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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Oz the Great and Powerful

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Michelle Williams stars in a scene from the movie "Oz the Great and Powerful."
Lush visuals and sly humor boost "Oz the Great and Powerful" (Disney), director Sam Raimi's 3-D prequel to the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz."

Like its imperishable predecessor, Raimi's fantasy adventure is based on the writings of L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). This second stroll down the Yellow Brick Road, however, incorporates thematic elements that make it unsuitable for small moviegoers, who also might be frightened by some of the spooky creatures jumping out at them from the screen.

Long before Dorothy was ever heard from—so opening scenes reveal—a small-time carnival roamed the plains that featured among its attractions the magic show of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a charming rogue known to one and all by his nickname, Oz. Off stage, Oscar is gifted at weaving romantic illusions for the many ladies who take his fancy, a talent that sometimes gets him in to trouble.

In fact, it's while he's on the run from an outraged rival that he hops into a hot-air balloon and casts off, only to find his escape vehicle caught in the powerful updraft of a tornado. As Judy Garland long ago discovered, transport by twister leads to just one place: the magical land that shares Oscar's moniker.

There, Oscar discovers that both his arrival and his eventual victory over the forces of darkness gripping the realm have been prophesied. His triumph, should he attain it, will yield Oscar the throne of Oz along with the immense wealth of its treasury.

But Oscar's self-doubt poses a stumbling block on the way to his promised destiny. So too does his initial inability to determine which of his new homeland's three presiding witches—Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) or Glinda (Michelle Williams)—truly embodies goodness.

As scripted by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, "Oz" emphasizes confidence, cooperation, the marvels of science and the kind of generalized faith in happy endings that constitutes Hollywood's offense-proof substitute for religion.

Oscar is, nevertheless, shown praying to God in times of need—as, for instance, while spinning through the tornado. And his stated ambition to be a great man, rather than merely a good one—"Kansas," he says dismissively, "is full of good men"—is eventually proven to be misguided.

There's even an echo of the Bible—and of John Milton's great epic "Paradise Lost"—as one character's consumption of an apple marks her irrevocable embrace of wickedness.

Yet several plot points, including Oscar's fateful ride in the balloon aforesaid, turn on his womanizing. The specifics of his love-'em-and-leave-'em lifestyle are omitted, as are the limits to which he carries his seductions. Even so, the subject, however vaguely treated, is not one that belongs in a picture for children.

Additionally, tots might be overwhelmed by the sight of grand-scale pyrotechnics and by such sinister beasts as the winged baboons who take flight to protect the interests of dark magic.

The film contains mature references, perilous situations, a couple of mild oaths and potentially upsetting images. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II —adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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