'Oz the Great and Powerful' faces a classic challenge

Published: Thursday, March 7 2013 12:30 p.m. MST

"The Wizard of Oz"

TNT

For more than 70 years, children have experienced the enchanting and whimsical land of Oz through the eyes of a young, sprightly girl — and her little dog, too.

Deemed by many as a classic, “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) conveys its heart-warming theme through heel-clicking ruby slippers and five little words: “There’s no place like home.”

This weekend, Oz returns to the big screen. “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a whole new story told from the perspective of Oscar Diggs, a magician from Kansas who desires greatness but is too distracted by his womanizing and unscrupulous habits to do achieve his goal.

Director Sam Raimi accepted the task of creating the Oz prequel, a challenging feat for fans of the original.

“The film won’t have a chance to succeed if we don’t really care about the central character,” said Dennis Perry, a professor of film and literature at BYU. “If we don’t really believe in him, no amount of special effects is going to overcome that.”

Filling that role is James Franco, who previously worked with Raimi in the Spider-Man trilogy.

Following is what viewers can expect from “Oz the Great and Powerful” in comparison to “The Wizard of Oz.”

Because the wizard is portrayed as a young man in the new movie, Franco was able to define his role without the bias of fans. Oz only appears for a short time in the original film, but the heart of his character was captured in those brief moments.

When Dorothy and the gang finally defeat the Wicked Witch of the West and return her broomstick to the great and powerful Oz, they discover his inability to perform real magic and the façade he hides behind.

Although he isn’t what they thought he would be, the wizard still proves to be a hero because of the confident words he shares with Dorothy, the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow.

The goodness of Glinda and the munchkins hasn’t completely changed Oz’s core nature, however. His true view of love comes out when he says, “hearts will never be practical unless they can be made unbreakable” in response to the Tin Man’s plea for a heart.

Franco fits the role of the selfish “wizard” nicely. At the beginning of “Oz the Great and Powerful,” Diggs appears detached from people. When a disabled child begs him to make her walk, he unsympathetically brushes her aside. When an old lover comes to him questioning if they are meant to be married, it barely amuses him.

Yet when copious amounts of gold are offered to him, he is able to muster enough passion to act — as if he has finally landed somewhere over the rainbow. While the verdict is still out on Franco’s performance, after decades it’s clear that Judy Garland had the talent to make her character completely relatable and memorable, according to Perry.

“Judy Garland’s performance was just so emotionally engaging,” Perry said. “Just her ability to pull us into her situation and help the film stay focused on that issue was incredible.”

“The Wizard of Oz” and “Oz the Great and Powerful” are two different story lines, but there are some parallels.

For instance, both movies begin in a sepia-toned hue and transform into color once the protagonist reaches the Land of Oz.

The addition of color to the original “Wizard of Oz” was groundbreaking. Oz was just the place to show off the deep emerald of the city and the golden bricks of the road.

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