Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Disney's take on transformation

By Mark HadleyWednesday 6 Mar 2013MoviesReading Time: 4 minutes

Mark Hadley reviews 'Oz the Great and Powerful'.

Rating: PG
Distributor: Disney
Release Date: March 7  

‘Believe in yourself’ is a favourite mantra for Disney productions, finding its way into children’s films from Bambi to Brave. No surprise, Oz The Great And Powerful also has its fair share of positive thinking. But alongside is a distinction between good and great that may be helpful to Christian parents.

Oz is a prequel to The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, the first of fourteen books written by legendary American children’s writer L. Frank Baum. In 1939 Judy Garland introduced us to the land of the yellow brick road in the The Wizard Of Oz, and through her we discovered that the wizard was in fact a fellow citizen of Kansas. It’s taken 74 years for filmgoers to find out how he got there, but the story will finally be known this month. 

James Franco (127 Hours, Spiderman) plays Oscar Diggs, a small-time carnival performer who is more con-man than magician. Oz flees in a hot air balloon when an enraged Strong Man learns that he’s been dallying with his wife. However his escape is spoiled by the untimely arrival of a tornado that sucks him into its vortex and deposits him in Dorothy’s magical land. Almost immediately Oz is mistaken for the long-prophesied wizard who will free this land from the ravages of a wicked witch and take his place on the throne. Oz sees an excellent opportunity to get rich quick but soon discovers that he’s not as heartless as he thought he was. 

Oz is a fantastic visual feast that parodies the original Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer production by keeping the ‘real world’ story in sepia tones and 4:3 until the gorgeous colours and widescreen vistas of its fantasy world can be revealed. Like the 1939 film, though, it also has dark moments involving wicked witches and their evil minions that might be nightmare material for younger minds. But there are some very distinct Christian elements that might also prove useful.

To begin with, Oz’s entire journey and subsequent redemption seems to be under the auspices of a benevolent God. When Oz fears he’ll be destroyed by the tornado he calls out to God, “Please! I don’t want to die. Just give me a chance. I promise I can change.” And when he lands safely on the ground he exclaims to the sky, “There’s still hope for me! You won’t regret this!” But very much like the God of the Bible, Oz’s creator clearly has more in mind for our hero than he might comfortably choose for himself.

Another curiously Christian element is the introduction of evil into the heart of the good witch Theodora. Her evil sister offers her an apple to eat as a cure for her longing:

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Evanora: One bite and your heart will be impenetrable. One bite and you and I will finally share the throne. 

Theodora: (Bites and grasps her chest) What’s happening to me? 

Evanora: It’s just your heart withering away. Soon you’ll feel nothing at all but delicious wickedness. 

It’s a scene that’s strongly reminiscent of the Garden of Eden where the serpent offers Eve an opportunity to rule and the result is a similar hardness of heart.

Of course Disney is not in the business of writing Gospel tracts, so the salvation that’s eventually offered is one that comes from the hero’s capacity to believe not only in himself, but in everyone around him. There’s no doubt, though that Oz undergoes an incredible change that begins with a decision to turn his back on his quest for greatness and seek a better goal. There’s potential buried at the bottom of every heart, but it can’t emerge until we sacrifice our selfishness. Glinda, the good witch and moral compass of the film points to the inner change required:

Glinda: For the record, I knew you had it in you all along 

Oz: Greatness? 

Glinda: No, goodness. 

Sadly Oz suggest that sort of transformation is one we can carry out under out own steam. But it’s not a bad starting point in this age of celebrity to suggest that goodness is more important than greatness, and everyone has a chance at achieving it if they’re prepared to become a servant rather than a king.