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OZ: The Great and Powerful; Meanderings about the movie

With the release of Disney's OZ: The Great and Powerful looming closer - it opens Friday - I'm curious-er and curious-er  about how this newest rendition, a prequel of sorts, will hold up to the MGM classic. A classic that I have never ever seen at a movie theater on a really large screen. Like many of you,  I first watched The Wizard of Oz on TV in my family's living room; when the movie left the dreary black and white palette of Dorothy's Kansas, blooming into a lavish technicolor dream, I was transported too. That magic moment was one I waited for year after year, eager to travel 'somewhere over the rainbow' but relieved beyond words when the film ended and despite my adventure, I was safely at home. I can almost see myself curled up on the couch murmuring There's no place like home. There's no place like home. Safe and sound. Just like Dorothy.

I know that I'm not alone. We all grew up with Dorothy. Check out this poster which links to an exhibition celebration OZ themed art currently running here in L.A. It just happens to be this year but
the exhibition could have taken place anytime, Oz has such a powerful place in our hearts and minds.

Perfectly timed gallery exhibit in Los Angeles (hmmm, that's an interesting coincident)
While that imaginary adventure culminating with the sweetest homecoming ever, has stayed with us over the years, other iterations have worked their way into our hearts and minds too. The stage musical Wicked, based on Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West , itself an offspring of Baum's work, has been so wildly successful that it has spawned its' own film currently in development. Thankfully the same producer, Marc Platt, who brought the musical to the stage, is producing the film version. And then there was the  revamped musical The Wiz done in 1978 with Michael Jackson as the scarecrow, and Diana Ross as Dorothy.

That may be a problem with this newest film.  In OZ: The Great and Powerful; there is no Dorothy there. Yes it's true that Dorothy isn't in Wicked either, but her presence is felt. In this pre-Dorothy land of OZ, the origins story is more about the actual 'wizard' and the witches and how Diggs, a smooth talking scam artist who works as a magician in a circus came to be the man behind the curtain.

Sam Raimi, the director who is best known for the Evil Dead trilogies and SpiderMan, told EW that he was hesitant to take on the project.
"The original is my favorite film of all time," he says. " I didn't want it sullied. I didn't want to be involved in a production that might trade off the goodwill of that film, so I didn't even want to read the script at first. Luckily I did. And then I realized that it wasn't at all what I thought." 

Zach Braff as this rather adorable flying monkey
He's also the magician's assistant.
But will it be what we thought? OZ:TG&P as an origin story is informed by Frank L. Baum's series of novels but according to Raimi, the film will also "nod lovingly" at the 1939 classic.

Like that classic tale, it looks like OZ:TG&P begins in black and white but changes to color when Oscar(James Franco) lands in OZ, a kingdom waiting for a wizard to save them.    Theodora (Mila Kunis) is a sweet and innocent witch who wants only peace for the Land of OZ. She sincerely believes that a prophesied 'wizard' will come to OZ to make it a safe place again. Theodora is watched over by her big sister, Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz.  Evanora is everything Theodora isn't. Powerful, political, Evanora has wangled herself the position of  royal advisor and protector of the Emerald City. The third witch is Glinda; the Good Witch. That's Michelle Williams. The question the filmmakers want you to ask about this trio of superior actresses is which one of the three is the Wicked Witch. Well we know it won't be Michelle Williams, don't we?

Something I'll be watching for, besides who goes green, is the reason for the dual parts a few of the characters play. Zach Braff voices the Flying Monkey, Finley, but he's also credited as Frank? Is that a possible winking reference to Frank Morgan who played the Wizard in the original or perhaps to Frank L. Baum since we're nodding lovingly and all? The young actress who voices China Girl - (Joey King who was Emma Stone's little sister in Crazy, Stupid Love) - is also credited as a kid in a wheelchair. And most mysterious: Michelle Williams who is Glinda is also "Annie".  I loved the conceit of the original with the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow mirrors of their human counterparts, Hikory, Zeke and Hunk and the Wicked Witch being the spitting image of the nasty Toto-hating Miss Gulch; and I'm interested in seeing how that device is used here. Ah, there's no place like home.
OZ: The Great and Powerful seems like such a spectacle that I won't be able to stay away - and while I think I know which witch is which, it sounds like it could be a fun time at the theater seeing how that storyline plays out.

The latest TV spot features Franco as Oscar Diggs, Zach Braff as the voice of Finlay, the flying monkey and Joey King as the voice of China Doll.