Not in Kansas Anymore
Before a scary tornado dropped Dorothy Gale onto a Wicked Witch, a similar thing happened to a fellow named Oscar Diggs. Oz the Great and Powerful follows the adventures of this small-time circus magician/con man who gets hurled away from Kansas to the colorful Land of Oz back in the late 1800s. At first, Oscar thinks he’s got it made in this new location because his magic tricks have made the inhabitants think of him as the Great Wizard they’ve been expecting. But he soon meets three witches who aren’t so sure about this. As Oscar learns more regarding Oz, he realizes he needs to find out who’s good and who’s evil -- and perhaps how to be a better man himself.
Based on a 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum, this film fantasy stars James Franco as Oscar and three very lovely actresses as the witches. Because Michelle Williams plays Glinda, we already know she’s a good witch. But what about Theodora and Evanora -- who are portrayed by Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz, respectively? Which witch will turn out to be the horrible green creature who later frightens Dorothy so much? Trying to figure that out is one of this new film’s many pleasures. Also highly pleasing are the glorious, colorful visuals filling the big screen after an initial black and white opening sequence, which serves as a homage to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. Fascinating 3D special effects also enhance the film’s fantasy quality. Still, despite so many advances in special effects since 1939, nothing today quite matches the glory and wonder of that earlier movie for me -- from its glittering Emerald City, menacing tornado, and giant talking Wizard-head to those sparkling Ruby Slippers.
However, as an admirer of director Sam Raimi’s work -- beginning with Spider-Man -- and an avid fan of The Wizard of Oz, I was eager to see this prequel. Of course, I didn’t expect it to be as wonderful as the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie, which is one of filmdom’s greatest masterpieces. In fact, right above my computer is an original poster of that awesome production, and it inspires me every day. Imagine my surprise at feeling some of the same thrills while watching this prequel as I do every time I see The Wizard of Oz. Much of the credit goes to a tiny exquisite China doll character (voiced by Joey King) and to Franco’s projection of deep emotion in his scenes with her. Would I be happier if Robert Downey Jr. or Johnny Depp had signed on to play the lead role of Oscar Diggs? Yes, and yet Franco (Tristan & Isolde) delivers a stellar performance here. He looks and acts every bit the con man who gradually changes into a good guy.
My only worry about Oz the Great and Powerful relates to its terrifying flying monkeys. I realize those creatures also frightened many youngsters watching The Wizard of Oz. But the new flying monkeys come across as much more scary, so parents please take note. And I wish some musical numbers had been included in the prequel. There’s the beginning of one featuring the Munchkins -- but it gets stopped too quickly. Remember those great tunes from the 1939 film -- like “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead,” “The Lollipop League,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”?
Oz the Great and Powerful may not be perfect, but I highly recommend it to movie fans of all ages who enjoy fantasy, humor and stories with lots of heart.
(Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG” for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.)
For more information about this film, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.