Clipper Movie Correspondent
Rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.
Starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox, Stephen R. Hart, Abigail Spencer, Bruce Campbell.
Written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, based on characters created by L. Frank Baum.
Directed by Sam Raimi.
Back stories are often used by writers and other creative people to set up a great story. With the dearth of creative content available to big movie studios, those back stories are now prime targets for “prequels.” Such attempts to go back in time have been met with a plenty of criticism (Star Wars), some box office failure (The Thing) and plenty of success (X-Men). One of the reasons prequels are both successful and dreadful is perhaps the gnawing reminder that the principle characters are going to be okay, since you know they are going to turn up in the original story. The Wizard of Oz is the latest classic film to get a prequel in Oz The Great and Powerful.
James Franco plays Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a small-time circus magician and huckster who is caught up in a tornado and transported to the Land of Oz (suspiciously named after himself), where he encounters a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis). Using his magic tricks, anyone who encounters Oz thinks he is a wizard, including Theodora.
The pair fall in love, but their relationship takes a turn for the worse when Theodora's evil sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) tricks Oz into chasing after a third sister Glinda (Michelle Williams). Believing that Glinda is a “bad” witch, Oz takes off on a journey into the Dark Forest, along with Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), a flying monkey who owes him a life debt. Before meeting up with Glinda, Oz and Finley pick up a tag-along china doll (voiced by Joey King) whose entire village has been ransacked by evil flying baboons.
When Oz meets Glinda, he discovers she is not evil, but that Evanora has been playing him to destroy her and gain power over the entire kingdom. Evanora also tricks Theodora into partaking of a magic apple that enhances her own evil tendencies, while turning her skin green and changing her wardrobe into a more traditional “witchy” costume, (complete with pointed hat and accessorized by a flying broom).
As Oz learns of Evanora's evil plans, he also discovers the people of Oz, including a community of tinkers and seamstresses, along with their neighboring Munchkins. Oz must decide whether to come clean and admit that he is not a wizard, or use his intellect and cunning to defeat Evanora and Theodora.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a visually compelling film with a lot of humor and sentiment that compliments the original 1939 classic. That said, there are a few things that don't add up, including a missing pair of ruby slippers (due to a copyright restriction from MGM), and characters you know will live on, but don't seem like the same familiar roles from the original (Glinda's particular sing-songy voice is not really detectable in Williams' performance). There are other liberties taken by Sam Raimi and Disney in the Oz prequel, but not enough to make the film too distracting. Franco, Kunis, Williams and Weisz are more than adequate in their roles, but two new characters who steal most scenes happen to be computer animated (Finley and China Doll).
Despite possessing some of the familiar pitfalls of other prequels, Oz the Great and Powerful is a fine family treat that can be enjoyed by people who love The Wizard of Oz, - but don't take it too seriously.