Oz the Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi. Story by Mitchell Kapner, inspired by the novels by L. Frank Baum. Starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Zach Braff. Distributed by Walt Disney Studios. Rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language. Running time: 130 minutes.
Oscar “Oz” Diggs is a charlatan. Although his heroes are Harry Houdini (the great illusionist and escapist) and Thomas Edison, Diggs is neither a great performer nor a great scientist. He scrapes by as part of a traveling circus, passing himself off as a supernaturalist, allegedly raising spirits of the dead. In his off hours, Diggs is a womanizer, pushing away his true love in favor of cheap, short-term “relationships.”
Oz the Great and Powerful, the story of Diggs, is fundamentally the story of a man in search of self-esteem. Diggs lacks integrity, and so he lacks respect for himself. He allows himself to languish in a career he hates and in a series of unfulfilling relationships. He is basically a lying dirtbag who knows he has poor character—and, at the beginning of the story, he has little desire to improve his character.
Early in the film, Diggs says, “I don’t want to be a good man, I want to be a great one.” Over the course of the story, however, Diggs learns that goodness—strength of moral character—is a precondition both of greatness and of personal happiness.
Oz the Great and Powerful, then, explores the interconnections between the moral issue of character and the psychological issue of self-esteem. As he chooses to do the right thing, Diggs holds himself in greater esteem; and, as he learns to trust and value himself, he gains a greater desire and ability to act morally. For a film based on children’s books, its theme is remarkably sophisticated. . . .