OPINION: There's no question that the original "Wizard of Oz" features some scary scenes -- we list the five most traumatizing in this story. So parents can be forgiven for wondering: Should I take my child to the new prequel, "Oz the Great and Powerful"? Fair warning: It is rated PG, whereas for all its scares, the original film was rated G, so you've got to expect it's less kid-friendly.
Warning: Plenty of spoilers for the new movie ahead.
1. Scarier flying monkeys
There is one friendly flying monkey in the new movie. Cute monkey Finley is rescued by James Franco's Wizard and becomes his pal. He's a pretty cute doe-eyed creature, but he doesn't represent the actual army of flying monkeys in the film. They're explained as "flying baboons" to distinguish them from the nicer-looking ones, and they're terrifying, with giant fangs and a much more demonic and threatening look than the 1939 flock. They zoom out of the mist, hunt for our heroes in caves, and generally up the scary factor of the originals by tenfold. Who looked at the original "Wizard of Oz" and said, "That film was great, but you know what it needed? Even scarier monkeys."
2. Witch weirdness
The three witches in this movie all start out appearing good, but we know that, other than Glinda, the other two have to make the leap to the dark side. And there's a very physical transformation of one of them that's pretty Jekyll-and-Hyde like in its painful-looking appearance. The scariest moment for a 5-year-old: When the witch's now-green hand suddenly grabs a table and her talon-like nails drag slowly and painfully into the wood. Like nails on a chalkboard with a satanic twist.
3. Glinda is tortured
We love Glinda. She's Glinda the Good! In the original movie, she just floats around in a big poofy prom dress and helps Dorothy out. (Though really, would it have hurt her to mention the thing about clicking your heels to take you home a little bit earlier?) Anyway, it's agonizing to see her chained between two posts so the evil witches can zap her with some kind of supernatural electricity over and over again. She appears unharmed in the end and of course she triumphs, but that's a long drawn-out scene that is not easy to watch.
4. Minor scares and a battle
There are some weird little scares throughout the film, some which appear to have been thrown in simply to take advantage of the 3-D. In perhaps the biggest jump-scare moment in the film, a random flower-thing with googly eyes leaps into James Franco's face. There are also little buzzing pixie sprites that gnaw at him in that same scene, but they're played for laughs. There's also a scary walk through a dark forest with a bunch of eyes lighting up in the trees behind. Yes, we saw this in "Snow White," but it was nerve-wracking there too. And there's a big battle scene, though it turns out the good army we see attacked is not anything that can be injured, and there's a nice "we won!" moment for the good guys.
5. The destruction of China Town
There's a new element in this Oz, a place called China Town, made entirely of china dolls, dishes and the like. We don't see the town's destruction happen, but it's shattered by the flying baboons and we do see the aftermath. And when we met the character China Girl, her legs have been broken off (they're fixed by the Wizard) and we learn her entire family was destroyed, though that's not dwelled on.
The movie's in 3-D, which not only costs you extra but features things randomly jumping out into the audience. Mostly those aren't too aggressive or scary. But for sensitive kids who don't want to wear the glasses or don't like the extra dimension (or parents who want a cheaper ticket price), seek out a theater playing the film without the 3-D.
The original "Wizard of Oz" is only 1 hour, 45 minutes long. "Oz the Great and Powerful" is 2 hours, 10 minutes. That extra half-hour could've easily been cut, as there are numerous scenes where the film just kind of drags, and one child in our screening briefly fell asleep.
8. The good things
All that said, the film treats the legacy of "Wizard of Oz" with respect. It doesn't mess around with the legend we already know, and it's colorful and lively, with some beautiful scenes. China Girl is a darling new character and the Wizard and Glinda are good guides through this strange and bizarre land. Older kids will enjoy it, and it's a good idea to rewatch the original first and discuss the differences together afterwards. We have even more details in our full review.
Should you take your child?
This mom wouldn't recommend it for anyone under 5. For 5- to 7-year-olds, you'll need to use your own judgment. I took my 5-year-old after reading the related picture book with her and making sure she knew things ended happily. She had a few climb-in-mom's-lap moments, but they weren't always what I thought they would be. I don't think she understood the bit about Glinda or China Town, it was the witch's hand dragging her fingernails into the wooden table that scared her the most. Kids over 7, unless they're very sensitive, will probably understand that it's a movie, that good triumphs and it does end happily. I still wish they'd come out with a director's cut that chops out a half-hour of unnecessary exposition -- although it does make bathroom breaks easier.