Sunday, March 17, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful Vs. The Hobbit

Of the two recently released adventure fantasy movies I've seen in the theater, I like Oz the Great and Powerful more than I like The Hobbit.

Maybe I'm rationalizing the forty bucks we coughed up for tickets to see Oz the Great and Powerful on the IMAX 3-D screen at Union Station in Kansas City, but I enjoyed the movie, unlike these two hipster YouTubers:

Maybe it's because we saw it with our six-year-old kid who applauded vigorously at the end of the movie.    Maybe it's because I'm not a gamer and so I don't have high expectations of CG, which the hipster YouTubers complain about in their review.  Maybe it's because I'm from Kansas so I appreciate the setting.  Whatever reason, I thought it was fun seeing Oz the Great and Powerful on the big screen.  I especially like Mila Kunis as The Wicked Witch of the West.  She plays the role of a woman scorned hellishly well.

I like to think my opinions are gender-free, but they are not.  I like Kunis' Theodora because I can relate to her.  I appreciate the depth this version of Oz gave to her character: there is a reason why this witch is wicked.

I admit: I like Oz better than The Hobbit because of the chicks.  It's nice to see female characters taking action and kicking ass, unlike in The Hobbit where the main female character's five minutes on screen involves intuiting a male character's thoughts without leaving her home.

It's ironic that I like Oz better than The Hobbit for its strong female characters since, according to this report, producer Joe Roth was looking for a fairy tale with a strong male protagonist:

"...during the years that I spent running Walt Disney Studios -- I learned about how hard it was to find a fairy tale with a good strong male protagonist. You've got your Sleeping Beauties, your Cinderellas and your Alices. But a fairy tale with a male protagonist is very hard to come by. But with the origin story of the Wizard of Oz, here was a fairy tale story with a natural male protagonist. Which is why I knew that this was an idea for a movie that was genuinely worth pursuing."

I'm glad I'm not alone in my desire to see more gender equality in the fantasy genre.  There should be more male protagonists in fairy tales just as there should be more female protagonists in epic adventures.

I can relate to what Ruth David Konigsberg says in this review:

"I did not read The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a child, and I have always felt a bit alienated from the fandom surrounding them. Now I think I know why: Tolkien seems to have wiped women off the face of Middle-earth. I suppose it’s understandable that a story in which the primary activity seems to be chopping off each other’s body parts for no particular reason might be a little heavy on male characters — although it’s not as though Tolkien had to hew to historical accuracy when he created his fantastical world. The problem is one of biological accuracy. Tolkien’s characters defy the basics of reproduction: dwarf fathers beget dwarf sons, hobbit uncles pass rings down to hobbit nephews. If there are any mothers or daughters, aunts or nieces, they make no appearances."

I understand that it's a subjective preference to expect fantasies to reflect reality, and that this is not going to be an issue for many people.  But for me the lack of strong female characters in The Hobbit was too much of a distraction and it left me disappointed in the entire movie.  

Don't get me wrong, Oz the Great and Powerful has its flaws.  Don't go expecting it to be as great as the classic Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz.  If you do, you'll surely be disappointed.  But it's a good choice among recent releases in the fantasy genre for those of us who dig adventurous women.