Oz the Great and Powerful: Reviewed
Starring: James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff
Director: Sam Raimi
Oz the Great and Powerful is an imagined prequel to the much loved 1939 fantasy movie The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard in the title of L Frank Baum’s book did not have a back story and Disney wanted to show the audience how he came to be in the wonderful Land of Oz and revered as the ‘great and powerful’ and sometimes feared Wizard.
We also find out more about the background of the three witches who battle to rule the Emerald City.
The new cinema telling of another Oz story follows the same structure as the original. This time we are introduced to a young magician Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs (James Franco) trying to make a living as an illusionist in a travelling circus. We catch up with Oscar in a gloomy black and white dusty Kansas town getting ready for his next performance to try and impress the local hick townsfolk.
Our first impressions are that he is a very unlikely hero. He appears as a bit of a cad and con man and has dubious intentions, especially with the young women. He also treats his assistant and colleague Frank (Zach Braff) with contempt. After the show Oscar has a visit from his childhood sweetheart Annie, (Michelle Williams) who sees the good in him but Oscar can’t make a commitment as his mind is set on his destiny of fortune and fame. Unfortunately his philandering ways have stirred up trouble with the locals and he is forced to make a hasty exit from the circus in a hot air balloon.
As is tradition in Oz films the balloon is caught up in a wild tornado and transports Oscar to the magical and colourful land of Oz. It’s here that he meets three sisters who also happen to be witches. His first encounter is with poor innocent Theodora (Mila Kunis) who he is instantly attracted to and why wouldn’t he be with her seductive looks and tight leather trousers and big floppy hat (not your normal witchy outfit). Theodora takes him to the Emerald City where Oscar also meets one of her sisters Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who isn’t all she pretends to be.
It’s not until he meets up with Glinda (Michelle Williams once again) the good witch that the truth comes out and he is drawn into trying to save the people of Oz from an evil uprising.
Along the way Oscar teams up with a couple of CGI characters, a flying talking monkey dressed in a bell-hop outfit and voiced by Zach Braff who supplies the comedy element and a cute little china doll who’s porcelain village has been destroyed by evil winged baboons. Together the pair act as Oscar’s conscience and help him in his quest.
Although the film is extremely lavish and is packed with special effects and has plenty of ‘coming atcha’ 3D moments, I actually felt slightly underwhelmed by the whole cinematic experience. Maybe I was expecting too much but I found some of the effects just mediocre and some of the landscapes seemed quite flat. It goes to show how good the special effects were in the 1939 MGM classic. However, I was impressed with the animation of the China Doll which apparently used puppeteers to create the correct movement of the character prior to the computer graphics finishing touches.
The film has a top notch cast and all of the main characters have all been Academy Award nominees and they all play their part well. Rachel Weisz in particular is surprisingly good at playing bad and her character was the only witch that hadn’t been given a proper name in the original books and the screenwriters created the name Evanora and built her from scratch. But some of the films funniest moments are when Zach Braff’s monkey is on screen which isn’t nearly enough for my liking.
James Franco was clearly an early choice for Director Sam Raimi as they have collaborated on four previous projects including the Spider-Man trilogy. Franco also has some funny lines but I found his character of Oscar a difficult person to cheer for. Overall, Sam Raimi does a good job especially as this was his first shot at a family movie. This is a director who cut his teeth on low budget horror films such as Evil Dead and Army of Darkness and elevated to mainstream chillers like The Gift and the more recent Drag Me to Hell.
This is an ideal film to take the cute little tykes to see over the Easter holidays. If you also want to check out more Oz movies, check out the 1985 Return to Oz on DVD, which is very old school animatronics and stop-motion effects and picked up quite a cult following.
Oz the Great and Powerful gets three out of five stars.
In cinemas Friday March 8