Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” is billed as a prequel to MGM’s classic fantasy-fairy tale of 1939.  It is entertaining, but, unlike its predecessor, it is neither a great nor a powerful movie.

            I did enjoy the movie.  Although I didn’t see it in 3-D, which I often find distracting, the flowers and butterflies were visually stunning.  The acting, especially of the three witches, was good.  There was humor, and it is family-friendly.  It was not violent.  The language was not vulgar, and it wasn’t filled with sexual innuendo.  It was a pleasant evening’s entertainment.

            Nevertheless, it is a failure as a movie.  My complaint is not that it lacks the wonderful music and dancing of the original.  It fails as a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” and it fails because either the filmmakers did not understand “The Wizard of Oz” or, more likely, they ignored it in order to produce a highly profitable film.            

            “Oz” is not a prequel because “The Wizard of Oz” is an extended dream.  Dorothy never physically leaves Kansas.  She is hit on the head during a tornado and dreams that she goes to a wonderful place somewhere over the rainbow.  In the Land of Oz she sees the real people of her life in a different but strangely true form.  The Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion are the three farm workers.  The wicked witch is the nasty neighbor who takes her dog Toto, and the Wizard is a carnival magician.

            “Oz” gets this all wrong.  It picks up on the parallel characters in Oz, such as the crippled girl and the china doll girl, the Wizard’s assistant and the monkey, and his girlfriend who is the good witch.  However, it makes no sense because it is not a dream.  In “Oz” the Wizard physically travels to the Land of Oz.  Unless Disney is showing us parallel universes, which I seriously doubt, the structure of the tale is hopelessly flawed.

            I admit to loving deeply the 1939 movie, but these are not the mere quibbles of a fan.  It is precisely because of the creative portrayal of a dream that “The Wizard of Oz” touches us deeply.  In her dream Dorothy is seeing Kansas in a different light.  “The Wizard of Oz” offers us the possibility of seeing our world in a new way.  The world that we see as dull and colorless is in reality dramatic and full of color.

            As she captured her first glimpse of Oz, Dorothy uttered the famous line, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  Dorothy, you were wrong.  You’re actually seeing Kansas for what it is.  At the end of the movie she has learned that truly there is no place like home. 

            It is so easy to underestimate the world that we actually do live in.  It may be nice or bad but it almost always strikes us as ordinary.  Christians by our faith should not fall trap to this lack of vision.  C.S. Lewis in his magnificent sermon “The Weight of Glory” captured the extraordinary nature of this world in which we live.  “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which … you would be tempted to worship, or else a horror or corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”

            Go see “Oz the Great and Powerful” once, if you want to.  Watch “The Wizard of Oz” again and again and see the world through different eyes.

4 Responses to ““Oz”: Not So Great or Powerful”

  • Dave Groleau:

    Bill- I have not seen the movie, but I probably will see in once when it’s out on DVD rental. I hae always loved the original, largely for some of the reasons you mention. What grabbed me in with your piece here is CS Lewis’ “Weight of Glory”. Outside of the Bible, this essay by Lewis has been used by the Spirit to touch and change me more than anything else I’ve ever read. Indeed, Bill, “it is easy to underestimate the world that we actually do live in” and by God’s good grace also miss the real world images and desires that point to a reality far beyond even our most vivid dreams. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, all that the Lord has planned for us”. thanks Bill.

  • Jim Congdon:

    Thanks for this excellent insight, Bill, and the tie-in to CSL. I watched part of “Oz” on an overseas flight this past month, and was so unsatisfied I shut it off, though in my sleep-deprived state I knew not why it came across as empty. Your blog explains why.

    • Thanks, Jim. That’s pretty bad when you prefer staring at the back of the seat in front of you to watching the movie! The Wizard of Oz shows what Hollywood can do, when it wants to, and Oz shows what it normally does.

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