Yes, I’m still reading classics: this week we have “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. Like many people I am familiar with the story from the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.” That was a great film that I did not fully appreciate until I had grown up. It’s a classic and I freely admit that. The book it is based on, however, does not quite measure up in my opinion.
First, the storyline is pretty much the same, although they did make some modifications in the movie. Some of the challenges were dealt with differently. Some of the encounters were different. And a lot of material was deleted from the movie. For example, there was no Queen of the Field Mice in the movie … at least, not that I can recall. But the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and that lovable fraud Oz are still there, although Oz is merely a ventriloquist, not an illusionist, and he has but a few interesting toys to serve as forms for his “body.”
Perhaps the biggest difference between the movie and the book was that in the movie the good witch, Glinda, shows up at the Emerald City. In the book, Dorothy and her cohorts must go on an entire new adventure to get to her city in the South. Oh yes, there is also the point that in the book, Oz is a real place; in the movie, it can be shrugged off as merely a dream.
Anyway, for those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the basic plot is this: Dorothy is a young girl living in Kansas who, along with her entire house, is pulled up into a tornado and carried away to the magical mystical land of Oz. Her house lands on one of the wicked witches and kills her, freeing the Munchkins from her rule. Although Dorothy is amazed by the beauty and majesty of the land, she knows she must return home to her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. So, she sets off along the yellow brick road in search of the Wizard of Oz, a great and powerful being said to have the ability of granting wishes. Along the way, she encounters several odd creatures she accepts as companions: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. The movie is great; the book is not so great. I leave the rest of the story for your own personal consumption.
Back to the book. The reason I did not like the book was because the dialogue, almost without exception, was heavily formal and stilted and lame. It just did not come across as natural in anyway. The rest of the writing was decent enough for a children’s book, but I couldn’t get past the clunky dialogue. Young children probably would not pick up on this.
As an adult, I’ll give the book three stars out of five (maybe). However, it probably warrants (for originality and such) four stars out of five for a child audience.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” is essentially the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” some, what, seventy? eighty? years after the fact. In no way does it compare to “The Wizard of Oz,” that was a classic movie whose beauty and charm will likely never be recaptured. That said, “Oz the Great and Powerful” had its moments. The lead role of Oscar Diggs (Oz) was played by James Franco. The original wicked witch (of the East–Evanora) was played by Rachel Weisz. Those are the only two actors in the film I really recognized.
Oscar Diggs is a small time magician working in a circus in Kansas. One day, due to a dalliance with a certain young woman, he is run out of the circus by the strongman who is intent on busting his skull. Oscar escapes by means of a large hot-air balloon. Unfortunately, just as he makes his getaway, a tornado moves into the area and sucks him and his balloon up and off into the land of Oz. There, he encounters his first witch, Theodora the Good. Theodora believing he is the prophesied wizard destined to rescue the land of Oz from the predations of the wicked witch leads him to the Emerald City where he meets her sister, Evanora who is, unbeknownst to either of them, the aforementioned wicked witch.
Oscar, who happens to also go by the name of “Oz,” sets off to destroy the wicked witch, who, he is told, dwells in the dark forest. Once there, he encounters Glinda, who is a good witch, and tells him the truth that Evanora is really the bad witch. They are set upon by the wicked witch’s minions and must flee into a giant mystical bubble that protects them from intruders. There Oz learns he must mount an army to defeat the evil of the realm, but he has as resources only untrained farmers who are not permitted to kill. A difficult task, you say? At first, things seem hopeless. The evil witches have magic and he has none, and an army of basically pacifists. Then, he remembers, he has one tool they do not: science … the hallmark of an Illusionists trade. And so the stage is set for a grand battle of wits.
Let’s do weaknesses first: well, the dialogue was somewhat lacking in places. Parts of it seemed overacted or poorly executed. My biggest complaint, however, (spoiler alert) concerns the genesis of the wicked witch of the west. I thought that was a bit too mature of a theme for a children’s movie. Maybe I’m wrong. Basically, Theodora the Good is heartbroken and feels betrayed by Oscar. She turns to her sister, Evanora, to ease her pain, who, of course, gives her a poisoned apple that turns her green and hardens her heart. She started out a sweet, innocent young women, and is then transformed into the wicked witch of the west … I don’t know, maybe I’m over reacting, but that seems to be too … um … just too “mean” for a children’s movie. Going from good to evil. Kind of like Darth Vader. Maybe I’m wrong.
Anyway, strengths: the special effects were good. But the best part of the movie (probably because of the special effects) was the showdown between the wizard and the two evil witches. It was great. “I am Oz … the Great and Powerful!”
Overall, I’ll give the movie three and a half out of five stars.