The Wizard of Oz is a classic by any standard really. It’s the type of film most people have seen whether they like it or not, and everyone knows the story or at least a few of the songs.
It’s this familiarity that is prequel Oz the Great and Powerful’s biggest strength and weakness, in a mixed bag of a movie.
Oz tells the story of illusionist Oscar Diggs (or just Oz to his friends) who, via a tornado, finds himself in the wonderful world of Oz. This naming similarity is no coincidence as when he arrives he quickly is told that he is the fulfilment of a prophesy and will become King of Oz. This all gets more complicated though when he gets caught between feuding witch sisters Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) – with Oz’s Lothario ways further stoking the flames. With help from his monkey servant Finley (Zach Braff) Oz (the man) finds himself battling to save Oz (the place) from wicked-witch destruction.
Oz The Great and Powerful is director Sam Raimi’s first big budget movie since the disappointing Spider-man 3. He brings his renowned visual chops and impressively updates the familiar ‘Oz’ setting with impressive visuals that were impossible back in 1939. Most noticeably, the flying monkeys get a new and vicious look that will no doubt scare younger viewers. By far the best sequence of the film, and the only effective utilisation of 3D, was the balloon sequence near the start of the film. Raimi’s action, horror and comedy chops all come to the fore here in a brilliant sequence that encapsulates the transition from the real world to Oz.
Unfortunately some of the acting doesn’t quite live up to Raimi’s visuals. Franco in the title role seems miscast and fails to convince as the ‘showman’ he purports to be. Similarly Mila Kunis, particularly in the latter parts of the film, seems (particularly her voice) out of place making for some awkward monologues. Zach Braff though, is a regular scene stealer in his comic relief sidekick role. And Rachel Weisz and especially Michelle Williams are among the few that successfully pull off the campy, over the top tone from the original that this film is emulating.
For anyone with even a passing interest in the original film there is a great novelty in finding out some of the back stories to the iconic characters. And for the most part the characters are treated respectfully and make great additions to a world that so many love.
Franco and Kunis’ occasional struggle to pull off their roles, along with the films difficult straddling of new and old, weigh down this film. But with Raimi’s visuals and the competent work of Williams and Braff this return to Oz works overall and won’t have you clicking your heels wishing to go home.