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Day 241: Oz Tries to Please Too Many People: A Review of Oz the Great and Powerful

Day 241:  Oz Tries to Please Too Many People:  A Review of Oz the Great and Powerful


# of literary mags submitted to: 1

There was a time in childhood when my greatest desire was to go to Oz. I read all the L. Frank Baum books the library had, dressed up as Dorothy one Halloween and the Scarecrow another, and watched both the 1939 Wizard of Oz and the 1985 Return to Oz films approximately fifty times each.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Return to Oz, I would venture to say that it is the creepiest of all the creepy 1980’s children’s movies.  It begins with Auntie Em taking Dorothy to the sanatorium because she won’t stop talking about Oz. The doctor is going to give Dorothy shock treatments, but she escapes and during a storm manages to get back to Oz.

In Oz, the Scarecrow has been dethroned, the yellow brick road has been destroyed, and the land is being terrorized by the Wheelies, horrifying creatures with wheels for hands and feet. Dorothy is imprisoned by an evil queen who has a hall full of sleeping heads – she’s obtained them by beheading beautiful girls and is waiting for Dorothy to get a little older so she can add her to the collection. There is a particularly disturbing scene where the heads come to life and the Queen chases Dorothy around headless. Eventually Dorothy and her rag-tag group of creepy friends escape from the witch’s castle and defeat the evil gnome king, the villain who had captured the Scarecrow. Oz is returned to “normal,” and Dorothy goes home happy, now realizing that she should just shut up about Oz so that she doesn’t get electro-shocked.

At this point you might ask, why was this one of your favorite movies as a child? It sounds nightmare-inducing. And yes, in some ways it was terrifying. But it was also completely and totally magical. Once you were transported with Dorothy to Oz, you were there, in another world, for better or for worse.

A wheelie from Disney's 1985 film, Return to Oz.

A wheelie from Disney’s 1985 film, Return to Oz.

Because of my love for all things Oz, I couldn’t stop myself from going to see Disney’s new movie, Oz the Great and Powerful, over the weekend. I knew what I was getting myself into –I’d seen the 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – and the movie met my (fairly low) expectations. I enjoyed the old-timey opening credits and the black-and-white Kansas scene. The China Girl was amazing, both in voice and visual effects, and I liked Zach Braff as a flying monkey.

Things that were harder to deal with included the cheap jokes, flimsy plot, and bad acting, most notably James Franco as the Wizard and Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch of the West.

It seemed as if the movie was trying to please all of the following groups:

1. People who love 3-D movies. I chose not to see the movie in 3-D and was annoyed during the parts (a fairy spitting on Franco, the monsters in the forest, the entire cyclone scene) that were obviously there only for the 3-D effects.

2. Fans of the Oz books. In the movie Glinda is the witch of the south (like in the books) instead of the north (like in the 1939 movie). The Quadlings and the China Girl are also characters from the books.

3. Fans of the Judy Garland movie. The Wicked Witch of the West and the Emerald City look like they did in the 1939 movie. (In the book the Wicked Witch is one-eyed and the Emerald City only appears to be made of emeralds because everyone wears green-tinted glasses). The wicked witches are portrayed as sisters, just as in the 1939 film — although they could have at least given the witch of the east striped stockings.

4. Adults. There were some racy scenes between the Wizard and the wicked witch sisters, and there were some adult jokes here and there, such as when the assistant walks in on Oz romancing a woman and Oz yells about “the sock on the door.”

Oh yeah, and I guess the movie was trying to please children, too, wasn’t it?

Mila Kunis, I like you, but not as the Wicked Witch.

Mila Kunis, I like you, but not as the Wicked Witch.

After the movie I babbled about  a) how I could have been a much better Wicked Witch than Mila Kunis and b) how much I love the 1985 Return to Oz movie.

The two movies are so different. Return to Oz is heavy and disturbing while this new Oz the Great and Powerful is nothing but glitzy fluff. It’s hard to believe they are both Disney movies. I went home and looked up Return to Oz on Rotten Tomatoes and was surprised to see that it had actually gotten a rating of 55%. Critic comments include the following:

It’s bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying.
The disturbing/comforting ratio tilts conclusively towards the former.
…a harder, colder looking fantasy world 

So the critics agree that the movie is creepy and terrifying. And I understand that not everyone wants that. I’m sure a lot of people wanted another technicolor candy musical and were disappointed by this new, darker version. But you know what, at least Return to Oz had a vision, and it stuck to it. It’s vision was that Oz is a magical land, and that magic is sometimes wonderful and sometimes scary. It didn’t sugar coat, and it certainly didn’t try to please everyone.

Unlike Disney’s latest Oz film. There was nothing remotely scary, or wonderful, about Oz the Great and Terrible. The adult jokes and 3-D tricks brought me out of the land of Oz and into the minds of the movie makers, who obviously tried to figure out what would be the most entertaining to the largest number of people. Instead of narrowing their vision and making a movie that sticks to one, consistent tone, they threw together a little bit of everything, and the movie became a hodge-podge of nothing. Sure, there were entertaining bits, but it wasn’t magic. Magic takes a chance.

*   *  *

I want to keep this in mind as I start my next novel. Of course I want everyone to like my novel, but if I try to please everyone, I will end up pleasing no one. Unlike Oz the Great and Powerful, I need to stay consistent in tone and true to my vision. The worst thing is for readers to be pulled out of the world I’ve created because they can see my hand, trying too hard to entertain them.


About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Oz – The Great and Powerful – Not So Much | Tasithoughts's Weblog

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