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Oz the Great and Powerful hit theaters on March 8, reaching $100 million in box office sales after only six days. In Disney’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz, James Franco (Spring Breakers) stars as Oscar Diggs, known to others as Oz. The black-and-white intro reveals Oz, another Kansas native, working as an illusionist in a travelling circus. He uses the job as an opportunity to scrape together as much money as possible and flirt with local women, but, in reality, he truly desires to find a way to become a great man and leave a mark on the world around him.
After being swept up in a twister, reminiscent of the tornado in the original Wizard of Oz, Oz finds a whole new world and meets a witch (Mila Kunis, Black Swan) who believes that Oscar is the great wizard prophesized to return peace to the land of Oz. She tells him that a wicked witch terrorizes the land and, if he defeats her, he may take the throne as king. Oz struggles with self-doubt during his quest, wondering if he can truly be their wizard or at least maintain the charade long enough to get his reward.
This fairy tale movie is geared toward a younger audience, but it attempts to cater to all age groups. Plenty of humor keeps the theater laughing, or at least chuckling, throughout most of the film, and director Sam Raimi leaves enough mystery to keep everyone engaged until the credits roll. Oz the Great and Powerful, however, seems to fit on the growing list of unnecessary remakes. After a promising introduction, the film then leans on extravagant CGI effects to distract viewers from a less-than-perfect script. Franco and Kunis seem to do their best with what they have been given, but what they have been given simply does not allow for any bold interpretations.
With wicked witches, yellow brick roads and Munchkins, this new Oz movie brings many of the elements that fans of the original story will recognize. Raimi evens parallels The Wizard of Oz by starting his film in black and white, then transitioning to color when his characters reach the new, magical Land of Oz. Where the original movie musical delivered iconic songs, such as “If I Only Had a Brain” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” that are still quoted almost 75 years after their release, Raimi’s version only includes a short ditty by the Munchkins, and even this tune lacks any real substance.
In recreating the movie, Disney walked a tightrope. They do not own the first, written version of The Wizard of Oz, as Warner Bros. still maintains the rights to the first film. Disney tried to remain as true as possible to the original, but avoided mimicking certain aspects such as the ruby slippers, the design of the Emerald City, and even the shade of green of the Wicked Witch of the West. This dispute may also be the reason for Disney’s decision to leave Dorothy and her dog Toto, two characters of Warner Bros. creation, out of the movie.
Recently, remaking or simply releasing old movies has become the real moneymaker in Hollywood. Apart from creating traditional remakes, producers seem intent on refreshing an old storyline in any way possible. Like this Wizard of Oz prequel, another Monsters, Inc. movie, Monsters University, is set prior to the original and scheduled for release this spring. Furthermore, in the past few years, movies such as The Lion King and Titanic returned to theaters to give audiences a 3D experience of classic films. Whether this trend shows a parasitic tendency to ride the coattails of earlier successes or just a current scarcity of creativity in the business remains to be seen.