Oz the Bland and Predictable. Oz The Dull and Pitiable. Oz The Safe and Marketable. Oz The…zzzzzzzzzzz.
Could you make a movie worse than Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great and Powerful? If you did you’d instantly cross over into the rarified world of “so bad it’s great.” Oz does not exist in that world. Oz is no Zardoz, in other words. Oz The Slow and Laughable is not funny, it’s not scary, it’s not exciting, it’s not pretty. It’s boring as sin and dumber than a bag of hammers. A movie about a bag of hammers would be better than this. (Note to Pixar—idea for new movie: a lovable family of anthropomorphized talking hammers loses their home and must find a new bag to live in. Tom Hanks stars as the irascible yet lovable Ball-Peen. You’re welcome.)
Who directed this movie? Tim Burton? He might as well have for all the originality of vision on display (none at all). Let’s blame the writers first, though, namely Mitchell Kapner, writer of the Bruce Willis comedy classics The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel The Whole Ten Yards, and David Lindsay-Abaire, writer of last year’s Rise of The Guardians, about which nobody remembers anything. I am being strictly honest and literal when I say that a small group of well-organized penguins could, if given enough fish, write a better screenplay.
Oz is I think supposed to be a comedy. There are definitely jokes in it. You can tell because they’re set up for about five minutes to make sure you don’t miss them. Example: the movie opens in dreary black and white Kansas, land of misery and gloom. James Franco as seedy magician Oz seduces his lovely new assistant. He’s about to kiss her when—bam! The door to his trailer bursts open and there’s dopey Zach Braff. Oz reminds him that he’s supposed to knock. Ha! It’s already hilarious. Zach exits. Oz goes back to seduction, giving us plenty of time to think, “They’re not really going to make a joke out of Zach bursting back in after knocking first? Because if they did that they’d do it right away. Surely they can’t mean to make us wait this long for the joke we knew was coming the moment he came in the first time?” And then Zach bursts back in. That’s the joke. There are no funnier jokes in the movie.
This is the kind of script where characters state out loud everything that happens while we’re watching it happen in case we weren’t sure what was happening. Example: once in the Land of Oz the magician Oz gets himself a helper-monkey voiced by Zach Braff. To distract a witch, Oz tells the monkey to make animal sounds. Which actually that’s a joke right there. Animal sounds. Ha! Because a monkey is a kind of animal! Are you still with me? Moments later the monkey makes the sound—of a cow! He moos! Even though he’s not a cow. You see? He’s actually a monkey. I know, right? I’m wiping tears away as I write this. Still, you have to admit it’s a little confusing to have a monkey mooing when clearly he should be making monkey sounds. So the little girl made out of china, China Girl, says, “He’s mooing!”
This happens in every scene. Which is why every scene lasts about ten minutes too long. Oz mentions fireworks early on, to the confusion of whichever witch he says it to. At the end of the movie, as fireworks explode above the Emerald City, Glinda smiles and says, “Fireworks.” Oh, what? Fireworks? You see them too?
I know, Oz is made for kids five years old and under who’ve never seen a movie before. Still, does it have to be this boring? Does it have to be this dumb? Every scene is so obvious and generic. When Oz finds China Girl in her destroyed China Town, she reveals that her legs, made of china, mind you, are broken off, and you think, “Oz can just glue them together again.” Eons later Oz gets an idea. He searches his magic bag and—glue! Yes, he’ll fix her legs with glue! A miraculous substance everyone’s blown away by. Because I guess there’s nothing sticky in the Land of Oz.
The plot of Oz is identical to Raimi’s far more entertaining Army of Darkness. Not that it’s an original plot to begin with. But it’s still weird to see it remade this way. Stranger appears in a strange world, is told a prophecy has predicted he will save the day. Stranger goes along with it at first, always looking for a way out. Eventually admits he can’t help, is then shamed into helping by a hot girl, and saves the day by leading a scrappy band of munchkins and/or primitive screwheads in battle against outrageous odds.
Oz is written in the generic style popularized by David Koepp (check out his credits; I dare you not to weep) where story doesn’t come from character, it comes from genre. Scenes are laid out in advance per the formula, and the characters are walked through them. This relieves the writers from coming up with original ideas. They need only place the generic characters in the generic scene, put generic lines and generic jokes in their mouths, and move on to the next scene. Example: as the big battle gets underway at the end of the movie, Glinda is captured by flying baboons. She sees them coming. Why not zap them with her wand? Why not back up ten feet into those trees? Why not do anything to evade capture? Simply because it’s time for her to be captured. Character logic doesn’t come into play.
With all the money and power at his fingertips, I wish Raimi would add at least a little more personality into these big budget movies of his. Oz looks like it was directed by the Disneyficator 3000. You want a magical land of wonder? Check this out, the flowers are all—wait for it—giant flowers! Yes, it’s that imaginative. It makes the ten minutes of Burton’s Alice In Wonderland I watched on cable that one time look good. Well, not as bad. Would you believe equally awful?
Are there actors in the movie? There are. James Franco is squinty and uncomfortable and spends the whole movie wearing a smirk that says he’s not going to fall for whatever joke’s being played on him. Mila Kunis’s idea of acting is to widen her eyes to varying degrees and, once changed into the Wicked Witch, to screech like a hyena with its balls in a vice. Other actors do other things.
Is there anything good in this movie? I liked the China Girl’s design. Oz’s face projected in the smoke at the end looked cool. And—no, I guess that’s it.
This is every bit the Disney product it’s advertised as. Nothing about it is fun. It’s tired from the very first scene. There’s no sense of wonder or discovery. The characters are thin, the dialogue is bad, there’s not a single original joke. Watching Oz The Great And Powerful is a depressing experience.
So. Penguins. Think about it. Give them a big enough keyboard so they can type with their wings, a windbreak so they can relax, plenty of fish, and a few key plot points. If they squawk about residuals, set a polar bear loose on ’em. There’s no downside. We all win.