I’m still trying to figure out how a master of horror, Sam Raimi, got paired up with Disney’s Wizard of Oz Prequel. Oz the Great and Powerful is a green screen filled, 3D geared trip back to the land of Oz. With a killer cast and a brilliant director, Oz should have been a better film than it was. A weak script and a lack of aggressive acting created a film that lacked the power and greatness Oz deserves.
Oz takes place well before Dorothy’s visit that we are all so familiar with. The film begins at a circus where we meet Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a somewhat smarmy, chauvinist who uses the same ploy over and over to get women. Forced to flee when the boyfriend of a woman he has tricked comes to attack him, Oz hops in a balloon and a whirlwind whisks him away to the land of Oz. Oz promptly meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch who tells him of a prophesy. If Oz can defeat the wicked witch he will be make king of Oz and be awarded unlimited riches. The prospect of riches sends Oz on a journey actors the land where he meets the a talking monkey named Finley (Zach Braff), a walking and talking china doll (Joey King), and Glinda (Michelle Williams). In the process Oz breaks Theodora’s heart, learns the truth about the land of Oz and ultimately saves it.
I have always been a fan of origin stories. I have always though it was fun to see how all the pieces fit together and in this vein Oz did not disappoint. Throughout the course of the film we meet witches, including Evanora (Rachel Weisz), see the Wicked Witch of the West come to be, understand why the wizard lives how he does in the Wizard of Oz and get to see early versions of all the witches and Munckinland. It was fun to see the Wizard’s origin story but there were a lot of flaws in the film. I liked the whimsical feel of it but ultimately I found it to be infantile. I know this is a story that is geared towards children but some parts of this film were over the top infantile.
The main problem I had with this film was an overall sense of timidness. Sam Raimi is an outstanding director, in fact he is the main reason I saw the film. There were very few scenes that I would call classic Sam Raimi scenes. The director’s signature flair and style was all but nonexistant in the film. Instead Raimi relied too much on green screen and 3D effects. With a cast as outstanding as this it shocks me that there were no outstanding performances. James Franco seemed preoccupied by other things, Rachel Weisz was just kind of there and Mila Kunis seemed scared of herself. The only people I’d really compliment were Zach Braff and Joey King who served as the wizard’s companions and the film’s comic relief. Other than that I found this film to be overwhelmingly average.
Maybe I had gotten my hopes up too high for this film or maybe I just expected too much from a film geared towards children. With such a star studded cast it was difficult not to get my hopes up. A lot of my issues with this film stems from my problem with films that are overly 3D driven. For most films I don’t like 3D so I saw Oz in 2D and it was obvious that much of the film relied on 3D effects. I have harped on this film a lot but do not take that to mean I hated it. This was a fun film, especially for children, but as fun as it was this was perfectly average, a C grade for me. The Wizard may be great and powerful but the film was just fun and mediocre.
I’ve talked a number of different times in a number of different posts about how expectations can affect a person’s opinion of a film. Expectations can make or break a film, making them a potentially dangerous thing to have. I went into the new animated film Wreck-It-Ralph with high expectations; in fact I don’t remember the last time I was so excited for an animated film. Though it wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be, Wreck-It-Ralph met all my expectations and then some.
Wreck-It-Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain not of just the film but of a fictional arcade video game called Fix-It-Felix Jr. Ralph’s job in life while the arcade is open is to destroy a building that Felix (John McBrayer) must then fix. Once the player beats the game, Ralph is hurled from the building into the mud. Ralph would be fine with that life if things were different once the arcade closed. Once closed, the characters from each game are free to do as they pleased in the video game world. Each arcade game has its own world and all the games are connected by Game Central Station but even after the game is done, Ralph is still treated like a villain. Forced to live in a dump alone, Ralph desperately wants the rest of the characters in his game to realize that being a bad guy doesn’t necessarily make him a bad guy. Determined to prove his worth, Ralph beings game jumping, something a character shouldn’t do, to try and earn himself a medal. The problem with game jumping is that if you die in a game that isn’t your own you don’t regenerate; you’re dead for good.
Ralph visits two different games while game jumping, the first being a space set, alien first person shooter called Hero’s Duty (and the film does not overlook the puns that can be made with duty). Under the command of Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), Ralph is to help the First Person Shooter make it to the top of a tower without letting the cybugs (vicious alien robot bugs) destroy them. After failing miserably, Ralph decides to find his own way to the top to retrieve his own Hero’s medal. Ralph is successful in retrieving the medal but also inadvertently launches himself and a cybug into another game. Sergeant Calhoun follows Ralph, determined to kill the rogue cybug. If left unchecked, the cybug will multiply, eventually destroy the other video game worlds. Calhoun is accompanied by Felix, who is searching for Ralph. Without Ralph to be the villain, the arcade owner Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neil) assumes the game is out of order and is prepares to unplug it.
The second video game world that Ralph inadvertently visits is the racing world of Sugar Rush. In an environment made entirely out of candy, Sugar Rush is a world similar to Mario Kart where racing reigns supreme. Run by King Candy (Alan Tudyk) each night racers race to become one of the eight avatars the children in the arcade can chose to race as the next day. Ralph meets a young racer named Vanellope Van Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who dreams of racing but is not allowed to because she has been labeled a glitch. After she takes Ralph’s medal, the two work together to try and help her win her first race. As the two work together and grow closer as friends, Ralph becomes suspicious of King Candy and how Venelope actually became a glitch in the first place. The film continues to mix different game genres as Venellope, Ralph, Felix and Calhoun come together to save the land of Sugar Rush, defeat the cybugs, defeat a surprise enemy and save Venelope’s very existence.
Wreck-It-Ralph was one of the more unique and clever films I have seen in theaters in a while. I am a twenty-three year old video game nerd and the film appealed to me. I also believe that it could easily appeal to young children, old children and even adults who may not have much video game knowledge. With well thought out, lovable characters and rich, lush environments, Wreck-It-Ralph has all the elements of a great animated film. Beyond that however are some well placed, well integrated video game references that prove how clever the creators really are. The references were subtle, like the way the characters moved like video game characters or in a montage where we saw the arcade age 30 years, many of the video games that passed through were classic games. Even in the opening scene, when Wreck-It-Ralph is at a support group for bad guys, each other member of the support group was from a famous video game.
The main complaint I heard about this movie was that though the ideas in it were unique, the story itself wasn’t. The film starts with conflict, then the main character meets a friend and they grow close before something bad happens to make them fight (Ralph and Vanellope). The fight escalates to make the audience sad, then the main character finds his friend and apologizes so they can go on to defeat the villain. It is a common outline for animated movies but this film took the common outline and elevated it to the next level. I found every aspect of this film to be thoroughly unique from beginning to end and give it an 8 out of 10. It is a great animated film that will please gamers and non-gamers alike.