‘Why, it’s a man!’ It’s Oz: The Great and Powerful – REVIEW

The character work in Great and Powerful is hit and miss. After sleepwalking through his Oscar-hosting gig and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, James Franco is suddenly awake again, an irony of sorts since Oz is a dreamland. In the absence of tin men, cowardly lions, and scarecrows we get a flying monkey and a china doll as companions to the hero and while they're cute they won't become iconic companions. The movie has the most trouble, though, with its three witches: Michelle Wiliams cuts a hypnotic figure as "Glinda the Good" but the movie doesn't give her any opportunity to flesh out the character and strangely there's not a hint of the prissy humor that defined the character in both Billie Burke and Kristin Chenoweth's takes so she doesn't always feel like Glinda per se; Rachel Weisz has the least to do as "Evanora" but she's good with a line reading; But Mila Kunis is, I'm sad to say, an absolute disaster as her sister "Theodora." Some actors understand style and the heightened qualities of genre acting but Kunis is utterly lost which handicaps the movie considerably.

But the most disappointing thing about Great and Powerful which is a bit better than it ought to be thanks to Sam Raimi's visual giddiness, is that there's just not much to talk about that isn't in some way a paraphrase of "So… how about that the immortal 1939 musical!?!"  So why fight it…


My absolute favorite soundbyte from The Wizard of Oz (and the competition is stiff) though not my favorite shot is when Dorothy Gale discovers the Tin Man, feet first. The camera pans up with Dorothy's eye from legs to crotch to torso to face.  "Why, it's a man!" 

For all of that clip's gay camp value, it's completely asexual; Dorothy is never thinking about boys. If The Wizard of Oz is an innocent child, than Great and Powerful is a horny teenager. But unlike the 1939 classic it serves the male ego despite the largely female cast.  When the claws come out (literally), it's weirdly sexist as a result.

Look I'm not above a good cat fight. There's almost nothing funnier in The Wizard of Oz than Glinda's helium-voiced Queen Bee dismissals of the Wicked Witch ("only bad witches are ugly"). In fact, the original cattiness enabled a whole modern wave of sympathy for the devil (i.e. The Wicked Witch of the West) in rethinks like "Wicked" and Great and Powerful that wondered how she got that way. But at its heart the 1939 classic was a heroine's journey that spun on the bravery and kindness of a young girl testing her strength and resolve in a frightening world.  

Though the three witches in Oz are all quite powerful, they are rendered powerless when a man enters the equation. Even a man who admits he is without power. It's not really about about who sits on the Emerald City's throne but who sits beside the man who will sit there. The plot spins not on transporting tornadoes but on the con-artist's seductive charms and HOW CRAZY WOMEN GET IF A MAN DOESN'T LOVE THEM! 'Someday their Prince/Wizard will come' being the takeaway. If you're really going to Follow the Mighty Dick Road at least have a little camp fun with your ode to the patriachy ! Great and Powerful hedges its bets here by taking it too seriously and extending an olive branch to the Wicked Witch because it's not her fault she's so crazy. James Franco, you see, is just too irresistible in Sepia or Technicolor. 


P.S. If you'd rather just skip the new movie and just think about The Wizard of Oz again, here's a fun breakdown from Vulture about what the 1939 film is really about and a "best shot" party I hosted, wherein bloggers praised their personal favorite images from the film.

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.


  1. frank says

    Could you just review the film without working so damn hard to be cute and clever? Get the hell out of the way!

  2. Caliban says

    I thought it was a good review, though a little more explanation of why Mila Kunis didn’t work would have been nice. It’s disappointing that the whole thing boils down to a “cat-fight” between three women over a man. I wondered about that after seeing the trailers.

  3. Joseph says

    James Franco seems to be a talented young man, but also seems to have the bad habit of stumbling all over himself- he loses enthusiasm too quickly and becomes easily and oddly disengaged. His acting skill reflects this quality.

  4. Richard Harney says

    I do agree that Mila Kunis is a bad choice. What irked me is that her voice is so iconic as the voice of Meg from Family Guy that you just can’t help but think of her from that and even her character is that of Meg. A girl who gets obsessed over a guy and goes bipolar passive aggressive. I also did not like how Oz is a big womanizer even after he is thrown into this new world and only seconds after he is grateful for his second chance.

    That said, I did think it was a pretty good movie though I did want to see a little more connection with the original and how the people of the town made the scarecrow, tin man and we did see a lion get scared off or even how the wicked witch comes to own the ruby slippers. I have never seen Wicked, so maybe that goes further with that.

  5. Moz's says

    “…a little more explanation of why Mila Kunis didn’t work would have been nice…”


    would have liked this bit fleshed out more in the review

  6. steve says

    it will make a fortune………… so hate all you want ……. remember Alice in wonderland by burton…………

  7. steve says

    I thought the movie was boring…and flat. I agree that Mila Kunis was a poor choice. To me, her voice also reminded me very much of Meg from Family Guy…it just didn’t have the menace needed for it…maybe they could have transformed her voice a bit with special effects to make it sound more evil. I think what hurt the film was trying to stay to close in tone to the original…I think that sort of “stunted” the film…

  8. Dave says

    Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was a beautiful film. I don’t think it’s deserving of the pointed jab.

  9. Joey says

    Very bad movie.. visually not all that horrible, but the acting was off all around. James Franco seemed very much just like James Franco.. and there didn’t seem to be any depth to his character. Biggest win was probably Rachel seeing as how her character was pretty much one dimensional and just needed to deliver good wicked lines. Michelle seemed like she tried to completely reimagine the character, which I didn’t mind, but there just wasn’t enough there for her to work with.. Mila was a HUGE miss (and I love her). She came across as much too immature to truly be “evil”.. Her voice is too well known to work in this context, and she doesn’t understand how to really revel in this type of campy character which can be tricky… her cackle was absolutely ridiculous btw, everyone started laughing when she did it.

  10. Sean says

    Where have all the character actors gone in movies? All the parts now are filled with
    leading men and women. Character actors should have played the parts of these witches, not leading ladies. That’s why they’re coming off flat. If the Wizard of Oz” was made today, the scarecrow, lion, tinman, Glinda, and the WWOTW would be played by leading stars. They all want to play small parts now so they can win a best supporting Oscar.

  11. rebarb says

    I took my son and daughter to see it last night& and they were delighted by the witches , the colors and excitement of seeing a different version of their favorite story. I thought it was really quite good in spite of all the cat fights. Is it an instant classic? Not really. Is it an entertaining film sure. If you have kids I recommend seeing it with them. If you’re going with expectations of a thrilling take on the classic stay home and rent the original.

  12. Steven H says

    “I did want to see a little more connection with the original and how the people of the town made the scarecrow, tin man and we did see a lion get scared off or even how the wicked witch comes to own the ruby slippers.”

    The first two might have been possible, but Disney couldn’t touch the ruby slippers. MGM owns the rights to the 1939 movie, so Disney couldn’t use any lines or imagery unique to the 1939 movie… they couldn’t even call the new movie a “prequel” of the original. Ultimately a lot of color was out–like the ruby slippers (Dorothy has silver slippers in the book), and the shade of green used for the Wicked Witch. Perhaps ironically, since the 1939 movie was only loosely based on Baum’s work, the new movie had to avoid a lot of the dialogue and imagery that we now associate with Oz.

  13. woodroad34d says

    I watch the movie yesterday and I have to agree that, despite all the technology and visuals, it was pretty flat. I got the feeling that the three actresses (straining against a boring script) were thinking to themselves “I don’t quite get this”. And I have to agree about the three most powerful women in the land finding themselves helpless until a con man with zero appeal comes to them. I really liked James Franco early on, but now I get the feeling he’s just showing up to have a good time and could care less that he needs to help his audience commiserate with him. I felt like the Tin Man in this movie because I could care less about the characters. The little China Girl was cute; Zach Braf, meh. The original had some gravitas amongst the humor, which Great and Powerful lacked, and I think Dorothy being the heart and soul of the movie, was what was needed here (Michelle Williams didn’t quite capture that like she might have in BrokeBack).

  14. SC David says

    Is it no longer honorable to provide a readable review that would be useful to those considering whether to invest the time and money to see the movie? All this “meta” prattle that amounts to a review about the reviews, or the reviewer talking about himself–too clever by half, and nakedly aspiring to impress everyone with the writer’s erudition. It’s the literary equivalent of serving cheeseburgers with foam on top. Just give me a good cheeseburger, aight?

  15. The Inverate Lurker says

    James Franco does these kinds of movies so he can self-finance his artsy forays into the gay underbelly. C’mon girls give the guy some slack!

  16. Nat says

    I thought the movie was absolutely great; however, as a fair warning, I am entertained rather easily. I found the 2012 Alice in Wonderland film to be quite good as well.

    Being how much I loved the 1939 WoZ film and the books (I’ve read all of the canon-series of the books, this movie was spectacular! There were lots of moments of funny and it pretty much filled my nostalgia meter to full! Honestly, I think ANY Oz film, both connected with the books and the 1939 film would have made me giddy since I love the franchise so much.

    I was really happy with many of the elements in the film that took place…
    –I loved how we got to see China Town, which was mentioned in the original book and ignored in 1939.
    –I loved the opening sequence of the film, going from SD to HD, a modernized way to emulate the opening of the 1939 film.
    –I like how BOTH movies sort of direct us towards the argument whether Oz is part of a dream or the “real world” by having the actors play essentially two characters: one in Kansas and one in Oz.


    Speaking of the split between “reality” and “fantasy” in the film, it was really quite interesting to see that in Kansas, there was an implied possibility that Annie (Glinda in Oz) was the mother of Dorothy being that she was going to be engaged to a man named John Gale. I got so giddy after that because the books and 1939 film never really gave much background on Dorothy’s birth parents and for Glinda to possibly be Dorothy’s mom is so awesome.

    Anyway, I will make a last comment on the acting–I thought the acting was just fine and thought that Mila did a fine job despite what others are saying. As a disclaimer though, I’m not all too good at judging acting performance unless the bad acting is so blatantly obvious, in which OzGaP didn’t break that threshold.

    5 Stars out of 5 – I hope this film is successful so we can see future sequels to the 1939 film. one thing that I think everyone can agree on though is that they better NOT try to remake the 1939 film.

  17. Dback says

    A slight dip in the 2nd half hour (between Theodora and Glinda), and cutting 10-15 minutes might have made it tighter. But it’s visually gorgeous, the actresses are all giving everything they’ve got, and it’s fun watching all the pieces lock into place to set up “Wizard” (and not as insultingly wackadoo as “Wicked” is). We thought it was a very good, if not altogether great, effort.

  18. Redebbm says

    Nat we need more people like you. Sometimes people get so caught up in critiquing i think they can’t even remember the movie at all. Sometimes you need to just enjoy a movie, and stop the negative talk as a means to critique ALL movies. I also think it is hard for people to separate this movie from Wicked which is an epic storyline on its own. Contending with that will leave more to be desired. Alice in Wonderland left much to be desired, but this movie made up for some of that. Being a movie more focused on OZ, it would had been nice to see more character development (though there was some) of himself beyond the conman routine. There were some jarring moments, and some low dips. I think it was an enjoyable movie for what it was (a story about how OZ came to the city and established himself in the Emerald city), I felt more tie ins with the original would had been nice. Overall I felt much better than Alice.

  19. Tc says

    I am very glad I ignored your review prior to seeing it for myself. Your critique makes no sense. I thought it was wonderful and a worthy companion to the original. And I’ve seen the original 2,000 times.

    I hate critics, especially movie critics. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and yours is no more valid than mine. Your review sucks.

  20. Nat says

    @ Redebbm,

    Thank you for your comments–it’s much appreciated! I ::try:: to live a life where I get to see the positive side of all things while ignoring the negative; however, I’m not perfect and with other topics can sometimes get carried away, but I’m trying lol.

    Here is more Oz news to be happy about:

    So far, box office performance is doing extremely well and the media is predicting that it will become a full fledged movie franchise! You can bet I thanked my stars, especially Ms. Garland! And according to Variety article, it looks like the sequel already has a green light! WOOT!

    Source: http://variety.com/2013/film/news/disney-no-place-like-another-oz-sequel-exclusive-1200005299/

    Here is what I would love to see in the next film {Possible SPOILERS BELOW!):

    Princess Ozma, who starts as Tip (though I am not sure what direction Disney will take her character as in the books she starts off as a child who was enchanted by a wicked witch to be a boy–then the spell is broken and he turns back into a girl)

    Gnome King–the greatest villain in the entire series! Really interesting to see how they portray him.

    What now concerns me is how they are going to treat the Wizard–since OZGaP is a prequel, the continuity would imply that he will have to be played by a much older actor as he was in the 1939 film. In addition, I’m wondering how they are going to treat the fact that in fairy land, everyone is (practically) immortal and the inhabitants never ever age. (According to the books, Children remain children and adults remain adults.)

    Whew, so much to look forward to!

  21. JimmyD says

    You lost me with ‘Tim Burton’s Eyesore in Wonderland.’ I didn’t realize I was reading your Facebook wall.
    I saw ‘Oz’ over the weekend and really loved it.

  22. says

    I took our 6-year-old twins to see it, and although I was greatly bored and disappointed by the film, my children said they loved it. However, when asked an hour later what their favorite parts were, they couldn’t remember anything about the movie — and they’e able to recount the plots of “The Wizard of Oz,” all three “Lord of the Rings” movies, and all seven “Harry Potter” films on command, so I guess that says something.

  23. Sean says

    Movies reviews now are like Rorschack tests, they tell you more about the reviewer than the movie.

  24. GB says

    If Franco is “not gay” why does he carry the cross for gays? Is he so dense that he wouldn’t know why companies might drop him? The review on the Sundance gay sex film was horrible. Topic had potential. Film went nowhere. Time to come out and be the real gay, James – otherwise being provocative might cost you.

  25. Rob says

    I liked it a lot- but I do this thing where I suspend my disbelief. The visuals were stunning and clever. I thought James Franco was very sexy and I don’t see the problem with Mila Kunis at all. She was the bland stunted rejected bitter woman.

    Do we all have to be better than everything we see? Maybe they could have done a little more with it, and skipped the obligatory spark-fight climax common to so many action movies, but all in all a very nice evening.

  26. luminum says

    There’s nothing positive to say about this movie other than it was pretty. The acting was hollow and flat, the story was thin, the emotional gravitas was shallow and cheap, and the idea that three powerful witches were essentially holding their breath for a powerless con artist to stumble and schmooze his way into their land before they could resolve their long-going battle was moronic and frustrating.

    Nat’s review summed it up perfectly: It’s three powerful witches fighting one another to be the woman who gets to stand next to the throne. What the hell?

    This is a movie that children will watch and enjoy with all the colorful, meaningless set pieces to distract them, and then with fond nostalgia, rewatch many years later as adults and think, “I can’t believe I thought this was good.” And as for the adults who love it…just remember that Final Destination’s had 6 films all of which have been “hits”. There’s no discounting people seeking cheap, crappy entertainment.