Take me back to a place where flea circuses reigned supreme, enchanting magic hopefuls into believing in men stronger than Hercules, blonde beauties with bodies of horses, and Arabian wizards bent on owning all of the power held within the sands of time. Take me to Kansas, circa decades ago, to a small tent with a man, cloaked draped, turban snug atop dark brown locks and a wide grin. Take me to Oz.
The story of Dorothy, Toto, and their travels throughout the wonderful world of Oz are known to most, her trio of traveling companions often mimicked by Halloween goers. Not only does the tale of Dorothy show a mystical land inhabited by strange people and creatures, but a world of choices, yellow-bricked paths if you will, which are relatable to those living in the real world. Courage, intelligence, and being true of heart remain standing virtues, achieved through a strong desire to better oneself. The Wizard of Oz seems to possess all of these traits, but how did he become the great dealer of magic who helps the people of his land?
Oscar Diggs, Oz for short, wants nothing more than greatness. The events of his life have led him to Kansas, accompanying a traveling circus as their magical attraction, The Wizard Oz. Nothing more than a trickster, Oz performs one cheap illusion after another, sharing a meager amount of the profits with his assistant (or slave). When not performing slights of hand, Oz chases companionship with the women of the circus, blessing each maiden with a one-of-a-kind music box handed down to him from his warrior grandmother. One particular day, Oz puts on a show, casting down cries from the audience of wires levitating his volunteer from the crowd. A little girl in the front row wildly applauds, begging Oz to fix her paralyzed legs. Cheering turns to booing as Oz flees from the stage, unable to help the crying girl.
Storm clouds suddenly form after the show, winds whipping tattered tents against tethered ropes. Oz finds shelter within his cabin, soon joined by an old friend. Their discussion of the past ends abruptly as the circus strong man crushes his girlfriend’s unique music box in his hands and ambushes toward Oz. Another illusion and Oz is gone, narrowly escaping the tight grip of the juggernaut by flinging himself into a hot air balloon. As he flies away, Oz heads straight into the storm, a massive, shadowed vortex of wind and debris. The spiraling cyclone swallows the small balloon and carries Oz away to distant, and magical, land.
The unexpected character development is well planned, timed perfectly as the plot slowly unfurls along the rolling hills of the Land of Oz. People who play a major role in Oz’ previous life reappear as new friends and foes who help the wizard along his path to greatness. James Franco takes on the role of Oz with ease, using his devious smile to create mystery and emotion in each scene. But Oz would be nothing without the triple threat of beauties representing the good and evil witches of the Land of Oz. Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis bring the drama and romance to the story, along with the true magic of the film. China Girl and Finley complete the character of Oz, acting as ever-present sources of courage and conscience.
Graphics and music harmonize once Oz steps foot on this faraway land. Danny Elfman never fails when films require emotion-inducing elegies or climatic bursts of musical amazement. Many scenes of the movies were created in the studio, such as the hideaway waterfall and Emerald City castle. Computer graphics added the rest of the scenery, creating armies of flying baboons and Oz’ rapid river ride. When Oz first lays eyes upon the classic Emerald City, his awestruck expression translates to the viewing audience. And to tie everything together, costume design finished the illusion of the land, each button and ruffle completely in sync with the characters and story line.
As a fan of the story of Oz, I believe this rendition was spot-on, a portrayal worthy of acting as the prequel to the original The Wizard of Oz. I recommend seeing the film, living within the brightly colored world of Oz if only for a brief amount of time, allowing all senses to fall under the spell of this magical tale.