Disney’s big Spring fling this year came in the shape of a lavish prequel to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, and *ahem* nothing to do with the beloved MGM adaptation “The Wizard of Oz”, and certainly nothing to do with smash-hit theatrical origin story “Wicked”. It’s a bit of a minefield really, but would we get a great and powerful film out of it? Maybe not great, but certainly… good.
After reading of the legal concerns over treading on the ruby slippers of legend, I had expected something a little less reminiscent of the 1939 film. Of course to keep in step with the book, certain features are a bit too well-defined to escape parallels. How many ways can you make a simple yellow-brick road, or an emerald city? I guess if both films were based closely on the books’ descriptions of Oz, they are bound to end up the same.
Indeed the visuals were stunning, if a little reminiscent of a more brightly-coloured Wonderland or Chocolate Factory. They were very keen on their slightly flawed zoom-in shots of the actors, reacting to their green-screen surroundings. As well as this, there were plenty of cheap 3D tricks thrown (literally) at the viewer. Aren’t we past that yet?
The film itself was more pitched towards innocent youngsters than I expected – not that I thought it would be a dark reboot or anything, but at least having cynical post-Shrek tweens in mind. After a prolonged absence, wholesome Disney seemed to be back. A good thing for sure, but my unprepared self was looking for the catch somewhere.
The female cast I felt did a good job, as well as being stunningly beautiful. Michelle Williams was radiant as good witch Glinda, while a disarming Mila Kunis impressed me to start with (when I couldn’t hear Meg’s voice), but was reduced to a cackling and overdone stereotype by the end. She did the best she could with the material, to her credit. I do really enjoy her as an actress. Rachel Weisz was an intriguing one, as Mila’s scheming older sister. I liked her occasional failures of confidence when surprised, which made for a more believable villain out of her depth.
James Franco on the other hand might as well have been replaced with an emoticon with a top hat for all the depth he gave. Is he nervous? Easy, slap on that broad stoner smile and look nervous. Sad? Frown. Unsure? Frown. Happy? Smile! Perhaps this was down to his character, he just seemed like a bit of a blank slate whose character development wasn’t great or powerful until the end (and even then…).
The endearingly pathetic monkey companion and sass-mouthed black midget were jarringly contemporary additions that just didn’t mesh with the rest of the film. I will give special mention to the china girl though, a crucial element to the main emotional points of the film, with a slight blip where she plays a sassy manipulative card pretty much immediately after the big emotional scene.
There was a lot right with the film. Stylistically I think it accomplished what it set out to do, and despite a few moments where the spell was broken by 21st century comic relief, I think it served as an acceptable lead-in to a crucial re-make of “The Wizard of Oz”. God help them if they mess THAT up, or the critics and public will come down on them like a ton of bricks (pardon the turn of phrase). AND THEIR LITTLE DOG TOO!! *cackle*