Oz the Great and Powerful is the frantic outcome of a thousand-million primary-colored Legos clicked together, discovered at dawn after showing your four year-old daughter Army of Darkness the night before.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a grilled ham sandwich served to you on a plastic Fischer Price plate at high tea-time, between the hours of 5-7pm. It's best to watch Oz the Great and Powerful with no intention of liking it, because that will set you up for some electrically-enhanced make-up sex. Oz the Great and Powerful contains an intricate adoration normally reserved for a drunken retelling of your fifth-grader's stage performance of The Wizard of Oz, if you were at a train station bar, and you were describing it to a stranger that you suspect is there to kill you, and you're stalling for time. The point the movie is trying to make is that your lies aren't nearly as convincing as you might think, and that you aren't fooling anybody, and Oz the Great and Powerful is full of characters like this, and deception and self-deception will make you real ugly, real fast.
Even with all that digital color and large emotions on-screen, you wouldn't describe Oz the Great and Powerful as, "The Wizard of Oz on extra-strong crack!" because nobody (NOBODY!) writing that sentence on a keyboard has ever smoked crack, but you could describe Oz the Great and Powerful as "The Wizard of Oz, gender-bent, re-painted, undone, and delivered via catapult," and you certainly wouldn't be ridden out of town on a rail for lying to children or anything. Oz the Great and Powerful's first achievement is shivving your cynicism with a fractured lollipop and then drowning it in the two inch-deep fountain at Your Ego Corporate Headquarters' lobby, and its second achievement is reviving your curiosity on the spot for a tour of the formerly-closed wing that used to specialize in coloring books and slingshots.
So, listen, at the beginning of Toy Story 3, there's a sequence that takes place in a kid's imagination, slamming piggy banks and potato people into cowboys and space-men, like ya do, and then the movie migrates to the real world, and that opening sequence was best part of a movie rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Oz the Great and Powerful does the opposite, beginning in the real world, where things are Kansas, in name and in mood and in coloration, and then the movie becomes itself, taking you on a pub crawl across every inch of Brigadoon, where flowers are used like bells and bubbles are used like helicopters. It's obvious that somewhere in the high tower of a kid's imagination, Oz the Great and Powerful already existed, sidestepping the legal complications of a witch's skin color and slippers made of ruby, not silver. Oz the Great and Powerful's main character, the Wizard, is a sleazy asshole in Kansas with grand dreams of leaving Kansas and becoming a FAMOUS, sleazy asshole, and it's a tall, invigorating bottle of carnival tonic to see him be slammed around and manipulated by the more capable, and dramatically-interesting, trio of witches. The witches in Oz the Great and Powerful are as dangerous as Professor Moriarty's brain surgically inserted into an adult silverback gorilla's body. They poison, tease, and backstab one another, and abuse the Wizard's prophesied presence to manipulate Oz's population into following their various schema, passing the sleazy asshole -- protagonist in title only -- like a ball in squash or jai-alai.
If you think that this movie must inevitably boil through the sugar-craft into a fist-fight in Candyland, you'll learn violence isn't allowed for the good guys in Oz the Great and Powerful, but before you shout, "rat-farts!" in protestation, this just means that there is going to be something more clever than a fist-fight in Candyland, which we all know is the coward's way out. Everybody pitches in during Oz the Great and Powerful's subversive battles, be they flying-monkey bellhop, living porcelain girl, munchkin, or government-certified "Good Witch" in possession of soap-based magic -- among other spells that should not be spoiled, of course. The "Wicked Witch," who is indeed the Wicked Witch you're imagining in your mind right now, however, becomes certifiably-wicked because of cruel manipulation by her evil sister, and Oz the Great and Powerful paints her in oils as a tragic, jilted, enraged, id-nuke, a victim of misguided naiveté with curled chin, nose, and eyebrows. This transformation, and Wicked Witch's sister's similar transformation, is a scarring beauty-barf, like lava-hot soup being expelled out of your mouth and nose at warp-12 for a full minute, and that's why it made sense for Sam Raimi to direct Oz the Great and Powerful -- nobody (Nobody.) does brutal, cackling transformations better.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a tasteful, well-intentioned piece, commissioned for a price, with the care and attention you appreciate seeing when giving carte blanch to a guy known for niche work, like asking a person that normally forges cast-iron Halloween decorations to design a luxury motor-home for the twenty-first century family on the go. It's old-fashioned, high-fashioned, sly, silly, and smart, and even though Oz the Great and Powerful zigs exactly when you expect it to zig, it never fails to zag without you realizing, releasing you back into the world with the sort of happy ending you hadn't expected.
Final score for Oz the Great and Powerful: one banana out of two apples.
-- @Alex Crumb (originally published 3/13/13)