Hey everyone! This week I’d like to talk about what I consider to be one of the most underrated movies released this year: Oz the Great and Powerful. More specifically, the ever adorable and lovable China Girl; who is hands down one of the best characters in the film.
Now let me first apologize this not actually being an ode. Sorry, but it’s kind of hard to sing via text. That being said, let’s take a moment to discuss the movie, Oz, as a whole. You see, the movie has suffered from a lot of mixed reviews for, what I believe, to be something of a misunderstanding. You see, a lot of people don’t seem to understand the idea of different continuities. I think a lot of people who have read the classic Wizard of Oz books or perhaps the Wicked series, probably ended up very unhappy or unwilling to see the movie because is was a departure from what was established in those mediums. The truth of the matter though, is that Oz the Great and Powerful isn’t the prequel to those stories, but to the original MGM film of 1939. Oz plays homage to the original movie and, while serving as a prequel, is a spiritual sequel to MGM’s original in almost every way. If you’re a fan of the original, then you really do need to see this movie.
We’re not here to talk about the movie though, we’re here to talk about China Girl!
For those of you who don’t know, China Girl is a little girl, made of china, that teams up with Oscar (the man who would become the wizard) to help stop the evil witch and save the land of Oz. When we first meet her, she’s hiding behind a table after her family and town was brutally broken/killed by the Wicked Witch’s evil flying baboons. She didn’t survive unscathed though, and has had both of her legs broken; forcing her to simply sit there looking at her own shattered limbs as the lay in pieces in front of her. As you can imagine, she’s rather distraught about the whole thing.
Now you see, China Girl serves as a literal analogy for another young girl that Oscar was unable to help back in Kansas before coming to Oz (in the same way that all of the friends Dorothy makes while in Oz are parallels to her family & friends). Both girls had legs that could not work, but in Oz Oscar is able to use glue to fix China Girl’s legs in what is probably one of the most touching scenes in the movie (a fact that is helped out immensely by Danny Elfman’s beautiful score).
At the time that he saves her, Oscar is still trying to weasel by and do as little as possible to become the ruler of a land he doesn’t understand. Yet the scene is the first real glimpse we get that perhaps Oscar can do some good in the land of Oz. Sure he’s self centered and egotistical, but he clearly has a good heart and is willing to reach out and help those in need when he is able to. The movie continues to play with the idea that Oscar isn’t exactly a good man after this scene, but the seeds have been planted, seeds that will finally sprout in yet another China Girl scene.
After being confronted by one of the Wicked Witches and seeing just had bad things are, Oscar is ready to leave Oz (and the people of it) to their fate. But before he leaves he’s roped into tucking China Girl into bed like her father used to. This prompts a touching scene where China Girl asks him about where he comes from and if he grants wishes like the last ruler of Oz used to.
“Do you know what I’d wish for?”
“A pretty dress?”
“To have my family back.”
Well you walked right into that one Oscar. It’s here that Oscar informs her that he can’t grant wishes, and that their are no wizards where he comes from; save for one, Thomas Alva Edison. He goes on to explain all of the wonders and marvels that Edison has made, and likens it to its own form of magic.
“With almost nothing, he made the impossible real.”
“Is that the kind of wizard you are?”
“It’s the kind of wizard I’d like to be.”
“Well you are that kind. I can tell. I’d rather you grant wishes, but that’s a good wizard, too.”
It’s a this moment that the spark in Oscar’s brain ignites, and it finally dawns on him that while he isn’t the wizard Oz expected, it’s exactly the one they need; a con man, a trickster, a terrible cheat and a carnival magician who’s going to put on a show the likes of which Oz has never scene!
All of that from the faith and belief of one small child who knew he had what it took to make a difference. That’s the power of China Girl ladies and gentlemen, the kind of power that only children can have. This scene serves as the catalyst for Oscar’s transformation into the Great and Powerful Oz, and is a turning point in both the movie and his character arc (it also has a fantastic score, yet again).
In spite of her rather fragile nature (or perhaps because of it) China Girl is also one of feistiest characters in the film. Whether it’s tricking Oscar into bringing her along on a which hunt so she can help get revenge or back talking to Oscar when he takes a tiny kitchen knife from her, China Girl doesn’t take crap from anyone. Sure she’s physically fragile (she’s made of China after all) and like most children is scared rather easily, but her strength of spirit and force of personality are forces to be reckoned with.
She’s a character that has seen more than her fair share of lose and tragedy, yet she remains steadfast in her belief that there is still hope in a better tomorrow. I’d even argue that she’s a far stronger character than the great wizard himself. Good thing he’s able to draw on that strength to find his own.
She may not be the most dynamic or powerful character in Oz, but she is no less crucial to saving the day than Oscar or Glinda the Good. I’ve heard some people complain that she was never really given a name, or ignore the importance of her character because she was CGI. But come on now, ‘China Girl’ is no more obtuse than ‘Scarecrow’ or ‘The Tin Man’, so that’s just ridiculous. And as far a her being CG is concerned… Fun fact! When on the set of the movie the actors of Oz actually acted to a small ‘life-sized’ marionette of China Girl. She may have looked a little different on stage than she did in the film, but both her voice and body where very much a real presence on the set.
I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz, and I while I had originally planned on skipping Oz the Great and Powerful out of the fear that it’d be a useless prequel, I’m glad I saw it in theaters when I did. The movie, while not perfect, has a charm that many movies lack. It’s funny, entertaining and surprisingly witty; with China Girl being one of the main reasons that it’s become something of a favorite of mine. She’s that perfect mixture of adorable and spunk that melts your heart whenever you see her. Directed by the always entertaining Sam Raimi and with a soundtrack by the extremely talented Danny Elfman, Oz the Great and Powerful is a movie that deserves to be seen, even if it’s just for China Girl. She’s worth it.