A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Oz the Great and Powerful is considerably darker and more intense than The Wizard of Oz. While it pays tribute to the original film, the main character this time is an adult, rather than a girl, and the themes are accordingly more mature. For much of the movie, Oz (James Franco) is a selfish, egotistical ladies' man; he flirts to get his way and ends up kissing four different characters. (He also says "damn" a couple of times.) And if the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys in the 1939 classic frightened your kids, the flying baboons in this prequel may terrify them (particularly in 3-D), as will the general cruelty of the evil characters and the plight of the orphaned China Girl. Glinda is also briefly tortured (via magical lightning), and there's an intense twister scene and several "jump" moments that are especially startling in the 3-D version. The Wicked Witch's transformation is creepy, though ultimately she doesn't look quite as scary as the original. On the bright side, the movie offers a lasting lesson about how teamwork and friendship between unlikely allies can overcome obstacles and how a person's legacy lives on in people's hearts and minds.
What's the story?
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL opens in the familiar black-and-white landscape of early 1900s Kansas. Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a charming magician nicknamed Oz, charms a pretty country girl with an obviously fake story about his grandma's music box. During his show, a young girl in a wheelchair (Joey King) asks him to make her walk, but he demurs and has to stop the show in relative disgrace -- until he sees the one local girl he cares about, Annie (Michelle Williams). When a fellow carnie comes after Oz for flirting with his girl, Oz escapes in a hot air balloon that flies directly into a twister and then crash lands in ... somewhere that's definitely not Kansas. Confused by his colorful surroundings, Oz meets the beautiful Theodora (Mila Kunis), a young witch who explains that he must be the prophesied Wizard of Oz sent to deliver the kingdom from the evil witch. Theodora's older sister, the powerful Evanora (Rachel Weisz), promises Oz the throne if he kills Glinda and destroys her wand, but once he meets Glinda (Williams), it's clear that someone's story isn't quite right. With an adorable monkey Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) and a brave little China Girl (King) by his side, Oz must decide whether he's just a con man magician or if he can truly be the Wizard of Oz.
Is it any good?
Considering The Wizard of Oz's ironclad status as a Hollywood classic, there's no way any movie about Oz could come close to matching the magic of that masterpiece; this one certainly doesn't. Director Sam Raimi's $200 million prequel boasts elaborate visuals, stomach-flipping action sequences, and swooping shots of the colorful landscape, not to mention a capable cast. But even with three fabulous actresses as the witches and two adorable sidekicks (the monkey and the China Girl), Franco's Oz himself lacks the emotional impact that Judy Garland's Dorothy so beautifully conveyed.
The fact that Oz is a shallow womanizer who transforms (ever so slowly) into a worthy defender of the land that bears his name isn't nearly as compelling as the story of an orphaned Kansas farm girl who desperately wants to find her way home. Oz -- quite unlikable at first -- doesn't want a home, and he doesn't want to be good; he wants to be great. Greatness in this film is courtesy of the supporting characters, but Franco, while perfectly suited for Oz' smarmy trickster, has trouble pulling off the more heroic acts necessary in the third act. Visually, Raimi offers viewers a true spectacle (like the unforgettable sequence in which a character transforms into the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West), but the magic you felt when you heard "Over the Rainbow" for the first time or saw Dorothy skipping down the Yellow Brick Road? It's just not there this time around.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Oz the Great and Powerful's scary scenes. What makes it scarier than the original? Does the fact that it's a fantasy story make it any less scary? Why or why not?
Some critics have complained that the wizard isn't a very likeable character. Do you agree? Were you still rooting for him? Why?
How does Oz the Great and Powerful compare to the 1939 original (and, if you're familiar with it, the musical Wicked)? Do you think it's meant for the same age kids?
Do you think Hollywood should have revisited the story of Oz, even if it wasn't an actual remake?
- In theaters: March 8, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: June 11, 2013
- Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz
- Director: Sam Raimi
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship
- Run time: 130 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.