By The Cranky Housewife -
Tired of sequesters and budget battles? Here's a little light reading for the upcoming weekend. Has Disney lost its ability to produce a good fantasy flick? The Wall Street Journal has just reviewed Walt Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful which stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachael Weisz and Michelle Williams. It is, you might say, an unofficial prequel to the original Wizard of Oz of the 1930s since Warner Brothers actually owns the rights to the original movie.
The WSJ is generally disappointed with this film which held so much promise for a truly great theater experience. Unfortunately, from their reviewer's perspective, there was just something missing from the storyline that could not be fixed with special effects.
Here is the trailer for the film so you can check it out for yourself:
CGI and animation are great tools when used to enhance a solid plot, but they only take you so far. A solid story line requires moral clarity. Even a flawed character must have something about him that is redeemable. With this in mind, it seems odd to prequel The Wizard of Oz using Oz as the protagonist when we know as an audience that he isn't redeemable until Dorothy Gale blows into town and exposes him as a fraud. So how should Disney deal with that kind of incongruity? Throw in some action sequences, I guess. Unfortunately, when the action is unrelenting and the characters are weak, you find yourself not caring how the characters will resolve the conflict and that make for a disaster on the big screen.
Disney has long been our cultural go-to when it comes to the retelling of classics with a modern flair. Yet more and more we find these stories somehow lacking in meaning for a modern audience. We don't have to go back as far as Snow White (which was a visual marvel at the time of its release but is dismally animated by today's standards) to see that there is something to the very simplicity of the story itself that holds relevance to a modern audience while the complexity of something like The Princess and the Frog fails us. Both films are princess stories, both are based on tried and true fairytales but one was made for the purpose of showcasing a classic tale with all the splendor of an animated format and one was made because Disney felt that girls of African descent were being poorly represented within their princess roster.
And this is no way suggests that there ought not be an African princess in the Disney lineup but the color of the princess's skin becomes gratuitous when it is the central reason for making the film. Disney's retell of The Princess and the Frog is so convoluted with its plots and subplots that it plays like a Dallas rehash. In addition, it is completely disfigured by the constant barrage of one-liners and sarcasm which I assume were both thrown in to cover for the lack of a script.
JRR Tolkien was obviously no stranger to a good fantasy story. He excelled in this medium and produced some of the world's most beloved modern fairytales, but that's because he knew what a fairytale was supposed to represent and he believed that key elements must be achieved to make the story work.
"But the true road of escape from weariness is not to be found in the willfully awkward, clumsy, or misshapen, not in making all things dark or unremittingly violent; nor in the mixing of colors on through subtlety to drabness, and the fantastical complication of shapes to the point of silliness on towards delirium."
Let's take a look at another clip from Oz the Great and Powerful and we can see if that description holds up...BTW - you will will want to pause the video when it is done our it will start over again. Very annoying:
Ugh. I felt my eyes rolling back into my head just thinking about two whole hours of this. No wonder the official trailer shows a montage of action scenes and no indication of character development.
Do you know what's immediately wrong with the story just based on what we are seeing here in this video? It's the shiftless antihero and his smart-aleck monkey that keep drawing us out of our suspended disbelief so that no real escape can be achieved. Please understand, I'm not opposed to humor in fairytales. It worked reasonably well for Robin Williams in Aladdin. There he hurled snide comments and pop culture references at the audience with a wink and a nod. I suspect, however, that the reason it worked so well is that it had never been tried before. The plot device was fresh and new. Looking back, I challenge you to name five post-Aladdin Disney films where sarcastic banter and pop culture allusions don't overpower the script.
And my mention of Aladdin gets me thinking. Does it seem to you that Oz the Great and Powerful is not so much a prequel to the Wizard of Oz? It's more like a remake of Aladdin in what is essentially a story about a shiftless antihero and his monkey. Of course, it bears pointing out that at least the monkey never spoke back in Aladdin.
So let me leave it to you. What ingredients are necessary for a good fantasy film in your opinion? Why does Disney have such a hard time finding those stories these days? Has Disney simply gotten to the point where it no longer knows how to produce a good story?