Even though "Oz the Great and Powerful," Sam Raimi's boldly imaginative sort-of prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," is only opening today, Disney is so confident in the project that they've already started actively developing a sequel.
According to a report in Variety, Disney has retained screenwriter Mitchell Kapner, who co-wrote "Oz the Great and Powerful" with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire ("Rabbit Hole"), commissioning him to draft a new screenplay that can incorporate elements from the L. Frank Baum novel "The Wonderful World of Oz."
Keep in mind, Kapner will once again have to avoid a number of iconic elements from the original "Wizard of Oz" that are technically off-limits (MGM owns the rights), like the ruby slippers and the look of certain characters and locations, something we noted in our rundown of the differences between "Wizard of Oz" and "Oz the Great and Powerful."
Granted just because Disney has hired a writer doesn't mean it's a sure thing. For example, Disney hired "Alice in Wonderland" screenwriter Linda Woolverton to pen a sequel, and that was right after the movie made over $1 billion worldwide (in 2010). Three years later, and still no "Alice 2."
A Redesigned Oz
Anyone who's seen the original "Wizard of Oz" can probably sketch the general look of the enchanted Emerald City on a cocktail napkin without having to think about it too hard. But the new "Oz the Great and Powerful" had to be careful with how closely the city of Oz looked to the original. The resulting city has a bold new design that is also, oddly, familiar. It's like halfway between Coruscant from the "Star Wars" prequels and some kind of steam punk videogame. In short: it's both old and new (again).
A Male Protagonist
The lead of "The Wizard of Oz" is, quite obviously, Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland in an iconic gingham dress. The lead of "Oz the Great and Powerful" is the wizard, played by James Franco. While some of the danger of Oz might be missing, since a strapping lad like Franco is probably better equipped to handle all the weirdness better than a frightened young farm girl, the creators of "Oz the Great and Powerful" have found an equally interesting way into the world, by framing the entire journey as a metaphor for the way Oz interacts with women (including, of course, a trio of witches). It's fascinating, deeply resonant stuff and one of the bigger surprises of the movie.
The Widescreen Format
For the first 30 minutes of "Oz the Great and Powerful," the movie has a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio (not widescreen, in layman's terms) and is filmed, just like the original "Wizard of Oz,” in black-and-white. This is a really wonderful way to start off the movie, as a welcome callback to the original. But when the Wizard finally reaches Oz (via hot air balloon), the frame starts to open up as color starts to bleed in. It's subtle and magnificent and adds to the movie's full-day-at-Disney World feel.
Along with the aspect ratio, "Oz the Great and Powerful," unlike the original "Wizard of the Oz," is being presented in glorious 3D. It would have been nearly impossible for the original "Wizard of Oz" to be presented, theatrically, in 3D. Technicolor was pretty dazzling back in the day though, so the experience, at least, is quite similar.
Way More Witches
One key difference between the 1939 "Wizard of Oz" and "Oz the Great and Powerful" is an emphasis on the witches. Technically, there is still the same amount of witches in each film; it's just that as the original opens, one of them is smushed to death by Dorothy's farmhouse, leading to an iconic toe-curling death scene. Also, Glinda the Good Witch is more of a narrator/spirit animal than an actual character, whereas in "Oz the Great and Powerful," she's fully fleshed out and maybe not as good as you'd want her to be. The interplay between the witches and the transformation of one of them into the frightening Wicked Witch we all know so well, is what largely drives the narrative.
The Wicked Witch's Skin Tone
Everything that was created specifically for the 1939 MGM production of "Wizard of Oz" was strictly off-limits to the filmmakers of "Oz the Great and Powerful" (word is there was a small army of Disney lawyers on set at all times to ensure that things never got too close to the originals). One of the weirder, more noticeable differences is that the shade of the Wicked Witch's green skin has been slightly altered. It's a little bit of a greener green, with less emerald.
Goodbye Flying Monkeys, Hello Flying Baboons
The flying monkeys in the original "Wizard of Oz" were odd, gremlin-y things, with feathery wings and blue skin. For "Oz the Great and Powerful," Raimi and company took an entirely different approach, swapping out the cuddly monkeys for an army of fearsome baboons who are kept aloft by leathery bat-wings. They are much more intense than the original "Oz" monkeys.
No Ruby Slippers
One of the more litigious elements of the original "Wizard of Oz" mythos is the use of the iconic ruby slippers (in the source material, they're made of silver). The use of those slippers comes at a handsome price, and shoehorning (pun intended) them into "Oz the Great and Powerful" would have been awkward, without it also being cost-prohibitively expensive. We were rooting for them to pop up somewhere but, alas, they remain absent.
Okay, so that's not completely true -- there's like half a song when the Wizard meets up with the munchkins. But besides that, "Oz the Great and Powerful" is entirely song-free. While this is probably for the best, there is a part of me that wishes they could have somehow managed to license and then squeeze in "The Jitterbug," a song that was famously removed from the final version of "Wizard of Oz" but periodically pops up in stage productions of the material. (You can <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SP5IcbwVhqI">watch it on YouTube</a>.) As the Oscars a couple of years ago proved, Franco is many things, but a song-and-dance man is not one of them.
It's Entirely Tin Man-Free
While "Oz the Great and Powerful" gives sly nods to both the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion (much more ferocious and lion-y than in the original), there is no reference to the Tin <an at all. This is a sad fate, considering all the winks to the original (even Disney's abysmal "Return to Oz" had a Tin Man type character named Tik Tok).