Disney's D23: Look behind the curtain at 'Oz: The Great and Powerful'


Oz: The Great and Powerful isn’t just walking the yellow brick road — it’s walking a delicate line.

Playing off a beloved, classic movie is a dangerous game. On one hand, you’ve got a built-in audience who cares deeply about the original. On the other, those fans are even quicker to turn on you if they feel the new film doesn’t live up the one they’re so passionate about.

The teaser footage revealed at Disney’s D23 fan gathering begins “Before a house fell out of the sky… ” and it seems to mirror 1939’s The Wizard of Oz in multiple ways, not the least of which is the apparent use of grainy black-and-white film stock for the bookending “real world” scenes of James Franco’s young would-be wizard.

Sam Raimi’s movie, which started shooting in soundstages in Detroit on July 21, and is aiming for a March 2013 debut, is clearly trying to draw on fond memories of Judy Garland’s film version of Frank L. Baum’s fantasy story, while also trying to leapfrog it with a prequel story.

“While there have been movies and stage plays based on the series, one story has been left untold,” Sean Bailey, Disney’s head of production, told the crowd. “Who is the wizard and where did he come from?”

Or as Franco paradoxically put it: “We’re stepping into a great tradition, but a tradition that isn’t fully established yet.”

While the images and footage haven’t been released, here’s what those of us at the presentation saw …


Image Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Director Sam Raimi, best known for the Spider-Man and The Evil Dead movies (and for always wearing suits on set) appeared on screen dressed in an old-fashioned black tie and dark suit, looking not unlike Baum himself. Or maybe that’s just the kind of suit popular among the time-setting of the movie. (Raimi is known for immersing himself in his fictional worlds.)

“Oz is almost part of our DNA, this fantastic take on our own world where our dreams can come true, where we can become the people we long to be,” he says. “But also there are dangers along the yellow bring road… ” Cue ominous music!

Raimi is playing pitchman a little bit, which is what his main character is, years before he became the man behind the curtain you should pay no attention to. “When we first meet Oz, he’s a carnival showman, a magician,” Raimi said the teaser footage. “Though he has a good heart, it’s gotten lost somewhere along the way.”

Obviously the movie is only a few weeks into production, and so there weren’t any completed special effects shots (though flashes of black-and-white imagery in battered prairie-type houses, which hinted at the same framework as the 1939 movie). We did see a lot of concept imagery spectacular, glistening new versions of the Emerald City, and surreal, lush landscapes that look like Arches National Park but with heaps of earth, grass and crops growing on ridges instead of plain rock. At one point, the wizard travels by giant bubble, à la Glinda (played in this version by Michelle Williams).

The two other – allegedly evil — witches are Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, and Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, though Bailey said audiences will have to wait for the movie to learn whether they or Glinda are truly the wicked ones.

Whatever the case, the movie is aiming to be a redemption story for its main character.

As Franco puts it: “He’s kind of a cad. He’s a bit of a lothario, a seducer … In Oz he’s allowed a second chance.”

But I don’t know, James – second chance? If Oz is where “we can become the people we long to be,” as Raimi said, then I choose cad, lothario and seducer.

On Twitter: @Breznican

Read more:
‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’ gets a release date
Rachel Weisz in talks to join Disney’s ‘Oz’ prequel
Mila Kunis set as witch in ‘Oz’ prequel

Comments (77 total) Add your comment
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  • Templar

    Why the 7734 can’t they leave the classics alone/ What’s next, a Santa Claus movie?

    • Jason C.

      At least they’re not remaking it, I’d rather a more inventive prequel or side story than an outright remake. The fact that Sam Raimi is directing gives me hope that this could be good.

      • Dave

        I agree. At least they are trying to do something new with the material, something we haven’t seen before. And it’s a really good cast, so I’m cautiously optimistic about this.

      • drew

        They are going to remake it’s a wonderful life. Just wait.

      • ObviousManSays

        It sounds a little “Wicked”-esque. Which bothers me since I absolutely hated, and I mean HATED that musical. I just listened to a podcast from the American Theater Wing organization, an interview with Wicked’s designer Eugene Lee…..evene HE didnt think it was a good show. How it’s lasted this long is beyond me. I guess, just like with Annie, it shows little girls have zero taste.

    • Madi

      There already is a Santa Clause movie… so…
      As for your point on the classics, its not like these are corrupting any original work. If you don’t want it to taint your image of how you see a classic, than don’t watch it.

      • gee

        Way to grasp sarcasm Madi.

  • Draco

    I’m very excited about this. So many great actors in it. Now when do we get a screen version of Wicked?

    • Jason C.

      In the planning stage…

  • DFSF

    For the love of all that’s holy, can someone please make a movie without James Franco in it??

    • ggny

      considering all of the movies he has done have been hits box office wise and critic wise i dont think that will or should happen

      • Jason C.

        I have no problems with James Franco so I’m just going to play devil’s advocate here: did you forget about Your Highness? It was neither a hit at the box office or critic wise.

      • teatroborikua

        28 hours flopped. Your Higness flopped.

    • nn

      go watch every other movie ever made without James Franco.

      • ggny

        1 bad movie in a long line of good movies

        not many actors/actress you can say that about

    • DFSF

      I’m actually a big fan, he’s been brilliant in things like 127 Hours and Milk and Howl, but jeez louise, take a vacation or something. He’s way over-exposed.

    • Sole

      man why the hate because he is beautiful and doing the things he loves. wow.

    • Carlos

      franco is brilliant. has the most exciting career in hollywood.

  • jimmy

    I’d MUCH rather have a WICKED movie which is a prequel to wizard of oz…but whatever.

    • Jason C.

      I think it’s in development, or at least in the planning stage.

      • Jose

        Not sure about a movie, but isn’t ABC developing a miniseries?

    • Oh please

      Me too! Wicked would be a much better prequel.

    • kikidee

      Wicked is NOT a prequel to the Wizard of Oz…it is a separate story that uses several characters from the Wizard of Oz, but the history, events of both stories are not compatible…

      • Amy

        Yes, and no. It’s not a prequel to THE MOVIE, like this one seems to be. Wicked the play is based on Gregory Maguires books, which use Frank Baums Oz novels as inspiration.
        IMO, I’d rather see a Wicked movie based on the novel, rather than the play. While I truly enjoyed it, the play really lacked the dark undertones the novel has & I wasn’t overly pleased with the way they ended it with everything wrapped up happily with a big pink bow.

      • Lathifah

        How wufnerdol to have been a secret, silent observer of their joy and then taking that joy with you and then passing it along to all of us reading your blog who will hopefully pass it along…. Really wufnerdol.

  • mandy

    I think James Franco must have cloned himself. That is the only explanation for all the movies he has been in…

  • whatdoeyeknow

    As far as a remake, this is a prequel. There are 40 “true” Oz books, with at least 14 that are now in public domain. This lessons the attractiveness of a movie, because anyone could make a competing one. That being said, a prequel, with its’ own unique characters could be just the ticket. Oz is the USA’s only true original fairy tale, and I’m excited to see it finally getting it’s due.

    • whatdoeyeknow

      lessens (sorry)

    • Well

      Not sure it’s a fairy tale [no fairies]. And if it qualifies as one, then wouldn’t The Legend of Sleepy Hollow also qualify as an American one?

      • AB

        I don’t think the presence of fairies denotes the definition of “fairy tale.”

      • Corky

        Well it should. No fairies then it’s just a folk tale or legend .

      • Mike Conway

        L. Frank Baum describes Oz as a fairyland, and the woman that comes to rule Oz later, Princess Ozma, is the daughter of the queen of the fairies. Baum also called his story a “fairy tale for American children.”

        Besides, there’s lots of fairy tales that don’t have actual fairies in them.

  • Jay

    This could be really good or really bad. I’m hoping for the former plus it has a great cast.

  • Josh

    What about Bruce Campbell?

    • benlinus

      He would make a better Wizard imo.

  • Mcfly

    I like how in the 1939 movie that Glinda tells Dorothy only bad witches are ugly and then asks Dorothy if she’s a good witch or a bad witch.

    • Ann

      But she doesn’t say that all bad witches are ugly. Just that all ugly witches are bad.

  • Flip

    I like The Wizard of Oz because of Dorothy. A Dorothy-less Oz movie just doesn’t interest me.

  • Joe

    I was hoping for a prequel to the HBO series… oh well!

  • Elphaba

    there already is a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz”. it’s called “Wicked”. and it does explain where the wizard came from and who he is. so…. thanks for ripping off something ELSE and passing it off as your own, Disney.

    • Becky

      Really? Like the guy who wrote Wicked wasn’t ripping off Frank L. Baum. Please, don’t act all high and mighty here.

    • Jimmy

      “Wicked” is not a true prequel because it does not go along with the original “Wizard of Oz” books. In the original Oz books the witch is not green and she has an eye patch. This is just another version that’s trying to match the movie which has not been done, so no ripping off! Don’t be dramatic.

  • Nope

    Wicked sucked. There’s not a decent song in the entire show.

    • Draco

      You suck. Not a decent thing about you.

      • Nope

        Is your last name Malfoy?

  • cara

    a. wicked is not a prequel, it really doesn’t have any relation to the story other than names
    b. the book is way better than the 39′ movie version
    c. if they’re writing a prequel, baum actually does write about things that happen in oz before dorothy shows up

  • sienna scorpio

    Yes, Baum did mention how the Wizard became ruler of Oz. He did something very bad to gain power. Read the Oz sequels to find out.

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