Film Review "Oz: The Great and Powerful"

Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Rated: PG
Running time: 2 hrs 10 mins

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

It’s one of the most beloved films of all time. When I was a young boy I would see this film on television each year and always know that Easter was close. The film, of course, is the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” And while there have been many different “Oz” stories in many different Medias (books, film, stage) it’s taken almost 75 years for a prequel to come along. May I present “Oz: the Great and Powerful.”

Kansas. 1905. We’re visiting a traveling circus and have been invited to see the midway show featuring a magician that calls himself “Oz.” Thanks to simple naiveté (and a seemingly endless supply of music boxes), Oz keeps finding new assistants for his act in every town. However, a jealous boyfriend chases him around the grounds into an empty hot air balloon. Just when he seems to have gotten away cleanly Oz and his balloon are sucked into the middle of a tornado and whisked away to a place both magical and frightening. Oz.

Visually spectacular, “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is a beautifully created film that really takes advantage of both super-sized screens and 3-D. The film is filled with much homage to the original, including the fact that Oz works at the Baum Brothers Circus and that, after beginning in black and white, the film erupts into beautiful, cheerful color. In fact Oz’s first few moments in Oz is a perfect example of technology and creativity working together in harmony.

As the story takes place before the plot of the 1939 film, there is no Dorothy or Toto. Instead we are introduced to a group of witches. Theadora (Kunis) is young and beautiful. She tells Oz that he is the Wizard that has been prophesized to come to Oz and end the tyranny of the Wicked Witch of the West. Glenda (Williams) is an even more beautiful witch. Evanora (Rachel Weisz) is the third witch and also the overseer of all that the Wizard will inherit. But, as in all good stories, things are not always as they seem. All three actresses are strong in the performances. Fine work is also turned in by Zach Braff, who plays both Oz’s valet in Kansas as well as voices Finley, the flying monkey that Oz saves early in his arrival and who swears his loyalty to him. Fine supporting work as well from Tony Cox and Bill Cobbs. If there is a weak link in the chain it’s Franco. He seems to be unsure on how to project sarcasm or how to be “tongue in cheek.” Instead he ladles on the smarm. I can see why both Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp were director Raimi’s first choices for the role.

Still, the film has enough imagination to make even the most hard core “Oz” fan happy they returned to the Yellow Brick Road.