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Oz, the Great and Powerful, or, Why it pays to have low expectations

Oz, the Great and PowerfulOr, Maybe I’ve Gotten Less Discerning Since Having a Second Kid.

I recently saw Oz, the Great and Powerful (Disney, March 2013; PG) in IMAX 3-D. Having read mostly 2-2.5-star reviews, I wasn’t expecting much. But when their grandparents are willing and available to babysit your two small children (“Go, see a movie!”), it doesn’t have to be Citizen Kane you’re watching. And going in with low expectations can definitely work some magic.

The visual aspects of the movie are stunning (and I’m not just talking about the lead actors, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz, but, wow, what a pretty cast, and in IMAX, no less). Like the 1939 Wizard of Oz, the film starts off in black and white. Once we’re no longer in Kansas — courtesy of Dorothy’s tornado, impressive in 3-D — everything switches to color, and the 3-D imagery ramps up a notch (lots of flowers blossoming dramatically, butterflies fluttering around, even a lunging lion), Avatar-style.

James Franco, as the prophesied wizard, meets Mila Kunis, a lonely witch, and she falls instantly in love with him. When she finds out she’s not his main squeeze she spectacularly loses it, doing her best impersonation of her screechy-girlfriend self on That ’70s Show. It’s not the first time James Franco has toyed with a lady’s emotions; check him out in this hilariously unforgettable act of manipulation from Freaks & Geeks. (And his real-life mom, children’s book author/poet Betsy Franco, probably has stories of her own…)

There’s a big, convoluted plot, with echoes of and parallels to Baum’s Oz books, and then there’s some more visually dazzling stuff at the end. The point is, if you feel like spending two hours looking at nice-looking people in front of gorgeous fake scenery, you could do much worse than Oz, the Great and Powerful.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.



  1. I had the same experience of going into the movie with low expectations and being very pleasantly surprised. It’s true there were some problems with pacing, and the dialogue and performances weren’t standout, but I found the theme of goodness vs. greatness gave this film a heart that elevated it beyond the (very impressive) eye candy provided by the costumes, sets and FX. Definitely worth a viewing (even in the regular format I saw). Good for all ages except the very youngest, who may find some bits too scary.

  2. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    Yes, those sisters were a little creepy. Also campy, but I’m not sure that was on purpose.

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