March 9, 2013

Journey back to the land of Oz

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 2:36 am by dinaheng

L. Frank Baum didn’t write much about the Wizard of Oz’s background, but the character’s imagined backstory in Disney’s new “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a satisfying tale set against the backdrop of a reimagined Emerald City.

Yes, there are the expected nods to the Yellow Brick Road, Munchkins, and a twist on the flying monkeys, but it’s the excellent special effects that make you forget you’re wearing those clunky 3-D glasses. While some of the adventures on the way detract from the plot, the story progresses to a poignant ending that explains how the land discovered by Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and its characters came to be.Dinah Eng

The movie, in theaters on Friday, March 8, was produced by Joe Roth, co-founder of Morgan Creek Productions, and a former chairman of 20th Century Fox and the Walt Disney Studios. Roth, who’s had a string of recent hits, including “Alice in Wonderland” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” says telling the origin story of the wizard really appealed to him.

“(Screenwriter) Mitchell Kapner pitched me some ideas that didn’t work for me, but then mentioned that he was reading all the Baum books to his children,” Roth says. “I never knew Baum wrote more than ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I asked him to detail some of the storylines, and the idea of the man behind the curtain and how he got there appealed to me.

“I was also attracted to it because as chairman of Disney Studios, it was always difficult to find a male protagonist. There were lots of stories about mermaids and princesses, but few leads for men.”

In “Oz the Great and Powerful,” the wizard’s story begins in dusty Kansas, where a traveling carnival magician named Oscar Diggs (played by James Franco) is seeking fame and fortune while, um… dazzling every pretty girl who comes along. When a tornado whisks him away to the Land of Oz, the opportunist thinks he’s hit the jackpot, until he meets three witches — Theodora, Evanora and Glinda — and must prove he’s the great wizard everyone’s been waiting for.

"Oz the Great and Powerful" - Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

“Oz the Great and Powerful” – Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

“Sam (Raimi), the director, wanted Oscar to be a selfish man who ended up being a selfless man,” Roth explains. “I like stories that show human potential is almost unlimited; stories about people who have the opportunity to rise above everyday lives. The theme of second chances is one I’m partial to, as well. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do for a living.”

A perennial name on Hollywood’s power list, Roth has shepherded more than 300 movies as a producer or studio executive, including the Academy Award-nominated films “The Insider” and “Blackhawk Down,” and popular hits like “Home Alone” and “The Sixth Sense.”

“I’m a very curious person,” Roth says. “I was curious about running a large organization, so was fortunate to run 20th Century Fox and Disney. I was curious about starting a soccer team, so I started the Seattle Sounders Soccer team. Today, I feel lucky enough to be an entrepreneur, working independently on projects.”

Roth says the two genres he’s attracted to most now are fantasies, and stories grounded in real life where “you see people able to do things from their soulful selves.” Such films, he notes, allows the audience to escape from the problems and challenges of daily life.

It took three and a half years to bring “Oz the Great and Powerful” to the big screen, and Disney no doubt hopes it will become another franchise success.

“I hope audiences will get the theme of second chances,” Roth says. “I hope they get the message that it’s better to be good, than great, and that it’s good to change selfishness into being selfless.”

Spoken like a true wizard.

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