Welcome to my new series Common Criticism, in which I will look at a film that I admire but still deserves a lot of, in my opinion, undeserved flack. I want to look at all the main points that come up in both professional and amateur reviews and use logic to see whether or not the points are really valid.
The first film I’m going to look at is the recently released Oz the Great and Powerful. This is a sort of prequel to The Wizard of Oz exploring the origins of the somewhat shadowy figure of the Wizard and how he went from a Kansas stage magician to the ‘man behind the curtain’ of The Emerald City.
It strongly reflects the style of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (they had the same producer, for one thing), heavily reliant on green screen effects and CGI characters with a slightly dark tone that appeals more to the tween market then to younger children.
Overall, I enjoyed this film a lot more than I was expecting to. There are some rather gaping flaws (I’ll get to those later) but the effects were done very well and the story was very strong, considering it could have very easily gone down the clichéd ‘liar reveal’ route. But it still has a fairly average score of 6.9 on IMDB and some critics and reviewers are really tearing into it. So what do they see as wrong with the film?
Warning: Contains spoilers for Oz the Great and Powerful.
1. It’s anti-feminist.
Most of these claims stem from the fact that the ‘chosen one’ is a man and that the three witches of the film are all seemingly sitting around waiting for him to arrive before they get up and do anything. Theodora in particular falls for Oz almost instantly and turns into the iconic wicked witch after he rejects her.
The people who say stuff like this are probably the types who like to call out ‘isms’ in places where they don’t exist so they can prove how sensitive and intelligent they are and be worshiped as a God among men, and ultimately get laid. And no, I don’t care if you’re a man making these claims. You still can’t go around making false accusations.
First there’s Glinda, the good witch. She’s the only witch who can instantly see through Oz’s lies and womanising bull. She also most likely knew that she couldn’t take on two wicked witches herself and would need the help of a wizard. Secondly, Evanora only pretended to ‘serve’ Oz, really she was manipulating him to achieve her own goals.
Theodora is a little harder to defend because of what I mentioned above. If you look at only these factors, then she does seem like the weak willed female who’s life revolves around a man. But remember, it was her wicked sister Evanora who made her that way. I read online – and I’m not sure whether it’s just something I missed or a fan theory – that Evanora killed the previous King and made up the prophecy. She most likely filled up Theodora’s head with the romantic image of the wizard who would come and save them, and it was this image she fell in love with, not Oz himself. You may call that itself anti-feminist, but doesn’t that type of thing happen to both men and women? Look at all the guys obsessed with anime and game characters. Evanora knew all along that Theodora had wicked tendencies so she used Oz’s rejection to push her over the edge. It’s tragic and very dark, but certainly not anti-feminist.
Much like the film’s producer Joe Roth, I find a fairy tale with a male protagonist to be a refreshing change. It’s hard to find a fairy tale story that isn’t about a cute little girl or a pretty princess. Do audiences just not want a middle aged man to be their fairy tale character?
2. The visuals or special effects were bad.
True some backgrounds and effects I felt could have used a bit more work, such as the colour changing ponies (how can you go wrong with colour changing ponies?!) but otherwise the world of Oz was imaginative, colourful and drew you in.
Compare these to the backgrounds in the film version of The Wiz, which were just unimaginative sound stages shot from 300 feet away (and yet TVTropes still calls it scenery porn. What the hell?).
What particularly impressed me was the introduction to Oz. Not only did it include pretty imagery like plants made of jewels and trees made of butterflies but similar to How to Train Your Dragon which put you on the back of the dragon, this film shows you the world through the eyes of the main character so you take it all in the same way he does.
Some of the effects, even the small ones, were very clever. The China Girl was performed with a marionette with the face CGI’d on later. And did you notice in the opening Kansas scenes, not only were they in black and white but the backgrounds were static studio backdrops instead of green screen?
3. The acting was awful.
Even people who like this film pan the acting. I never thought it was bad. Not Russell Crowe trying to sing bad. That is except for James Franco, who unfortunately plays the main character. He does fine during the opening Kansas scenes and you feel really bad for him when he can’t make the little girl walk, but he is completely incapable of interacting with the CGI characters or the green screen locations. Which is sad for a film which almost completely reliant on these effects. To his credit he does try. The scene where he fixes The China Girl’s legs is a real tearjerker but he fails to keep it up for the remainder of the film. So there you go, I gave you that one.
4. It doesn’t contain the classic witch imagery.
Come on, not all witches have to be green skin, warts and broomsticks. Heck, that was even brought up in the film! This classic image of the witch has been built up in films, primarily by The Wizard of Oz, but it has been around so long that is a cliché now. Our interpretation of witches has changed over time. The dark and sexy witch is now much closer to how we see witches.
5. The characters are boring or mediocre.
I seriously don’t see the problem here. Oz may be a womaniser at first, but it is sort of implied that this behaviour might stem from some deeper issues. The only women he has real feelings for has just gotten engaged to another man. He desires to be like great magicians like Houdini but he can barely impress on stage and can’t perform ‘real’ magic like making a wheelchair bound girl walk again. Why wouldn’t he act out by seducing women?
And I really don’t get how some people hate the little China Girl so much, when she so obviously steals the whole show! Her introduction scene, as I said, is the best in the whole film. Despite being made of incredibly fragile china, she carries Glinda’s wand all the way through the crowded Emerald City to return it to her. How’s that for a strong female character?!
6. The story is bad.
The darker tone, tragic fates of some characters, and storyline better reflect the book than the purposely cutified Wizard of Oz and I like that the plot is more complex. This time around, the people of Oz actually get off their munchkin asses and do something about the great evil threatening their land. Now where was that in the first film?
This is a test of character story with some surprising elements added to it and kind of reflects the moral of the first book – The qualities you desire may be the ones you already have.
I really admire how it wasn’t a big ball of magic power that saved the day in the end (ok there was Glinda’s battle with Evanora but I’m talking before that). Oz knew he didn’t have any real magic to defeat the witches so he used his powers of deception and illusion to save the day. The message of the film is about overcoming your shortcomings. Isn’t that a great moral?
7. It’s not as good as the original. How dare they even think of making a prequel!
Now this is the one that really makes me want to bang my head against a wall. The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved films ever and has stood the test of time, and yet you derail this one just because it’s not on the same level? They weren’t trying to make a second Wizard of Oz! To recreate such a film would be near impossible. And it’s not intended to be a nostalgia trip film either. If you want childhood nostalgia, just watch the original again.
If film producers knew the formula for making a film as classic and timeless as The Wizard of Oz then that would be the only types of films that would be made. Heck, the creators of The Wizard of Oz didn’t even know it. It went through several re-writes, huge production problems and barely made back it’s budget on it’s initial release. It only became a classic after it was showed on TV during the 1950s. At the time they had no way of knowing that the film would be this beloved 70 years on. They weren’t purposely trying to make the ultimate timeless nostalgia film. They were just trying to make a film.
Personally, I always preferred Return to Oz anyway. Maybe I was just messed up as a child. But just because fans of the original think that anyone would be insane not to give it a ten out of ten, doesn’t mean you should put this film on such a high pedestal. You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. It may be a prequel, but it still stands on it’s own as a separate film so enjoy it for what it does have.
Do you disagree or did you notice something I left out? Then feel free to leave a comment!