Today marks opening day for “Oz the Great and Powerful,” a prequel to the classic story of “The Wizard of Oz.” The new movie shows how the wizard, played by James Franco, came by accident via balloon to the enchanted land of Oz and gained his acclaim there long before Dorothy and Toto blew into town.
The biggest question I have about this movie is how accurate it will be to the source material. The bits I’ve seen in the trailers is actually fairly promising in this regard. Before being whisked away, Franco’s Oz is shown as an entrepreneur who hasn’t really found his niche in the world. The movie certainly will take plenty of liberty with L. Frank Baum’s original fairy tale (it’s almost assured to have a massive “Lord of the Rings”-style battle), but I’m willing to give it a chance.
This question raised another for me: How true to the children’s book was the first “Wizard of Oz” movie? The 1939 adaptation is a staple of cinematic history, and chances are, you’ve seen it at least once as a child. But, if you’re like me, you’ve never read the original book, written in 1900 and regarded as the first American fairy tale. So how do the two stack up, and which is better?
The book, as expected, details much more of Dorothy’s journey back to Kansas. Baum takes the companions to every corner of Oz in an effort to reach the Emerald City, defeat the Wicked Witch of the West and seek Glinda the Good Witch to try to send Dorothy home again. The movie concentrates the adventure to only the first two destinations, leaving out the sometimes charming, sometimes frightening encounters along the way. The movie combines the two good witches into one, making Glinda both the one who meets Dorothy and the one who sends her off at the end. The movie also changes the color of the magic shoes Dorothy gets upon her arrival: The slippers are silver in the book, but ruby looks so much better on the big screen.
The two agree on the characters’ personalities for the most part, though the changes in some key characters give the story’s morals a bit of a twist. For starters, the opening and closing (the parts in Kansas) were all invented for the movie, which depicts Dorothy’s whole adventure as a dream, something that might be irritating to some viewers. The movie also lets the character develop more over the course of the story.
This, however, is because of another one of the movie’s big changes. The Scarecrow, who says he needs a brain; the Tin Man (Tin Woodman in the book), lacking a heart; and the Cowardly Lion, who has no courage, all show during the course of both versions of the story that they had those traits all along and never needed to ask them of the Wizard. However, in the movie, the three have to work for these attributes. Eventually, all three show their respected emotions or gifts, but it takes going through the entire adventure with Dorothy for them to realize it. In the book, the Scarecrow comes up with the group’s plans the entire way, the Tin Woodman is constantly displaying his grief over the loss of any animal life (though, strangely enough, his body count by the end has to be near 100), and the Cowardly Lion leaps over canyons and places himself between Dorothy and danger several times.
While the book’s version is an excellent way to display the story’s morals of humility and friendship, the movie’s telling feels more well-rounded. The music and visuals stand the test of time, and the first sight of the colorful land of Oz is still mind-blowing to this day. The technical aspects of the movie take the story to a whole different level, something the latest film is sure to build upon.
Before seeing “Oz the Great and Powerful,” check out these other reviews: