Friday, January 03, 2014

Disney's Journey to Oz, Part 5

In March 2010, the Walt Disney Company released Alice in Wonderland, a film directed by Tim Burton. (Yours truly is not a fan of this film.) Featuring lavish CGI and standout 3D, the film was a major hit for Disney and led them to announce that they had greenlit Brick, a film based on the Wizard's arrival in Oz from the Oz books.

The development of the film had begun in summer 2009 when writer Mitchell Kaupner mentioned to executive producer Palak Patel that he was reading the Oz books to his children and considered an "origin" story for the Wizard. They decided to develop it as a film, and it soon came together with producer Joe Roth.

Two big roles had to be filled: director and the star of the movie, who would play Oscar Diggs, the all-important Wizard of the plot. Eventually, Sam Raimi (of The Evil Dead and Spider-Man fame) stepped in to direct, and out of contenders including Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp, James Franco (also a fan of the Oz books) was cast as Oscar. The cast was soon fleshed out with Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, Michelle Williams as Glinda, Zach Braff as Finley (a flying monkey), and Joey King as China Girl.

The script had been leaked online, revealing a highly Baum-based but MGM Oz-derivative tale telling how Oscar Diggs came to the Land of Oz, fell for the beautiful witch Theodora, got imprisoned by her sister Evanora, headed south to meet Glinda, then joined forces with her to fight the Wicked Witches and become the Wizard of Oz. However, inbetween the leaked script were revisions and rewrites. (David Lindsay Abaire shares screen credit with Kaupner.)

Raimi made a number of fine creative choices for creating a 3D Ozzy cinematic spectacle. Unlike Burton's Alice, he had sets built so the actors could actually work off of actual scenery. Puppets stood in for Finley and China Girl so the cast would actually have something to react to. The film would open in Kansas, in black and white and in an old-fashioned academy aspect ratio with subtle 3D effects. In Oz, the film would switch to color, a wide, theatrical aspect ratio, and more dynamic 3D effects. (Yours Truly experienced no eyestrain during seeing the film in 3D. Perhaps the lead-in helped.) Finally, composer Danny Elfman got to score an Oz film.

The film finds the bored Oscar Diggs performing in 1905 Kansas in a circus as a magician. Escaping in his hot air balloon from the angry circus strongman, Oscar is caught in a tornado and crash lands in the Land of Oz, where he meets Theodora, the good witch, who believes that he is prophesied Wizard come to take the throne of the Emerald City, after the last king died. Along their way to the Emerald City, they meet Finley, who Oscar confides in.

Evanora, who has been keeping control of the Emerald City, tells Oscar that he must defeat the Wicked Witch, who she says is Glinda. Heading out, Oscar and Finley come across the ruins of China Town, the lone survivor of an attack by the Wicked Witch. They soon meet Glinda, who reveals that Evanora is the Wicked Witch. After being attacked by the Winged Baboons, they fly in bubbles to Glinda's castle in the Quadling Country.

Theodora, meanwhile, believes she's been jilted in favor of Glinda and agrees to eat an apple that turns her into a green-skinned Wicked Witch, believing it to be a cure for a broken heart. She flies to Glinda's castle and threatens everyone, promising to kill Oscar. After talking with Glinda and China Girl, Oscar comes up with a plan to oust the Wicked Witches by staging his death in the Emerald City and projecting his face to make himself to appear to be an all-powerful wizard, fighting them with fireworks and Glinda's magic. It works.

Brick, retitled Oz the Great and Powerful, opened in theaters in March, 2013. While not the billion dollar success that Alice in Wonderland was, Oz managed to take in well over $493 million on a $215 budget. A sequel is said to be in the works. Critically, it was not quite so successful, with a lot of praise showered on the visuals and CG creatures, but a lot of criticisms on Franco's acting (some of his co-stars didn't fare much better) and the plot.

Still, Disney had returned to Oz once more, having made its biggest success yet.

1 comment:

Sam A M said...

So THIS film's Kansas is set in 1905, with the press and merchnadise material saying it's "20 years" before Dorothy arrives.

A Prequel to a 1925 "Wizard of Oz" with a Green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West . . . doesn't sound like that's a good match.

You probably won't, but I'm expecting another "Royal Blog" post by you on the film itself, saying everything that could be right and WRONG about the film ...