Film historians consider 1939 the greatest year in motion history; to date, there has never been a year when so many notable films were released: Stagecoach, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Dark Victory, Of Mice and Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—and that’s just part of the A-List.

But at the very top of that list are three films that reached All-Time Great status: The Rules of the Game, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. The first one teaches us don’t shoot first and ask questions later, the second that slavery sucks, especially if you’re a slave. And the third? That there’s no place like home. That Oz never game nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have. Wearing ruby slippers around the house is okay but wearing them under the house is not.

The Wizard of Oz has inspired numerous versions and reimaginings over the years, from cartoons to live action vehicles. The latest, Oz, the Great and Powerful, owes almost as much to L. Frank Baum's world as it does to Gregory Maguire’s (Wicked).

A magician traveling the carnival circuit in turn 1900s Kansas, Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs (“Oz” for short, and with good reason) is by his own admission “not a good man.” He’s not really a “bad” man, just one who lives by the maxim, “lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself.” Seking to escape after he's been tempted once too often, he winds up in the Land of Oz, where he is believed to be the king who was prophesized to save its citizens. He soon finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between Evanora and Theodora, the witches who live in the Emerald City and Glinda, the witch who opposes them.

So how do you tell one of the best-known stories in the world, especially when someone else holds the copyrights? (They couldn’t even use the same color green for the witch!) You play on those collective memories and “modernize” things, which makes for an occasionally odd mix: everybody lapses into contemporary slang, the battle for Oz sounds like a satellite state rebelling against the 1950s Soviet Union and plot points sound like something you’d hear at a self-help seminar (“You may not be the wizard they expected,“ Glinda tells Oz, “but you may be the wizard they need.”) Oz adapts to the Land of Oz so quickly and “naturally” you’d think he’d crossed over into Oklahoma (in fact, he never wonders or even asks about how to get back) and Oz (the land) is an almost anachronistically multicultural place where everyone’s the same regardless of ethnicity, height, species or biopoiesis. (Hey, if I had to look it up, you have to look it up.)

Oz, the Great and Powerful makes you think there should be a credit somewhere informing you, as a consumer, of the CGI content of the film you’re watching (I’d say around 60%); the SFX is not overly intrusive, but it’s not seamless, either. The kids will love it and you won’t be sorry you took them, but you’ll probably leave thinking you wouldn’t have gone on your own, either.

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