I was thrilled when I heard that Disney created a prequel to the Wizard of Oz. Like many of us, I grew up watching the Wizard of Oz every year on TV around the holidays. This wonderful movie centered around Dorothy and her dream of being somewhere over the rainbow. Dorothy spends the bulk of the film traveling along the yellow brick road. She’s on a journey to Emerald City seeking the mysterious wizard who can help her get back to Kansas. Oz is only seen in the final scene of the movie but he plays an intricate role. When you think about it, we knew very little about the man behind the curtain. Who was he and why was he behind a curtain?
Disney’s latest film, Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum. Baum wrote 14 novels in the early 1900s that were all set in the land of Oz. Oz the man has an interesting, lively back story and I think this movie tells it well. Oz is directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man series, The Evil Dead), produced by Joe Roth (Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and The Huntsman) and has a star-studded Hollywood cast. So who was the iconic Oz figure? James Franco stars as Oscar Diggs who is a con artist from Kansas. He was a low-rate circus magician who had a way of breaking girl’s hearts. He eventually gets himself in a bit of trouble and escapes via a hot air balloon. Unfortunately, a tornado hits Kansas and he lands right in the middle of the storm’s eye. Oscar Diggs “falls out of the sky” into the land of Oz and begins his adventure as the wizard whom everyone has been waiting for to fulfill the prophecy!`
At a recent press junket I learned what the film makers and actors brought to the table as far as conceptualizing the creation OZ. Director Sam Raimi’s experience with making movies based on a book allowed him to focus in on some very special elements. After working on Spiderman he learned that you can’t be loyal to every detail of the book. He said you basically have to “kill the book” and re-create it. Raimi decided he could be “truest to the fans of Baum’s great work” if he focused on what was “moving and touching and most effective about the books ” personally to himself. It was more about being a “slave to the heart and soul” of the project and not be a “slave to details”.
Oz the character also needed to be portrayed as much more that just a con man. Raimi and the screenwriters, art department and props tried to set-up Oz’s knowledge as a tinkerer as well as his knowledge of Edison’s kinescope and early motion picture cameras so that “we could properly support the idea that he could have created this technology with the help of the tinkerers once he got to the land of Oz” as well as in the climax of the picture.
Early on Raimi and the writers decided that they “shouldn’t imitate that fantastic musical.” They felt “there was no comparison to the great quality of music in the original”. Their film was based on the Baum works. They also decided not to make it a musical. With only one fitting tribute brought to us by the Munchkins. Also they contrasted the black-and-white to color as in the original film but with the focus on Baum’s original concept that Oz was a real place and not treated as a dream.
Raimi also touched upon the fact that upon completing the Disney feature film, he found out that Walt Disney himself wanted to acquire the rights to the Oz books and make an Oz picture. He hoped that Walt Disney would have appreciated and have liked his movie. Raimi’s version of the Oz story goes light on the violence and includes many Disney elements including the cuddly creatures and all.
James Franco was also in attendance at the press junket and commented on his involvement in developing the Oz character. He explained that the character, “as written, was very much Sam’s idea”. He also “had faith that Joe Roth (producer) and the designers and everyone would be able to create, a spectacular world.” Franco felt that the focus was not “just a movie that’s a journey through a fantastical world” but also a chance to focus an the character’s inner journeys. Performing was Oz’s way out. As ambitious as the character Oz seemed, at first he’s seen as kind of selfish and has gone a little too far with the way he manipulates the people around him. Franco states “it’s blinded him to the love of the people around him”.
Franco had to learn quite a bit of magic in order to perform tricks Oz pulls off in the movie. He studied privately with Lance Burton and learned “even more tricks than what made it into the film.”
One of the big reasons Franco wanted to do the movie was when he learned that actress Mila Kunis was getting involved in the project. Franco commented that he and Kunis “have great dynamics.” Not only did he think she is a great actor, he thought that “one of the great things about Mila is she’s just a great collaborator. She’s very, easy-going. She’s done a lot of comedy so I think, she’s very good at, acting on her feet, doing improvisation, figuring things out in a very organic way.”
Oz the Great and Powerful was visually deep and powerful plus a fun, exciting and nostalgic trip for me. I hope you enjoy your adventure down the “Yellow Brick Road”! Oz the Great and Powerful opens Friday, March 8th in 3D.
Stayed tuned for my junket coverage on the Witches of Oz!
* We did not receive monetary compensation for this review. Tee was invited by Disney to attend a media junket. This will in no way sway our opinion of the product or service. The review is in our own words and is our opinion. Your results and opinions may differ.