Written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire based on the works of L. Frank Baum
Directed by Sam Raimi
New in theaters this week from Disney Studios comes the prequel tale based on the legendary Wizard of Oz book and film: Oz the Great and Powerful. The story of how the actual Wizard of Oz ends up in Oz and how he comes to rule is brought to screen by Spider-Man director Sam Raimi complete with his flair for stories grand in scale. So how does Oz the Great and Powerful stack up to the original Wizard of Oz?
When Oscar Diggs (Franco), a travelling circus magician with dubious ethics and results, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s found his path to fame and fortune. Aboard a hot air balloon Oscar is whisked away in a tornado the same way as Dorothy is after him. After landing in Oz, Oscar meets three witches, Theodora (Kunis), Evanora (Weisz) and Glinda (Williams) who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity and even a bit of wizardry, Oscar transforms himself not only into the great wizard but into a better man as well.
Oz the Great and Powerful certainly opens brilliantly. As a direct homage to the original Wizard of Oz film, Oz the Great and Powerful opens in a black and white 1:33 format ratio square in the middle of the theater screen (think an old square television that does not feature a widescreen display). The 3D comes into play very nicely here as effects fly off the barriers of the screen and towards the crowd. The opening credit sequence is matched in beauty by the closing sequence, both using and old fashioned puppet show style setting to tread out the names in a brilliant throwback style. Once the film lands in Oz it goes widescreen and color with wondrous results. The effects work is brilliant, the setting gorgeous and the film as a whole features some the best use of the 3D likely to be seen this year.
Franco eases into the role of a sleazy con-man/womanizer way too easily, and he seems to be the perfect fit here. His performance marks Oscar as a charming enough rogue that he manages to redeem himself by the end of the film. Mila Kunis is also very good here as Theodora, the younger naive witch sister to Weisz’s Evanora who falls for Oscar’s charms but when things do not work out the way she hopes she is manipulated and molded into something she is not by her sister. Weisz infuses her character with camp and is clearly acting tongue-in-cheek throughout. Her Evanora comes dangerously close to going too far over the top here as she skates between menacing and laughable. Williams is stuck playing the traditional Glinda the good, and in trying to stay true to the original character’s modest and reserved charm seems to be acting as if she has been constantly slipped a Valium. The majority of the comic relief is left to the very able Zack Braff and newcomer Joey King who both prove to be up to the task.
The major issue for families, who the film is clearly targeted at, may be the length. At a running time over 2 hours long and with many slower parts to the film devoted to background and character development, the younger set may have a hard time keeping their attention on the screen. Some of the subject matter may be beyond them as well when it comes to the more adult themes presented. The winged henchmen used in the first film are much more menacing and scary this time around as well. That said, older children, especially fans of the Wizard of Oz, should revel in this “Star Wars” prequel trilogy story as the script meticulously sets up all the aspects of the film they have grown up loving.
Filled with brilliant special effects and some effective performances, Oz the Great and Powerful will delight most audiences with its visual excellence. And despite its length being a little overblown with some side stories that can be shortened/excised, the film is a fun trip down the yellow brick road. Oz the Great and Powerful is a recommend.
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- Oz: The Great and Powerful Video Soundbites Series 1 – Rachel Weisz, Danny Elfman and Sam Raimi (dreadcentral.com)
- OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL Review: It’s Good And Wonderful (badassdigest.com)
- Producer Joe Roth Talks OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, Sam Raimi, MALEFICENT, the ALICE IN WONDERLAND Sequel, and More (collider.com)