It’s fun to see Mila Kunis don the makeup of the ugly Wicked Witch of the West in Oz the Great and Powerful. Mostly because, as the BBC's Chris Stark eloquently put it to her in the viral interview that has more views than the film itself, she is "generally, you know, hot." I, too, couldn't quite picture the attractive star of That Seventies Show getting green and ghoulish in the marmish black frock of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Few people do monstrous well, as I learned in my high school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. At 180-centimeters tall, I made a ridiculous lead Munchkin as I towered over the small children who played my subjects. Still, the experience led to a strong affection for Oz – shared by many former Munchkins - so I approached the new take on Oz with its ‘hot’ Wicked Witch with some trepidation.
The film, which serves as a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, begins in 1905, some 30 years before the events of the 1939 Judy Garland classic. Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a traveling carnival magician who performs for the gullible people of rural Kansas, who believe his magic to be real. Likable but oily, Oz is an insecure egomaniac who aspires to be a cross between Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison. It is difficult to portray such a deeply flawed protagonist while
maintaining the audience’s sympathy, but the versatile Franco does both marvelously.
When a tornado sucks up Oz and drops him in the land of the same name, he is greeted by the beautiful witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Turns out that a prophesy states that a wizard bearing the name of the land will drop from the sky to save the land from the "evil" witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). Thus, the entire Emerald City believes that Oz is their saviour. Theodora is particularly enamoured and asks to be Oz’s queen. Between Theodora’s admiration and the size of the castle’s treasury, Oz accepts his new role and takes his phoniness to a new low. But when he sets out to ‘stop’ Glinda, the witches' true motive is revealed.
Anyone remotely familiar with the original classic will, of course, figure out pretty quickly just who the goodies and the baddies really are.
As the movie progresses, we watch Theodora succumb to the influence of her wicked sister, while Oz withdraws to become the ‘man behind the curtain’.
It is refreshing to see Weisz, who is frequently typecast as a powerful heroine, playing a powerful evil woman instead. Kunis’ performance is also praiseworthy, making the sudden switch from warm to wicked seem believable. The special effects team did a particularly good job on the actor, for not a trace of her sex appeal remains after she undergoes their witchy transformation.
My only quibble with Kunis comes from her voice, which occasionally shows traces of cartoon character Meg Griffin when she cackles - a distracting consequence of her voice-role in the now ubiquitous Family Guy.
The movie is essential viewing for fans of the 1939 classic. For anyone somehow unfamiliar with the original, it is an enjoyable, forgettable family film. But given the status of Oz in the hearts of so many – Munchkin or not - it would take a cinematic philistine to not appreciate this movie’s many golden moments.