I must admit to being a big Wizard of Oz fan, all without reading the books (which are now on my list of books to read). The first time I saw the movie was in the mid 60s, and I actually remember the nightmare involving those flying monkeys. The yellow brick road was a shade of gray because we did not have a color television yet. Watching the movie on a color television made it a whole new story. Real life was black and white while the dream was technicolor. Whoa!
The only remake I saw was 1978’s “The Wiz”. It put an R & B spin to the musical numbers; Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy but Lena Horne as the good witch Glinda was perfection and Richard Pryor as the Wiz was excellent casting, as he was the Wiz of comedy in those days.
I saved up a zillion of my pennies in order to see “Wicked” on Broadway, and still had a six month wait for decent seats (and don’t get me started on the flying monkey nightmare). Wicked tells the witches’ side of the story. Elphaba, who grows to be the wicked witch of the west, with her unfortunate green skin, and Glinda the golden child who grows to be the good witch of the north. It was a tale of discrimination, love triangles, and corrupt government officials, and yet I left the theater feeling like I could defy gravity.
Now comes a prequel to everything…Oz the Great and Powerful, the Disney version, which chronicles the Wizard’s arrival to the land over the rainbow. This new movie, starring James Franco as Oscar Diggs the so-called Wizard, Michelle Williams as Glinda, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and Mila Kunis as her sister Theodora (the eventual wicked witches), opened in theaters this past weekend.
Where the 1939 version depicts the wizard as a bumbling carnival barker, Franco’s wizard is a flat-out con man who is trying to find his way through a new world. Similar to the original, Oz the Great and Powerful opens with real life in Black & White, with the movie switching to technicolor (remember that word?) once we enter Oz. The first person he meets is Theodora. She is the one who declares that he is fulfilling the prophecy. Oscar doesn’t really know what she is talking about, but he goes along with it. Upon reaching the Emerald City Oscar is introduced to Evanora, who plays along with her sister’s version while making nefarious plans of her own. Evanora shows Oscar the treasures that will belong to him once he is declared the real Wizard and tells him that he must rid Oz of the “Wicked Witch Glinda” in order to become the real Wizard. Oscar, with dollar signs in his head, sets off on a quest with his sidekick Finley, a flying monkey.
Oscar and Finley’s adventures lead them to discover that Evanora is actually the wicked witch at the same time that Theodora discovers that she is being played. With Oscar falling for Glinda, the actual Good Witch, and Theodora realizing that her evil witch sister has manipulated all of them, the stage is set for the final showdown of good versus evil.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a tale of deception, magic, heartache, and community. Once a community comes together to defeat evil, then evil has no power. A fantasy story with a real life lesson? Yes, I believe so.