Oscar Diggs is a magician/con man.
There's neither a nicer nor simpler way to put it. This is a guy who knows all the slick sleight of hand, prestidigitation trickery of his day. A trapdoor here, a little misdirection there, toss in some homemade sound effects and "alakazeem!" the crowds are eating out of his hand.
His seedy traveling carny show is far from top shelf but, hey, Oscar's a fellow who can charm an audience. Not to mention his share of female admirers. Let's just say he brings the magic in that department as well.
Of course, that latter bit gets him in trouble far more often than his semi-seamy magic show does. The women fall in love with him, you see. They want him to settle down, be a good man. But, frankly, being a good man isn't for him. His father was a good man—he slaved away his whole life and died facedown in the dirt he toiled over. You can keep that destiny! Oscar, or Oz, as everybody calls him, is set on another goal: He's going to be a great man. A man of wealth and importance. A showman to beat all showmen.
One unfortunate day, however, the not-quite-great-yet Oz finds himself running from a jealous, muscle-bound beau. He just hates it when that happens. He jumps aboard a hot air balloon for a quick escape—but wouldn't you know it, there's a storm swirling. And a twister nearly sends him to his final curtain call.
At the last second—whoop!—one more fateful trapdoor escape.
When the terrified magician awakes, he finds himself crash-landed in a strange, vibrantly colored land. A place like none he's ever seen. It's a land of ruby flowers and emerald cliffs, tiny fairies and beautiful witches, talking China dolls and … flying monkeys. Possibly even more surprising than all that—certainly more advantageous—is that the land is called Oz.
And if that wasn't spectacular coincidence enough, it turns out that the residents of Oz have been longing for a powerful wizard to show up. It's been prophesied. And there's a royal throne and a trove of riches waiting in the wings for the guy to claim.
He learns all this from the beautiful witch Theodora. (No hairy warts or hooknose here, believe me.) And get this, she thinks Oz is the guy!
Everything he's ever dreamed of is at his fingertips. Wealth. Beautiful women. Throngs of people ready to adore him. It's all his if he simply fulfills one last part of the prophesy:
Rid Oz of its wicked witch. You know, the one who lives in the West.
After another witch, the "good witch" Glinda, gets to know Oz, she realizes (and tells him) that he's "weak, selfish, slightly egotistical and a fibber." But she also hopes for the best in him, telling him that he's capable of "more than you know." She earnestly believes that, at the very least, his presence will encourage the people and could well—if he invests in the effort—change the course of everything in the kingdom. In fact, at one point she tells Oz that she always saw something uniquely valuable in him.
"Greatness?" he asks.
"No. Goodness," she replies.
With the support of Glinda and his other newfound friends, Oz makes a clear transition in the course of the movie. He turns from being a selfish lout set on self-aggrandizement and manipulation, to becoming a man who speaks glowingly of his friendships and works self-sacrificially to help others. Among the film's more tender moments, Oz patiently and carefully glues a little China Girl's broken legs together. He comes to realize that using the tools and gifts he has and being a good man, like his father before him, is far more valuable than "greatness."
In the beginning, Oz lies repeatedly, especially to the young women he wants to impress. And after each female "conquest," he more often than not quickly withdraws his affections. In Oz, his fibs are profuse enough that the flying monkey sidekick Finley tells him, "Every lie you tell gets us one step closer to the Emerald dungeon." And every lie we see is meant to teach us not to do it. Oz learns his lesson, about both love and lying.
In that same vein, an older Oz resident tells Glinda, "Your father would have marveled at the woman you've become." We hear about "courage, hard work" and showing faith in one another. Glinda, Oz and many of the citizenry of Oz put their lives on the line to stand against the evil in their midst. And in the process, as if to more clearly paint the line between good and evil, none of them are willing to take a life to achieve their noble end. "The good people of Oz are forbidden to kill," Glinda reports.
Anyone who knows anything about the classic tome The Wizard of Oz knows that Oz is a fantasy world swirling with magic. And this pic ups the ante on that front. Here we have a king who once prophesized of a coming wizard savior. Three magic-wielding witches are in the mix—with an overhanging question of "Who's the good witch and who's the bad?"
That, of course, raises the questions: Is there such a thing as a good witch? And are there really any good lessons "good' witches can leave us with?
All of the witches possess magic stones or wands that give them the power to levitate themselves and others. They throw powerful blasts, including lightning bolts and fire bombs. Glinda creates waves of fog and large bubbles to help transport her friends. There's talk of a past wizard who granted "good and noble" wishes.
On the dark side of things, a witch offers her sister a poison apple that painfully withers her heart. When her magic bauble breaks, the offending sis herself withers into a hag.
There are hints at spiritual connection points in Kansas, too. Oz is approached during his magic show by a wheelchair-bound girl who wants him to heal her crippled legs. And when it appears that he may die in a twister-induced balloon crash, Oz calls out to the heavens for help, saying, "Get me out of here and I'll do great things … I promise. I can change!" When his prayer is answered, he points skyward and proclaims, "Thank you. You won't regret this."
Oz is established as a serial seducer—and we do indeed see him wooing several women—a pretty assistant, Theodora and Glinda. We see him dance with them and share kisses. Evanora recounts a sensual moment. The witches' gowns display cleavage. One of them, while in the grip of a heart-withering poison, rips open her dress top revealing a corset beneath.
There are a number of tense moments in the film that could have younger viewers covering their eyes and looking for a parental arm to grab for comfort. The perilous balloon ride, for instance, features various twister-driven objects slashing through the air at the camera as Oz is buffeted and blown. Likewise, the Wicked Witch's flying baboons leap, growl and screech at audiences, attacking their targets and lofting people into the air. The Wicked Witch herself is pretty intimidating as she sneers and snarls in all her green fury. Glowing eyes in a dark forest have a similar impact when they reveal themselves to be predatory plants with sharp-toothed maws.
Two evil witches throw fireballs and lightning, destroying things around them. Glinda is captured, thrown to the ground, chained and tortured with painful hits from magical lighting blasts. Oz is bitten by tiny river fairies with sharp teeth. He's magically picked up and thrown around by the Wicked Witch. She threatens that she'll make the yellow brick road "run red with blood."
A lion charges Oz, but backs off quickly when the magician throws a smoke bomb to the ground. Witches are thrown through high windows. We see that a village has been smashed to bits by the flying baboons, and a China Girl sits in the corner of a room with shattered porcelain legs. After joining Oz's team, the tiny doll calls out, "Let's go kill ourselves a witch!" There's other talk of witches and wizards being killed.
As Theodora cries, her tears of jealousy burn and scar her face. In a fit of jealous rage, she smashes a mirror with her hand. Losing her temper in another scene, she hurls a fireball.
Oz is comically chased by the circus strong man. Folks are randomly whacked on the head, and there's other slapstick-style violence scattered throughout.
Crude or Profane Language
Two uses of "d‑‑n." We hear "oh my gosh" or "oh god" a couple of times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A carny takes a swig from a bottle. When flying baboons are lured into a field of magical poppies, they're drugged to sleep (death?) by the smell of the colorful flowers.
Other Negative Elements
If you look around the Web at various reviews and opines about this movie, you'll likely find plenty who will tell you that this isn't your granddad's Wizard of Oz. And they're right, of course. How could it be?
What you do find here, though, is a prequel pic packed with some of the same fantasyland, munchkiny stuff of that 1939 classic. Only in this version that famous tin man buffer has been set to work on things until the Emerald City glows with a shield-your-eyes contemporary flare.
The colors are bolder and brighter. The city's spires and ruby-crested fauna bigger. The con man "wizard" shiftier. The dark forest and flying monkeys more threatening. The witches more beautiful—and more magical. Oh my, I should mention, too, that the lions and tigers and bears in these wild woods have been largely replaced, it's said, by "ghosts, evil spirits and the undead."
That means moms and dads who fondly remember a once-a-year Judy Garland-Margaret Hamilton small-screen version of Oz should think twice or even three times before whisking their tinier tykes off on this twister-blown (and violence-prone) balloon ride. And for the older ones—the ones who've already seen, say, the musical Wicked—it may be time for a more serious talk about the intersections of fantasy and spirituality.
It's not that all of those things mean this movie is "worse" than Judy's, though. There is definite fun to be had. This latest Oz even offers answers to the original flick's gaping questions that you never thought to ask. And solid lessons are easily found in the areas of faithful friendship, choosing selflessness over selfishness, leaving behind a life of lies and finding that warmhearted goodness always trumps empty dreams of fame-filled greatness.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Kids
James Franco as Oscar Diggs; Mila Kunis as Theodora; Rachel Weisz as Evanora; Michelle Williams as Glinda; Joey King (voice) as China Girl; Zach Braff (voice) as Finley
Sam Raimi (Drag Me to Hell, Spider-Man 3, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man, For Love of the Game)
March 8, 2013
Bob Hoose Bob Hoose