Oz the Great and Powerful

© 2013 Ray Wong

An unofficial prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, Disney's Oz The Great and Powerful unabashed pay homage to the film (while steering clear of any legal issue as the film is property of Warner Bros.) and L. Frank Baum's book.

Oscar "Oz" (James Franco) is a Kansas carnival magician, or a self-proclaimed conman, trying to make a few bucks. He is also quite a ladies' man. While escaping from a beating, Oz climbs into a hot-air balloon only to find himself in the middle of a tornado. Soon he finds himself in a strange land full of wondrous sights.

The first person he meets after he crash-landed is Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells Oz that she is a good witch, and that Oz must be the wizard according to the late King's prophecy. The Theodora convinces Oz to come with her to the castle so he can help her and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) defeat the wicked witch. At the same time, Theodora falls in love with Oz.

Lured by the promises of the kingdom and riches beyond his belief, Oz accepts the challenge of helping the sisters. He sets off, with is humble sidekick Finney (Zach Braff) to the Dark Forest to find the wicked witch and on his way, he saves a porcelain girl named China Doll (Joey King) from the ruins of her village. When they find the wicked witch, they discover something they didm't expect…

James Franco (Lovelace) could have been a great Wizard of Oz, what with his dashing looks and charm. But it is not an easy character to play -- at first Oz appears to be an unlikable conman and womanizer. Franco's portrayal never goes deeper than the obvious, and his goofy grins and demeanors are distracting. The role was originally written for Robert Downey Jr and I can see him as a much better Oz. That's not good for Franco.

Mila Kunis (Ted) is fine as Theodora, especially in the beginning. Later, as her character goes through some changes, Kunis' performance becomes less convincing and more grating. Rachel Weisz (The Bourne Legacy) is dazzling as Evanora, however. She is deliciously flamboyant and evil, even though she is extraordinarily beautiful in those outrageous costumes. Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) is also fantastic as Glinda the Good.

The supporting cast includes Zach Braff (Tar) who plays both Frank (Oz's real-life assistance) and voices the flying money Finney. Braff does a fine job with both. Bill Cobbs (The Muppets) is steadfast and stoic as Master Tinker. Joey King (The Dark Knight Rises) also plays dual roles but her voice as China Doll is wonderful.

The original story is written by Michael Kapner (Romeo Must Die) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rise of the Guardians), based on L. Frank Baum's classic novel. They've taken many elements of the book and weaved a backstory surrounding the arrival of the Wizard of Oz. It's hard not to compare this to the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland. It is not an easy job to steer clear of the classic film (since Disney has no rights to it) but true to the book. By and large, the writers have done an admirable job piecing it all together, although the story arc and plot do seem to feel tired and cliched -- after all, it is a story and characters we've come to love (and copied) for 100 years.

Sam Raimi's (Spider-Man) direction is a mixed bag. Visually stunning, the production is as fantastic as we can get. A good mix of CGI, old-fashioned effects and real ornate sets, Raimi obviously pays homage to the classic film while also trying to steer away from anything that is clearly not in the book but in that movie. While the imageries are fantastical, the pacing is off at times, especially in the middle when Oz is trekking his way to find the wicked witch. Also, Raimi's direction, at times, are bogged down by the huge production, large cast of extras and the special effects. It feels drawn out.

That said, the movie is every bit as colorful, vibrant, fun and entertaining as the MGM classic, and is a worthy prequel to it because of it.  Raimi's taken care of matching the two films while sidestepping any legal issues with Warner Bros. and the result is a careful, thoughtful collaboration of creativity. Despite its flaws and a rather lackluster lead, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and it is mostly to Raimi's credit. Oz may not be great or powerful, but it certainly is lovely.

Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Michael Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire (based on L. Frank Baum's novel)
Distributor: Walt Disney
MPAA Rating:  PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
Running Time: 130 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 9
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 7
Production - 9

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0 

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