By In Stuff

Oz: Great and Powerful And Magical

So, I have another movie theory. It’s a bit vague, but it generally goes like this: There comes a moment in your life when you see your first “bad” movie. And after that, nothing is exactly the same. It’s like finding out about Santa Claus or the Washington Generals or that some GMs in sports really don’t know what they’re doing.

I put “bad” in quotations because I’m not actually referring to simply bad movies. There are a lot of bad movies — you can’t avoid them for very long. I’m referring to the a movie bad enough to change your whole view about movies. I remember my first “bad” movie. It was Electric Horseman. That’s the one where Robert Redford rides a horse in a casino. Man did I loathe that movie.

Before that, I thought movies were magical. I don’t mean that I liked every movie I saw — I didn’t. Some were boring. Some weren’t funny. Some were way too long. But even those were MOVIES, capital letters, and the overall experience was mesmerizing. How does that bumper sticker go? You know, the one about a bad day fishing?  “A bad day fishing is better than Bart Simpson peeing on a NASCAR number and Impeach Obama?” No, that’s not quite right. Bumper stickers kind of blend together for me.

The point is that for me, as a kid, a bad day at the movies was better than doing just about anything else. The whole experience — walking into the theater, smelling the popcorn, finding the perfect seat, hearing the sound of sneakers sticking to the butter- and candy-coated floor, falling way back into that seat (it seemed like every movie chair back then had a broken back). Then there was that captivating moment when the lights would begin to dim, and the curtain would begin to pull back to expose the film screen. Man, did I love those few seconds — and it depresses me that most movie theaters don’t do that now. I used to love just watching the curtains pull back and pull back, and there was no telling how far apart it would get or how big the screen would end up being. The screen, it seemed, was always bigger than expected.

Then there was the movie, and no matter how bad it might be based on conventional standards (like plot, acting, script, scenery, character development), it always had something that made me happy to be there — a good joke, a pretty actress, a cool special effect, a stirring scene, a great song, something, always something. And when the movie ended — no matter how good or not good it happened to be — I would need to sit there for a moment, watch the credits, let it sink in, brace myself for reentry into the atmosphere. When I walked out into the harsh and bright sunlight, I would need to cover my eyes, I would feel this terrible disappointment because it was over even if “it” happened to be a lousy movie.

Yeah, then I saw Electric Horseman.

I guess it comes down to this: Electric Horseman was the first movie I ever saw where I honestly would have preferred to be doing something else. Anything else. It wasn’t just boring, it was interminable — at least for an 11-year-old. I longed to be playing stoop ball in front of our house or reading an Alfred Slote book or watching whatever sport might be on television or, frankly, doing homework or washing my parents car or clearing the driveway of snow. I don’t know if Electric Horseman is really that bad, and I never will know because I’ll never watch it again. That movie broke the magic. After EH, movies started being just movies. They became “good” and “bad” in adult ways.

This didn’t just mean movies. No, suddenly, I started to judge everything. There were suddenly good television shows and bad ones. There were good restaurants and bad ones. There were good books and bad ones. There were good sports and bad ones, good games and bad ones, good players and bad ones. And the really bad ones, well, they were just BAD, a waste of my time, an insult to my intelligence, a pox on my favorite teams. Electric Horseman did that to me. But if it hadn’t been Electric Horseman, it would have been another movie.

I thought about all this when I took the girls to see Oz: The Great and Powerful. I can tell you how I felt about the movie if you care, which you shouldn’t. In fact, I would advise you to just skip to the next paragraph. I thought it was OK. The scenery was cool. The story: Eh. The plot: Eh. The acting: Eh.  I thought James Franco was pretty terrible in it. I mean, really, he was distractingly terrible. I have nothing at all against James Franco, other than his Oscar hosting, I think he’s a fine actor. But throughout this movie he just kind of smiled in weird places, and he said his lines in this weird cadence, and he seemed sort of noncommittal about the whole thing. I just never bought it. I have plenty of other thoughts about it too, but that’s enough adult talk.

Truth is, I didn’t want to judge Oz. I wanted to see through my daughters’ eyes — particularly my youngest Katie. She’s 8. She had been looking forward to it for weeks. She bought and read one of those little kid paperback books about it. She watched The Wizard of Oz again the day before. It was an even for her — not least of all because it is one of the rare movies that is actually rated “PG.” If you are a parent, you know this: PG the new G. There are hardly any PG movies these days. Everything — even stuff that is kind of geared toward kids like “School of Rock” is PG-13. On weekends, we will often roll through the available movies to stream, and it’s astounding how few of them are rated PG. It’s so bad that every time we check for a PG recommendation, one of the first options will always be “Jack and Jill,” which I’m told by several unfortunate parents is so bad it will actually melt your eyes. But, hey, it’s PG.

So, anyway, while “Oz” was on the screen, I spent much of my time — maybe even most of my time — watching Katie. And: I wasn’t disappointed at all. She was entranced. Every joke made her laugh. Every jolt pulled her out of her seat. Every triumph brought this huge smile to her face. She didn’t care about the acting because she did not think of the people as actors. She did not care about the script because she did not think about the words being written down. The whole thing was real to her in a way that it was never quite real to me after Electric Horseman. I tried to see it through her eyes, and while you can’t go all the way back — not after seeing your first Electric Horseman — I found you can get back some of the way. Oz was magical. Because Katie thought so.

That night, after the movie ended, my wife Margo had Katie write out her own movie review by answering a few simple questions. I cleaned up the spelling a little bit.

Was it good?

Katie: It was wonderful, but some parts were a little scary. The reason you should watch it is because it is a magical fairy tale.

Was it OK for children?

Katie: It is a probably OK for children 8 and up (editor’s note: Katie is 8). Some scenes are a little violent and have one or two bad words.

What is the movie about?

Katie:  It is a great magical fairy tale with scenes from other fairy tale movies like Snow White.

Would you recommend it? 

Katie: Yes. It is the best movie I ever saw. 

42 Responses to Oz: Great and Powerful And Magical

  1. Mark Coale says:

    I got to the end of the cilumn and expected her to hate it.


  2. csb669 says:

    Somewhat surprised to see “James Franco” and “fine actor” in the same sentence here. I’ve found him to be particularly putrid and ingenuine in nearly everything I’ve seen him in and cringed the moment I found out he was cast as Oz. Upon seeing the movie however, it seemed apparent as to why he was cast in this role – as the character himself was somewhat phony and sleezy and those always seemeed to be his most obvious attributes.

    As for myself, it was the movie Signs (Mel Gibson / Joaquin Phoenix) that ruined movies for me.

  3. Wilbur says:

    Movies I walked out of (when I still went to the movies)

    Spaceballs – 15 minutes
    Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – (15 minutes)

    • wscg says:

      I have never commented on Joe’s blog, which I’ve been reading for years, but I had to, now, because REALLY? SPACEBALLS? I’m definitely biased, having watched the movie as a kid, a bigger kid, a teenager, a “young adult,” and a full-fledged “adult,” loving it all the while, but I can understand how one might not like a Mel Brooks movie. Certainly there are bad ones. And certainly one needn’t love even the good ones, which are particular in their charms. But to WALK OUT of Spaceballs seems to me simply… incorrect. It’s just wrong. It is in all respects a “watchable” movie. And so I’m curious: what caused you to finally get up and leave?

    • Spaceballs was one of the worst movies that I’ve ever seen, along with Best In Show. Worst movie in a movie theater was probably Hot Shots Part Deux.

    • Keith R says:

      Wow, it’s a shame you can’t appreciate Best In Show. It’s one of my favorites. In my opinion, one of the funniest movies ever.

    • csb669 says:

      My folks took me to see Spaceballs when I was about 8. I loved it. I’m sure they would have loved to walk out. I now own it and yes, it is an incredibly stupid movie.

      Best in Show is definitely one of the funniest movies ever made.

  4. Wilbur says:

    Movies I walked out of (when I still went to the movies)

    Spaceballs – 15 minutes
    Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – (15 minutes)

  5. olderholden says:

    It’s good that you take the time to love Katie, Joe. It seems to me that too often parents are inclined to assign experiences to their children rather than discern the kid’s responses.

    “American Gigolo.” Arrrrrrrrrrr, my eyeballs are bleeding.

  6. clashfan says:

    What did your older daughter think of it?

    Also, I’m a little irritated that they ignored all the Oz books Baum wrote, featuring female protagonists, to make a movie about a scamming dude.

  7. says:

    I think that the problem most people might have with the movie is that there aren’t as much references to the original Wizard of Oz movie as one might expect. Legally, they can’t, but they still throw some stuff in there every once and awhile and that was worth a fun watch. Good review Joe.

  8. Jim Wexler says:


  9. In late 1979 my parents decided we should move from KC to San Diego. My three sisters had all left for college, and my parents were tired of 40 degrees and raining. I was 9. They put the house up for sale. Periodically the real estate agent would hold an open house on a weekend and we would have to get out of the house. The solution for what to do was to go the movies. I loved this idea. I loved going to the movies and I loved that my parents were taking me, since this is something they rarely did. The first movie we saw was Being There with Peter Sellers. I was 9, I didn’t really get it, but I didn’t hate it. The second movie we saw was Electric Horseman. That was a terrible movie, and probably the first movie I ever saw that I did not like, just like you, Joe.

    Thank you for making me re-live this painful piece of history. Keep up the good work.

  10. Mike says:

    My little girl (5 3/4) is at that stage now. The way it manifest itself is that every movie is followed by an hour long interrogation of her father over any plot points she didn’t understand. It doesn’t occur to her that it’s just a movie and not everything has to make sense.

  11. David says:

    None of the actors in Oz were worth a damn. The two big names, Franco and Mila Kunis, have ZERO film appeal. They simply aren’t movie stars, and never will be. My 7-year-old boy liked it well enough, but what the movie really needed was a star like George Clooney in “O Brother.” A rogue whose personality can actually take up a large part of the screen.

  12. tomrigid says:

    We are different people at different times in our lives. She may come to regard this movie as a symptom of her youth, much the way I feel about The Black Hole, which I still admire and enjoy but do not regard as “good.”

    Diane Keaton said something about it Manhattan, though I can’t remember the line. I think she was talking about Mozart being overrated. Or Bergman. The lesson there is that Katie will be fine as long as she doesn’t end up a Radcliffe tootsie.

    • Matt says:

      I remember seeing The Black Hole at the drive-in. I was about 9 years old and my sister, who is five years younger than me, kept asking my dad “What’s happening? Why are they doing that? What are they doing?”

      My dad’s consistent response was “I don’t know”.

      Just a bizarre movie to me.

  13. purebull says:

    well, if you can make a bad movie…and get the entire family’s dollar…while having the most inexperienced member of said family to think a bad movie is great? you’ve met your goal: taken a cue from tim burton’s alice in wonderland, and you’re going to make a ton of money…

  14. Joe says:

    Joe, your writings about your girls are by far my favorite. And I love all your stuff. Even the golf articles.
    Dark Side of the Mood

  15. doc says:

    My equivalent of Joe’s “The Electric Horseman” was “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964)…I’m somewhat older…first movie I ever walked out of…I don’t know if I can express how bad it was. I wanted everyone involved in making it to die a slow, painful death.

  16. Keith R says:

    “North,” with Elijah Wood as a little boy trying to find the perfect parents (after divorcing his own), or something, was my “Electric Horseman.” What a piece of garbage. I was 9 years old, trying to figure out why the plot was happening like it was. Bruce Willis in a bunny suit. It’s one horrifying episode after another. DO NOT WATCH, EVER!

    • gwowen says:

      Probably worth reading Roger Ebert’s legendary review. (He liked it about as much as he did).

      I’ve only ever walked out of one film, Peter Greenaway’s “The Baby Of Macon”, which is not only bad but reprehensible. This year, I was very close to walking out of the Brad Pitt vanity piece “Killing Them Softly”, which was also very unpleasant.

  17. Whoa, whoa, whoa hold on just a second here. Someone listed Spaceballs as a bad movie? Seriously? The one and only Spaceballs? The characters’ names alone are riotous: Dark Helmet. Pizza the Hut. Lonestar! Comb the Desert! She’s gone from suck to blow! Use the Schwartz!

    It’s gold Jerry, gold!

    Have you no sense of humor? Not even a little one? Mel Brooks is a gift to society.

    Accelerate to Ludicrous Speed!

    • Wilbur says:

      It’s true.

      I have no sense of humor for witless comic vehicles that strain so hard for humor that they come up with “riotous” character names. Parodies, especially movie-length ones, are difficult; Brooks shoulda’ known better.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  18. Andy Lazear says:

    Dumb and Dumber-er. Worst movie ever.

  19. Andy Lazear says:

    Dumb and Dumber-er. Worst movie ever.

  20. brhalbleib says:

    When I was a kid and a teen, we lived in a fairly rural area, so my parents didn’t take us to many movies. So we often saw movies for the first time on VHS in our living room. It was a kind of a weekly thing. Sometimes the experience was great (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and sometimes it wasn’t that great (“Howard the Duck”), but only one movie put the whole family to sleep, which I think is probably the equivalent of walking out of the theater. Ironically, it is a Robert Redford movie too. I speak, of course, of the completely unwatchable and mind numbingly boring “Out of Africa”. I usually like period movies, but it is nice for SOMETHING to happen in a movie. Anything. Alas, that doesn’t appear the case for that movie.

  21. clashfan says:

    Ferris Bueller and Howard the Duck–the huge swing in John Hughes projects.

  22. mickey says:

    cheyenne autumn–john ford’s last movie, apparently. The interwebs write about it as if it is a good movie, a meaningful movie, but like Joe, I don’t think I can go back and give this soul-killer another chance. To an 8- or 9-year-old, a looooonnnnggg slow-moving western (158 minutes, imdb says) spoiled a perfectly good Saturday afternoon. I didn’t go to another movie for probably…a week.

  23. Rob Smith says:

    The worst movie ever is Congo. It was a Steven Spielberg movie and had all the products lined up, including a big Burger King promotion. It lasted, I think, three days before disappearing without a trace. Two more memorable scenes included shooting a plane down with a flare gun and an attack by rare gray gorillas which were obviously men in gorilla suits. If you can find it, it did provide us endless hours of entertainment laughing at the literally dozens of absurd scenes. It was almost an unlimited source of ridicule for us.

    • Congo was not a Steven Spielberg movie. It was directed by Frank Marshall. Marshall and 5 other people are listed as having various producer credits on IMDB. I don’t see any evidence that Spielberg had anything at all to do with Congo.

  24. Meri Ben says:

    WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more waitdisney fantasy review

  25. Did you ever have the moment when you realizided no one should care what you think. And you discovered sports writing.

  26. Michael Polo says:

    It not easy to be in a movie and try to watch it without the jaded eyes of many years of movie watching experience. Oh that plot device, oh the 1 second pause on that key item, you know that will come up in the end. But somehow the great films (and TV shows, too) find ways to keep you from noticing. Not sure, but maybe if you can run 30 minutes and allow yourself to be transported, maybe you won’t see the forest for the trees.

  27. jer fairall says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. city says:

    thanks for share....

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