For those who watched Oz the Great and Powerful over the weekend, surely you were left with some questions about why some things happened quite differently than you Oz canon you knew and grew up with. Here are some spoiler-ific details about the inspiration behind Disney’s new and interesting incarnation L. Frank Baum’s beloved tales.
*** WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! ***
It takes quite a magician to undertake a feat like bringing audiences a new take on the beloved Land of Oz. The Sam Raimi helmed prequel Oz the Great and Powerful attempted to lay a foundation for the beloved tale while paying respect to the original picture. Consider it a trip to L. Frank Baum’s world via Disney, and just maybe even a movie that will build a brand new lore as opposed to being a direct sequel of the Judy Garland film.
For those who have not yet seen the picture, (warned you) the film encapsulates a take on what exactly happened when Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small time circus magician and conman gets blown away to Oz and meets a sweet naïve witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) that believes he is the man meant to save her land from the mysterious evil witch. He is drawn into this great conflict despite the concerns of the other leading witches Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) that he may not be the Great Wizard they’ve been waiting for. With a little ingenuity, illusion and magic, Oscar and the friends he makes along the yellow brick road take on a wicked force that seals the fate of everyone in Oz—the very fate that leads to iconic story of The Wizard of Oz.
The cast and director sat down to talk about some of the choices that went into giving a familiar world a new spin.
Aiming to bring out the essence of the world created by Baum, Sam Raimi cited his work with the Spider-man trilogy as his first experience in adaptation and what exactly has to happen in the process, “Spider-man helped me because I learned that you can’t be loyal to every detail of the book. Every filmmaker knows when you make a book into a movie, the first thing you have to do is kill the book, unfortunately. You’ve got to re-create it. But I decided I could be truest to the fans of Baum’s great work if I recognized what was great and moving and touching and most effective about those books to me. Just to me. And put as much of that into this picture as I could. And that’s so I was not slave to the details. But I was a slave to the heart and the soul of the thing. In as many ways as I could express it, I put it into this movie.”
The daunting task of stepping back into a world renowned land was eased by Raimi’s vision and support of his crew and actors. Re-teaming with James Franco, both worked hard to craft the history of the figure who inevitably becomes the Man behind the Emerald curtain. Oscar starts off as an opportunist in a travelling show, determined to not be a good man—but a great one. As Franco says, “I can’t quite blame him for being the way he is because of his history, you know? He grew up in circumstances where you just wanted to get out. He wanted something different. And so performing was a way out. And so he’s gone a little too far in his ambitions and it’s blinded him to the love of the people around him.” In the film where his story starts off in a sepia toned Kansas world, you get the sense of his goals getting in the way of him seeing what was before him and rebuffing the affections of a number of girls who he presumably just had ‘fun’ with, which showed his inability to look at the consequences of his actions.
This carelessness follows him to Oz when one of the women fooled by his charm fatefully ends up being Theodora, who innocently takes his act to mean much more than he bargained for. After his arrival, Oscar seduces the young witch who thinks all her wishes are answered in this man who not only seems to be the great wizard everyone’s been waiting for but also her true love. “I mean, here’s a girl who’s incredibly naïve and very young and doesn’t believe she’s almost worthy of love, has never really truly experienced love. Meets James’s character. Falls madly in love with him, very quickly, mind you. And then gets her heart broken. And probably doesn’t have the emotional tools of dealing with heartache. Doesn’t want to deal with it. Takes the easy way route, given by her sister. And goes through an emotional transformation.” says Kunis, explaining her character’s tragic arc.
The transformation scene really puts in motion an unfortunate destiny for the young witch who becomes the iconic Wicked Witch of the West and served as the major push for Oscar to see his actions did indeed affect the destiny of the land. You see Theodora tricked by family who only wanted to use her capabilities for rage as a tool to take over the land, leading down a path that there was no coming back from. Kunis chose not to let the wicked witch’s signature green skin be the only thing that defined her as a monster by choosing a more nuanced approach that Raimi supported. “I was really guided by Mila Kunis’s performance and what her instincts were in playing that character. And she decided that she was playing her like a woman scorned. So even though she wasn’t really thinking about the fact that she was green, I think she was playing it as an innocent who fell in love and her heart was broken and she suffered and she couldn’t take the suffering and wanted to end that suffering and her sister was all too willing to let that suffering end and it awakened something that was already there but just fueled the fire of I don’t know what you women call it, hatred, anger, mixed with love, jealousy, rage. Rage is a good word. That rage drove her. And so I wasn’t tempted to make it more like a horror movie. I wanted her to guide us and I would follow her with the camera.” Raimi described.
Michelle Williams also had the task of breathing new life into the beloved role of Glinda the Good Witch and was nervous about stepping into those shoes — and bubble. Gone is the sugary, high pitched overly pushy witch. Williams noted that Raimi provided the right environment to make the choices that brought out an honest and endearing portrayal of the character. “It feels like all of your ideas are welcome, even the bad ones. He really taught me a lot about how to like keep your chin up, like when the day is long and things aren’t going quite as you had sort of planned them out in your head, Sam is there with a smile. Sam is there with a hand. Sam is there with a joke. He really taught me a lot about not getting down on yourself.”
Oz the Great and Powerful is truly a heartfelt adventure that steps back into a world held dear by a good portion of the world. It’s a known fact that for years, Disney was determined to adapt Baum’s works, but it never panned out. Raimi prided himself on the opportunity to make the Disney Oz picture a reality, “I thought that was very touching because all I wanted to do was making the ultimate Walt Disney picture I thought this movie always could be. It could be for families. It could be uplifting. And it makes sense in retrospect that it was Walt’s dream to make an Oz picture. And I hope that Walt would have appreciated and I hope he would have liked the movie.”
Surely Walt would, especially since Raimi followed so many Disney traditions and added, “There’s no violence in the picture so I think he would a like that. He’s got some classic Disney princesses and witches in the picture. I think he would like that. And he’s got those Disney, you know, little bluebirds and cuddly creatures like the blue monkeys.” Let’s not forget to mention the nods to the Wizard of Oz, such as Glinda’s Kansas counterpart being set to marry a man by the name of Gale, who we can speculate could end up being the father of Dorothy and she her mother? And then of course the signature Raimishots in 3D like the tornado basket attack and Evanora’s witch reveal in the end.
Did you enjoy Oz the Great and Powerful and think it made a good addition to the Baum’s legacy? What were your favorite Disney touches, Oz homages and Raimi trademarks?