A Kansas View of OZ

As a Kansas native, I grew up feeling a special connection to “The Wizard of Oz.” It was more than the countless summer evenings of dinners spent in the basement with tornado sirens blaring in the background. It was more than the fact that my grandmother Emma Jean had a very sweet and loyal dog named Toto that looked the spitting image of his namesake from the 1939 classic film. And yes, during my youth that legendary classic film played once a year on TV and we watched it faithfully as a family with great anticipation. I guess it was an accumulation of all of these things that made me feel a special bond to Dorothy; which is exactly why I went to see Sam Raimi’s OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) today for its opening weekend.

Before I continue, you should note that there will be references to details of this movie, so you’ve been officially forewarned to not continue down this yellow brick road as spoilers will be revealed and possibly a wicked witch or two. That being said, I must admit my initial concern prior to seeing this film was, “will this version respect the integrity of the original enough to show Kansas or any Kansas references in black and white?” So I was very relieved to discover that Kansas from year 1905 is still a black and white experience.

OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is not a re-do of the popular 1939 film but instead it takes us back to the story of how traveling circus magician/con-artist Oscar Diggs aka “Oz” (played by James Franco) came to the land of OZ and his path to become the great and powerful wizard of the Emerald City. The witches of Oz (both good and wicked) are aptly portrayed by actresses Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. I enjoyed seeing the development of these characters through this background story. And Mila Kunis does an especially strong endeavor of bringing empathy and believability to her witchiness. But the strongest and most entertaining characters were the little China Girl (no, she’s not what you’re thinking and not a David Bowie song nod but actually the porcelain type) and Oz’s sidekick and flying monkey Finley. China Girl (voice by Joey King) was such an incredibly endearing character that brought both sympathy and uber cuteness to a whole new level. The life-like animation to this doll was truly stunning. Zach Braff doubly portrays the voice of sweet and funny Finley and as Oscar Digg’s side-show assistant Frank. But both China Girl and Finley win the prize for most sympathetic characters and best lines in the show.

Visually speaking, it’s a vividly colorful sumptuous feast for the eyes. One of the most aesthetically hypnotic scenes comes to light when Oz makes his crash landing in the land of Oz. The contrast from the black and white harsh world of a Kansas twister ride to the vivid colors of a river floral orchestra is an epic journey for the senses. The special effects are astounding throughout.  

Overall, it was a fun flick that the entire family can enjoy. Okay, so maybe a scene or two that involve flying evil primates and a wicked witch might briefly scare the gingham right outta your youngest members of the family, but I think it’s still worth the walk down the yellow brick road. On a personal note I must add, that we have carried on our Kansas love of The Wizard of Oz by regularly giving my young niece (who lives in Portland, Oregon) Wizard of Oz themed gifts. I guess our Oz influence has taken effect as she even dressed up as Dorothy for Halloween once, to our delight. With OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, a whole new generation can be introduced to the creative wonders of L.Frank Baum’s adventures in Oz. (By the way, there are a few references to L. Frank Baum’s namesake in the movie if you look for them.)    

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” – L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

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Comments

  1. Kellee,Thanks for reviewing the film for us. I'll probably see it next weekend. I've heard so many pan the film before it even came out because they love the original so much. But it's not a remake of that film but it explores more of Baum's gorgeous work. There were 14 books in all so I was thrilled that we get to see the Wizard and his life before Dorothy arrived. The CGI sounds amazing and from the trailers and your great gifs, it looks like a beautiful journey.Being from Kansas, I can only imagine how special it was for you and thanks for giving us a bit of a teaser. I hope others will give it a chance and keep an open mind. We can still love the original and this one too.All the best!Page

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  2. Well, clearly the cutest Dorothy is pictured above, but I may be biased! I'm curious to see the new film too. The one criticism I read that really stuck with me is that the movie flips the gender balance in the books. Baum intentionally made women the stars of the oz books, with no dependence on men or romantic story lines, but apparently the movie kinda throws that out? We've only read Audrey one of the books, and now I'm inspired to read more!

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  3. Thanks for the review! Most I've seen felt the movie was more middlin' and James Franco isn't one of my favorites, but you definitely make me want to take a second look at it!

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  4. Thanks again, Page, for commenting and sharing your feedback. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on it. I agree with you- I think too many folks who criticized it were making the mistake of comparing it to the 1939 version. It really should stand on its own. And while it may not rank as the best film of the year, I think it was a thoroughly fun ride and a gorgeous view!

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  5. NO DOUBT that I chose to include the cutest Dorothy! Keep reading those books to Audrey- she'll will indeed get a better gender balance that way. But what the movie does offer is a visual thrill-ride. Hope you guys can enjoy A's Bday present to go see it!

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  6. To be honest, James Franco isn't one of my favorites either. He tends to come across as a stoner to me in most of his roles. Though I did like him in the movie 127 Hours where he had to cut off his own arm. I think it's China Girl and Finley that steal the show here. Thanks for reading my post, JG!

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  7. At first I was hesitant to see this film because I thought it was – shudder – a remake. I've heard mixed reviews about it, but I would like to see the effects. And, I'm very happy to hear that 1905 Kansas is black & white. 🙂

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  8. BTW, I've nominated you for a Liebster Award, Kellee. No pressure to respond or take part, but wanted to let you know that I enjoy your writing.

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