and beautiful dress and crown of Glinda (Michelle Williams), theres quite the variety in the main characters. Of course, side characters have their own over-the-top dressings as well, and you get a decent feel for the mood the characters envision (happy, thinkers, dutiful) by looking at their costumes - even if a lot of the sub-characters will look incredibly similar to one another in that group. As mentioned before, the environments are beautiful and when called for moody as well - such as the creepy Dark Forest or graveyard.
Actors do a splendid job on their side of things, which considering the amount of CG going on in here is a pleasant bonus. Even characters that aren't real (such as the simian side-kick or girl made of china) deliver lines quite well, adding a bit of extra polish to them that could have made the movie a chore to watch had it not been there. I had a slight issue with audio levels balancing out at first, then realized I had accidently turned up the bass to high on my sound system - after fixing that, I had no issues jumping between magical explosions and tornados to dialogue and whispers. The musical score brings a very circus themed element to it, fitting to the fact that the main character comes from a circus, but also tying in to the fact that everything in Oz is quite a magical and different thing.
I'm certainly not any more a fan of the Oz universe after watching this than I was before, but it's true that it could be said I'm no less a fan either. It did a very good job of feeling like the original WoO, even with the swap to so much being CG rendered as opposed to practical sets and costumes. Little tidbits are obvious throw-backs, such as the black-and-white 4:3 opening of the movie, the lion who gets scared off by one of Oz's tricks, characters in Oz resembling those Oz has meet pre-landing there, and a bit of a song/dance number thrown in for the munchkins. It's certainly nothing groundbreaking, but if you ever wondered why it was that the wicked witch was green, this one will explain that relatively satisfactory. It won't, however, explain why it is that of all the witches Glinda is the only one who needs a wand for her magic. If you like the wizard already, you'll most likely enjoy it, and it is pretty family friendly outside of Oz's rather Casanova way of approaching women.