Oz the Great and Powerful – The Scarecrow Would’ve Been Less Wooden!

Oz the Great and Powerful is a Disney movie, and it’s probably aimed at children. I am no longer a child, though I like to think I still retain some endearing child-like qualities within me, and there are a great many Disney films I still enjoy immensely, so while I’m not the target audience for the film and I’m sure some of my criticisms might not be ones to draw the merit of the target audience, I believe they still have merit. Especially once you consider the audience of this blog is probably not as young as they might have once been (but who is?).

(This is a Things I Like post, it’s not a review, but more a discussion of the show and of ideas that have risen in my mind as I’ve watched it. There will be some  spoilers in this post.)

Oz the Great and Powerful - Oz and the little China Girl.

A film full of really beautiful shots.

The movie is beautiful, there is no denying it, the computer graphics as the Wizard is taken from Kansas to the land of Oz not only show you the wonder that he must be experiencing, but let you share in the sense of wonder at this vivid world as well. This sensation is heightened by the fact we move from seeing the movie in sepia tones, as if it were filmed back when there were only black-and-white films, when covering Kansas, to full colour when the wizard lands in Oz. The filming quality in Kansas feels a tad cheap, tackish even, but that fits the theme of the ranshackle traveling circus quite well, so I can’t really complain about it.

The film’s artistic direction was only alright, and seems to have taken a lot of hints from the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz, and most of the eye-candy came from really well executed CGI, but there was one set of CGI that still managed to blow the rest out of the water, and that was the animation of Zach Braff as Finley the flying monkey and Joey King as the little China girl. And that actually brings me to one of my major complaints about the film – the acting in it is for the most part atrocious. We’re talking over-acting as if we were in a soap opera, or in a theatrical production, which is often there to cover for all the under-acting – where the actors just speak their lines as if they’re trying to memorize them, with no real conviction. The result is a terrible quality of acting, either things are delivered in the most ridiculously over-the-top manner, or delivered with no heart at all, and in both cases you don’t believe the actors.

Zach Braff's Finley, from Oz the Great and Powerful.

The most human face in the whole film, and it’s CGI

The actors come off heart-less, as if they were the Lion of the original film, they come off wooden, as if they were the Scarecrow. But the two CGI characters deliver the most human and believable performances of the whole cast, rather than the flesh and blood actors, which really leaves you wondering. James Franco in particular is a choice I must question, for his deliveries had almost always been wooden, with a facial expression that reminds one of a wooden sneer, which seems to distort when he’s supposed to be expressive, as if trying to remember what emotions look like when portrayed.

The plot takes the old device of having the same actor portray multiple roles (such as Captain Hook being portrayed by the same actor as Mr. Darling in Peter Pan, or many roles in the original Wizard of Oz), our poor poor Wizard? In Kansas he is but a charlatan, he treats his aid poorly, he can’t heal a poor girl who can’t walk, and he abandons his love because he’s afraid of commitment – every single thing they can do to show us that he’s a spineless man with no principles except those that are self-serving? They show it to us.

In Oz, all these characters are mirrored by inhabitants of Oz, and so we won’t lose the significant they are also portrayed by the same actors. The story is a spoon-fed story of redemption, it’s not that the wizard suddenly has actual powers, as you can remember from when Dorothy had found out the truth, but he still manages to grow into a decent human being, helping those in need, reversing his behaviour to their counterparts from the mundane world. This is force-fed to us, and we don’t really see Oz growing, but rather see his mirrored actions, which should convince us he had changed. I feel this is a case of us being “told” rather than “shown”, which probably has more than a little to do with the fact that the acting is simply unconvincing.

Conclusion: If you are a child and/or only want to watch a beautiful CGI world, this movie can be given a 5.7 – it does its job, but there are better films. If you are an adult and aren’t willing to shut your brain down, I’ll give this movie a 4.3 – it’s beautiful, but it’s not enough.

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