Disney Oz Adaptation’s Bonus Features Give Movie New Life On Home Release

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  Who doesn’t know that old adage?  Not to spoil the movie too much for that have yet to see it, but it is this adage that serves as the basis for Disney’s new live action/CGI based Oz The Great and Powerful.  This latest big screen adaptation of author L. Frank Baum’s Oz books was met largely with mixed reviews when it premiered in early 2013.  The fact that it was released to DVD and Blu-ray only a couple months after didn’t bode well for this movie.  Luckily for the movie, the bonus features included in its home release have managed to save it and make it worthy of a second watch.

The hybrid live action/CGI origin story of the wizard and the witch does an impressive job in its attempts to pay homage to The Wizard of Oz.  The sets used for the Emerald City are just as impressive as those used in the earlier story.  That the film makers would try to stay as true as possible to Baum’s fantasy world is worthy of at least some praise.  Making their efforts even more worthy of praise is what is revealed in the behind-the-scenes feature, “Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas To Oz.”  Viewers learn in this feature that CGI was only one method of movie magic used in this movie.  It is revealed that actual puppets were used in conjunction with CGI elements in order to bring both the China Girl and Finley to life.  It isn’t very often in this era of largely computer driven special effects blockbusters see such a style of special effects used.  So even in this aspect, it is nice to see that those behind the cameras would go so far in paying tribute to classic film making.

The use of puppets was quite an impressive revelation about this story’s creation.  In connection, the use of CGI to put the faces of Joey King and Zach Braff onto the China Girl and Finley was just as worthy of praise.  It would have been easy to just use CGI based creations and had the pair voice them.  But instead, their faces were put onto the pair. There is something special about this.  Even Sweeter was that both king and Braff voiced their characters.  It shows again the drive to make the story as believable as possible.  It was very nice to see the charged with making this happen took their jobs so seriously.  It proves yet again the importance of bonus features in the home release of any movie.

Viewers that check out the feature focusing on the special effects and general production values of Oz The Great and Powerful will hopefully gain new respect for the film.  If it doesn’t achieve its intended goal, then perhaps the companion feature, “Walt Disney and the Road To Oz” will help in that effort.  It is a much shorter feature in comparison to the previously mentioned bonus feature.  But it goes quite well in companion to the behind-the-scenes feature.  Viewers learn in this companion piece that Walt Disney had actually wanted for years before his death, to bring to life his own take on Baum’s works in a movie titled, The Rainbow Road to Oz.  Yet for a variety of reasons, he never did see those efforts bear any fruit before his passing in 1966.  It wouldn’t be until 1985 that the company bearing his name would see the release of an Oz-centric story in Return to Oz.  This movie was nowhere near as family friendly as the hit 1939 blockbuster that was The Wizard of Oz.  Keeping all of this in mind in watching Oz The Great and Powerful, one can’t help but have at least some extra respect for everything that went into bringing this latest adaptation to life.  And with any luck, viewers will understand in watching these (and the movie’s other bonus features) that this latest film adapted from Baum’s books is worthy of at least one watch.  For those that saw it in theaters, they will hopefully see that it is worth a second watch.

Oz The Great and Powerful is available now on a variety of platforms.  It is available both in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Disney Store and Disney DVD store at http://www.disneystore.com and http://disney.go.com/thewizard/.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Scholastic Springtime Collection Lots Of Fun, Lessons For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Scholastic/New Kideo

Courtesy: Scholastic/New Kideo

Scholastic’s latest collection of children’s stories is another enjoyable set for the whole family.  The Springtime Collection is a new three disc collection that culls the best of the company’s latest box sets and puts them together in this new triple-disc set.  And while it is billed as the Springtime Collection, there’s no getting past the inclusion of two Christmas themed shorts from the well-known children’s book series, Max and Ruby.  “Max’s Christmas” and “Morris’s Disappearing Bag” are both Christmas themed episodes.  Though, they are the only holiday themed episodes in the set. One of the pair is even told entirely in Spanish for Spanish speaking audiences.  It’s something minor by itself.  But in the grand scheme of things, that Scholastic would take this step shows a valid attempt to reach an audience as broad as possible.  It makes both this set and Scholastic even more worthy of praise.

The holiday themed shorts aside, what makes this set enjoyable is the inclusion of some of the most well-known of literary tales in the form of “Chicken Little” and “The Red Hen.”  Children will love these timeless tales, while parents will love experiencing them for the first time again with their own children.  That sense of nostalgia instilled in older viewers will help in making the viewing experience all the more enjoyable for the whole family.  Parents will thrill at seeing their children light up, watching the stories.  For parents to see these shorts through the eyes of their children will give them a whole new meaning for parents.  And for parents of older children, they will equally appreciate the read-along feature included once again with each story.  The read-along feature is a wonderful option for parents and their children to use together in aiding children’s reading skills.  It’s one more bonus for this set both in the classroom and the living room.  This and the lessons taught through each short contained on each disc make every episode important in its very own fashion.

Parents of older children will appreciate the read-along feature included once again on each disc in the set.  They will also appreciate the morals and lessons taught through each short.  Each one teaches a different lesson.  Those lessons vary from lessons of teamwork to problem solving, to friendship and more.  Ironically, these lessons are ones from which parents could also learn.  It’s one more way that this set proves to cross generations.

There is one more aspect of Scholastic’s new Springtime Collection that makes it stand out among current children’s programming and home DVD and Blu-ray release.  That remaining factor is that of each short’s animation.  In an age when so much CG-based children’s programming calls itself animated, each short included in this set has its very own animation style.  As is the case with a “greatest hits” record or anthology of DVDs/Blu-rays, each young viewer will respond in different fashion to each short’s animation.  As with the Spanish speaking episode, “Max’s Christmas”, this seems a nonfactor on a small scale.  But on a more macro level, the animation plays a big role in keeping a child’s attention, and thus increases the chances of a young viewer taking something away from each short.  Therefore, what would otherwise be something not that important actually plays a role just as important as that of the lessons and the stories themselves.  It’s one more aspect that makes all three discs in this new compilation all the more worth it both for teachers and parents alike.  It is available now online and in stores.  It can be ordered online direct from the New Kideo store at http://www.newkideo.com/scholastic/the-springtime-collection/.  Parents and teachers can keep up with all of the latest news and more from Scholastic when they “Like” the Scholastic Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/Scholastic and its official website, http://www.scholastic.com.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Oz Is Good, Not Great

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Oz The Great and Powerful is one more example of why Hollywood has got to break away from its seemingly unending trend of churning out sequels, prequels, and remakes.  It is a good movie in its own right, thanks to the set design, special effects, and costume/makeup department.  But in terms of its story, it suffers to the point that it largely becomes memorable only for those factors.  The combination of special effects, set design, and costume design are more than worthy of applause in their attempts to bring older audiences back to the world of Oz after nearly seventy-four years since that world first appeared to the masses.  They are just as laudable for introducing younger audiences to the world of Oz for the first time.  For the positives, there are two noticeable negatives to the overall presentation.  Those negatives are the intertwining of lead actor James Franco’s acting and the overall story.  In weighing these factors together, Oz The Great and Powerful becomes more a movie that will be remembered less as one of Disney’s standout greats, and more as just another in the ongoing mass of prequels, sequels, and remakes constantly being churned out by Hollywood.

The combination of set design, costumes, and special effects goes a long way toward the success of Oz The Great and Powerful.  The set designers did an impressive job of balancing actual physical sets and CG backgrounds.  One can really tell that a lot of thought and work went into bringing back the world of Oz.  As hard as the set designers tried though, it lacks a certain something that the sets from the previous movie had.  Perhaps the problem with the sets in this movie was that those who crafted them tried too hard to pay tribute to the original work.  The result is that it didn’t feel as….pure.  They felt “spit-shined” for lack of better wording.  Though, the special effects make up for that.  That is especially the case late in the movie when it is revealed how the Wizard’s famous floating head originally came to be.  That effect alone is worth the wait.  It’s really the best special effects moment in the entire two-hour plus story.

The sets and special effects play their own role in the overall outcome of this story, as has been noted.  They are only part of the movie’s positive side.  Just as impressive as the sets and special effects are the costumes and makeup.  While Disney wasn’t behind The Wizard of Oz, those behind the creation of this work are to be commended for creating costumes that throw back to the original movie, right down to the guards’ uniforms.  And while some might have their own thoughts on the witch’s costume, one must take into account that this is a prequel.  Therefore, the costume had to fit the person and personality.  Of course, speaking of the witch, this is where things get bad for Oz The Great and Powerful.

So much went right for Oz The Great and Powerful in looking at the sets, costumes, and special effects.  What went wrong with the movie was the script and the acting of one James Franco.  The whole story of Oz The Great and Powerful is an origin story of sorts.  It tells not only of how the Wizard came to be the famed figure that he was, but also of how the Wicked Witch came to be wicked.  Not to give away too much, but the two stories play together as they are centered on a figure who is a completely immature young man and three sisters who throw themselves at him just like the women back in Kansas.  Oz plays all three of the sisters just as he played the women back in Kansas.  One of those sisters ends up becoming the now infamous Wicked Witch of the West.  Even as the movie nears its finale, it is difficult to believe Oz has any sincerity as he faces off with the Wicked Witch.  One wants to root for Oz, but it’s next to impossible as at every chance he has to grow, he instead maintains his cocky nature right up to the end.  Yes, he’s a young character, being that this is a prequel.  But it would have been nice to see some personal growth and humility as the Wizard at least showed in The Wizard of Oz.  But that doesn’t happen.  Because of that, there’s no real moral lesson learned here.  There is not even an actual romance story so to speak.  In the end, what everything boils down to with Oz The Great and Powerful is that this movie will be more memorable less for its story or acting than for its production values.  Keeping this in mind, it will largely be one of Disney’s less memorable movies in its decades long list of much better movies.  Because of that, it is a movie that is worth at least one watch, but really not much more.