Our five-year-old, Brendan, came downstairs the morning after he knew I’d attended a press screening of Oz the Great and Powerful
. Before saying anything else, he ran right up and asked, “Is it OK for me?”
So you see, that question is being asked in houses other than your own.
Sam Raimi’s Oz looks like the first legitimate family film of 2013, seeing as how Jack the Giant Slayer aimed a little older (and darker) and nobody really knows what the heck Escape from Planet Earth actually is. A prequel to the beloved 1939 fantasy The Wizard of Oz, this new movie benefits from advancements in filmmaking technologies to take modern audiences on a 3D trip through familiar territories. But can you trust a “family” movie led by James Franco? And did Raimi – the director of three Evil Dead movies and Drag Me to Hell – push the envelope with the Wicked Witch of the West?
Valid concerns, which is why I think it’s time we put down that broomstick, follow the yellow brick road and figure out when you can watch Oz the Great and Powerful with your kids.
Green Lights: “I’ll put on the show of a lifetime, the likes of which Oz has never seen!”
The thing about Oz, which is a blessing and a curse for Raimi and his crew, is that we HAVE seen this magical land, and we come at this new film with expectations. Why do we need to go back over the rainbow to the Emerald City and the great land of Oz? Can Raimi convince us that Oz is more than just a studio-driven cash grab meant to capitalize on fond movie memories?
Consider me convinced… and I entered Oz with a healthy amount of skepticism. The story behind Oz the Great and Powerful – essentially an origin of the man who’ll eventually become “king” – isn’t a selling point so much as Raimi’s visuals are the reason to grab a ticket and take the family. Oz doesn’t rework the original film’s narrative like the Broadway smash hit Wicked. It doesn’t enhance the original film in any way.
But it does justify the return trip to Oz by using top-of-the-line computer-generated effects to revitalize a cinematic universe that, while far from stale, cold actually be dismissed as old.
There are several scenes in Oz that will have children inching toward the edges of their seat wishing they could step through the screen and experience Oz or themselves. (Raimi’s effective 3D will further coax them toward the screen and into this dazzling fantasy realm.) The film also populates itself with imaginative characters that will tickle your kids, from a talking monkey to a feisty porcelain doll who accompany Franco on his quest.
“Let’s go make some magic,” Franco’s con artist performer says early on in the film, and Raimi largely delivers on that promise. Oz is a beautiful land to explore, with giant popping sunflowers, towering Emerald buildings, and the digital gloss of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The best scene might be a bubble trip over Raimi’s constructed land, which gives us a glorious 3D spin over the movie’s digital realm. That, alone, is worth the price of admission.
Raimi’s story also makes good use of the traditional narrative formula of overmatched misfits taking on a larger threat… in this case, it’s the “wizard” and a ragtag bunch of well-intentioned heroes challenging two wicked witches for control of the Emerald City. Oh yes, the witches. They belong in the Red Flags section. Let’s head there now.
Red Flags: “Let’s go kill ourselves a witch!”
It’s hypocritical to criticize the new Oz for building its story around the destruction of an evil character when, in hindsight, that was the plot of the original film, as well. And parents who might fear that the new Oz will be too terrifying for their kids can rest easy if your kids have screened the original Oz already, for they’re often very similar in terms of scares and chills.
I thought the new Wicked Witch might be too terrifying for young ones. She isn’t… mainly because Raimi and his actors do a lot to make her similar to the character in Victor Fleming’s 1939 movie. Only in the final minutes of the movie, during a closing battle with one of the witches, does Raimi embrace his horror movie roots and remind us that this is the guy who also directed Drag Me to Hell and the Evil Dead movies. Prior to that, though, if your kids know the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys, Oz the Great and Powerful shouldn’t give them too big a fright.
It might have kids fidgeting in their seats, however, as parents check their watches once or twice. It’s not that Oz isn’t engaging. At times, however, it aspires to be more complicated than expected, and the pace slows to develop character motivations that will bypass little kids who want more scenes with the talking monkey or the porcelain doll.
Mainly, these scenes take place between Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis), evil sisters who emotionally manipulate one another as they lock horns with Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams). Jealousy and betrayal might speak to older kids in the audience, but it will bog Oz down in points.
Other than that, Raimi keeps it relatively light and in step with the original. One or two things pop out during a trip through the Dark Forest, and the political upheaval played out in the film’s third act – when the evil witches threaten to “wipe out” Glinda’s light – might be when your kids are asking to exit this two-hour-and-10-minute movie. In general, though, families looking to share another adventure in the magical land of Oz are going to find plenty to enjoy in Oz the Great and Powerful.
Oz the Great and Powerful is dazzling entertainment for imaginative children ages eight and up… younger if they’ve already seen the original The Wizard of Oz and are OK with characters like the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys (who are a credible threat in this prequel). Political sidebars and emotional manipulations between warring witches might not interest your youngest kids, but there are plenty of flying monkeys and visually arresting sequences in this beautiful fantasy tale to justify the 3D ticket.
As always, if you check out Oz with your kids, let me know how it goes!
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.