Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz The Great and Powerful Poster

Last week we got a new take on the old tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.  This week sees the release of a prequel to the beloved Wizard of Oz.  Director Sam Raimi tells the story of how carnival magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) finds himself whisked away to a magical land where he meets three beautiful, but potentially dangerous, witches.

Almost immediately upon arriving, Oscar – or “Oz” –  is greeted by Theodora (Mila Kunis) who tells him of a prophecy that a great wizard would arrive to save the land that bares his name from the clutches of the evil witch who is also her sister.  While deciding just what to do about this, he meets the other two sisters, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams).  Just which of the sisters are good and which are wicked, however, seems to be more complicated than first impressions suggest.

Zach Braff also joins the cast as a talking, flying monkey in a bell-hop’s uniform, by the name of Finley, and this being a Sam Raimi film, Bruce Campbell and his chin make a nice cameo as well.

The best thing about this movie, by far, is the visuals.  From the delightful mechanical opening credits sequence, to the creative use of color (or lack thereof) and screen perspective in the first act, to the vibrant world of Oz,the big screen experience does not disappoint.  The 3D I found to add a lot to the feel of the film with some creative perspective shots, great depth, and a healthy dose of in your face action that (usually) didn’t feel forced or hokey.  The twister scene is genuinely thrilling/terrifying and the CG characters – especially the little china girl (Joey King) – are quite well done and believable.

James Franco as the arrogant performer plays the part with a smarmy gusto that, for the most part, fits perfectly.  At times, however, it feels like his script read something like:  Smile.  Laugh.  Smile bigger.  Smile awkwardly.  Smile bigger than anyone should, while laughing.  “I’m Oz the great and powerful.”  Laugh.  Smile again.

Williams, Weisz, and Kunis all do a great job, though I had a hard time buying Mila Kunis as evil.  Overall, though, the cast is solid, right down to the various townsfolk of Oz.

There were a number of complications regarding certain elements we associate with Oz, thanks to the Judy Garland film.  Because of copyright issues, there were some creative ways used to incorporate “classic Oz” into this new version as well as some clever callbacks to the 1939 film.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and thought it was pretty fantastic.  There were a few parts that you could see Disney poking their nose into the script and saying “lighten the mood” or “keep the story accessible” but the end product isn’t overly tired and is surprisingly creepy in parts given that it only has a PG rating.  The final act, in particular, is extremely satisfying to watch, and well constructed.  It does leave the character of OZ in a place not entirely consistent to the type of person we see him as when he later meets Dorothy, and I would have liked a little something to suggest more overtly why he ends up reverting back to some of his lesser character traits, but perhaps I’m over thinking things here.

This is the first film of the year that I feel like I can 100% recommend seeing in theaters – I enjoyed Jack the Giant Slayer as well, but I realize that it wasn’t for everyone.  Disney has succeeded in coming up with the first real event movie of 2013 that can be enjoyed by all.

My Rating:  4 out of 5 Hats

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Mrs. Hamster says:

“Out of all the Oz incarnations I’ve seen/read, this is not my favorite.  I liked it on its own, but Oscar didn’t feel like the Wizard I’m used to.”

Trailer:

Oz the Great and Powerful opens in 3,700 theaters March 8th