If you grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, you watched the yearly airing of “The Wizard of Oz.” You knew all the words to the songs and you had a favorite character. Mine was the Cowardly Lion.
I never heard anyone say they liked the Wizard most, but he is the lynchpin of the story. They are always off to see the Wizard.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” tells us how the Wizard became to be. And it all starts in the same place the earlier movie starts: Kansas.
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), or Oz, is a sideshow magician and conman. He works the carnival crowd for suckers and women.
When one of his female conquests has a husband who is the carnival strong man, Oz makes a hasty retreat in a hot air balloon.
He gets caught in an updraft of a tornado and lands in Oz. There he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), one of the witches of the land.
Theodora tells of a prophecy that a wizard would come to the land and bring hope and peace back. The former king made the prophetic utterance, but he was poisoned and died.
Theodora has eyes for Oz. She is immature and uninformed in the ways of romance.
Oz plays her like the other women he encounters, and she comes to believe that Oz will make her queen.
The two make their way to the Emerald City. Here they meet Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Theodora’s sister.
She tells Oz that he must find the killer of the king, which turns out to be the king’s daughter who is also a witch, and tells him she can be defeated by the breaking of her wand.
When Oz meets the witch whom Evanora claimed had killed the king, he finds that she is Glenda the Good (Michelle Williams).
Glenda tells Oz that the true villain is Evanora, and what follows is the attempt to remove the evil witch from the throne of the Emerald City.
What “Oz the Great and Powerful” attempts to do is give us a compelling back story to the original movie. It is hamstrung by the fact that copyright issues prevented the use of anything original to the first movie.
Therefore, the movie depends on the works of L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz series.
Using this canon, the writers want to help us understand how things got the way they were when Dorothy lands. Sadly, this movie lacks much of the magic of the original.
The actors do not help, either. James Franco spends too much time mugging for the camera. I think he is trying to use the method of the old “flicker” movies that the opening titles use. But it does not work well.
Another aspect of the story I did not like was the use of Theodora. She comes off as being unstable and easily manipulated.
Theodora goes through a transformation and comes out being more interesting. One point of the story that I liked is when witches cry, their tears leave scars on their faces.
There is something compelling to me in the story of the Wizard. As presented in the movie, he is the messiah of the people. But he is not exactly the messiah they are looking for.
This messiah is not noble, but a person that looks for the angle that will allow him to be at an advantage. He has to grow into the role of savior and must become noble, which is not natural for him.
I think this idea of prophecy and messiahship offer some intersecting points for dialogue with those outside of the Christian faith. The idea of him not being the messiah that was expected fits well with the story of Jesus.
The movie presents one who is spoken of who will come from the sky and will bring salvation and peace for the people. All of this fit the story of Jesus, who is the Messiah of God.
Though flawed in many ways, I believe some of these shortcomings can be overlooked since the movie allows for exchanges about what a messiah looks like and why a messiah is needed.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA rating: PG for sequences of action and scary images and brief mild language
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Mitchell Kapner and David Lyndsay-Abaire (based on the novels of L. Frank Baum)
Cast: James Franco: Oz; Mila Kunis: Theodora; Rachel Weisz: Evanora; Michelle Williams: Glenda; Zach Braff: Finely; Joey King: China Girl.
The movie’s website is here.