Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Average and Incapable Oz

Disney's "Oz the Great and Powerful" opened with a strong weekend, making upwards of $80 million. That's the important thing, really. Not if it was a quality film or if it stunk, not any of the politics behind it, just if it makes money. A quality film would indeed be a good thing, but a film that makes money is the best thing, or else we might not see any investment in the parks for a while.

As a Disney die-hard, hopefully you enjoyed some aspect of "Oz", because it's going to be around for a while (and it's probably going to be the thing in the parks they invest money in). Disney's strategy is to put tons of money into a select few films that it can then turn into brands and make gazillions off of in synergy, from rides, to toys, to sequels and more. They wanted to do that with "John Carter." It didn't work.

"Oz" didn't break the coveted $100 million mark, but it did have the "best release of 2013," as the headlines say (a title that fits into the category I like to call "the tallest midget awards").

As things go, that which is popular is rarely high in quality (Cars 2). Thus is the case with "Oz." You can feel the attempt to appeal to the masses at every turn with the movie trying to be many things at once. When you try to please everyone, you dissapoint all.

"Oz" has its moments. I audibly laughed just once, but that's pretty good, considering I'm jaded in that department. I saw it in IMAX 3D (so, anyone want to pitch in a couple bucks for my rent this month?), and thought paying the extra for 3D was worth it (not the "IMAX" though. They need to have universal standards on screen size). This movie actually used the 3D to both add depth and pop things out at you like spears and hats and such. Sometimes it was gimicky, but it overall wasn't too distracting.

James Franco, who plays the title chracter, does an OK job, but you can feel that his heart isn't into it. Rachel Weiz as Evanora is OK, until she tries to be dramatic about something, and it doesn't quite come off the right way. Mila Kunis as Theodora is great at the beginning, but then, something happens to her character, and her whole performance would seem corny even on a daytime soap. The witch that truly shines is Michelle Willams as Glinda the Good Witch, who immediately sees through Oz's shenanigans, yet keeps her faith in him. Her performance is engaging and she's pulls off being convincing and cute at the same time.

Just like in the original film adaptation of the L. Frank Baum novels, the characters that exist in Kansas also inhabit Oz. Glinda is the lost love of Oz from back home and Zach Braff, who plays Oz's under-loved assistant in Kansas, shows up as a flying monkey (sans fangs and bloodlust) in a bellhop uniform, whom Oz learns to love. He provides some comic relief by keeping Oz honest, and didn't bother me much. The other character that goes along the for the journey with Oz and appears in Kansas as a crippled girl who asks Oz to grant her the ability to walk, is the China Girl. She's cute enough for being a completely CG'ed character, but does little to advance the plot beside helping Oz to realize his faults.

The movie is no doubt gorgeous, but some odd casting decisions as well as an uneven script leaves one wanting. Disney put itself in a tough place in terms of critical acceptance, as its predecessor is one of the most beloved films. They did an OK job with this one, with its greatest weakness being uneveness. That's OK though, because they'll get the chance to make it better with the second, third, fourth, fifth and six itterations. Because "Cars 2" and "Pirates 4" were such critical darilings. Right...

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