To make a prequel to the genuine American 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz is a huge risk, even for the Disney studios. They released a sequel in 1985, a major flop at the time, Return to Oz has since become a retro cult oddity. (Trust me and track it down on DVD) The story of a Kansas girl who goes over the rainbow into a magical world destined to wear ruby slippers is beloved by all ages for its characters, warmth, humor, thrills and an array of timeless songs.
Oz the Great and Powerful, this long gestating $200+ million production, has a flimsy plot, mirroring techniques that even replicates specific storytelling ideas from the original, in order to focus on impressive visuals.
Long before Dorothy and Toto followed the yellow brick road, there was a travelling circus magician, Oscar (James Franco), down on his luck. During an extremely familiar black and white storm-front moving through Kansas, Oscar is hurled away by a roaring twister to the sparkling Land of Oz. Reluctantly drawn into this new world, he is persuaded by an unusual reception committee to learn more about the land and its inhabitants. Word spreads fast that the great wizard whom they have been expecting has arrived; an entranced Oscar goes with the flow unknowingly reasoning with his own fate. Befriending a flying monkey and a broken china doll, they embark on a journey into the exotic horizons.
Not so convinced are Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), three incredibly well dressed witches that are either good or evil, real or not real, a judgment which is never certain until the story further develops. Mila Kunis radiates old school glamour on the outside, but some wicked witch cackling may be slowly lurking on the inside.
As in the original, the flying monkey is just weird, now even kookier as a comedy relief sidekick. Alternative dream-like creatures and candy colored backdrops make for elaborate visuals that distract from the lack of tangible emotions concerning the developing wizard. Unfortunately as the supposed all conquering Oz, a miscast Franco looks more tired and trapped than in his Academy Award nominated role in 127 Hours.
Director Sam Raimi seems intent on wowing the audience; shock effects will keep eyes alert, spears and fangs fly out of the screen in mostly amazing 3D. (Moderate to frightening images may become slightly too dark for younger children.) There are amusing set pieces, exciting pursuits and the odd touching moment, all leading to a finale that only Disney could generate. This unique new take into the wonderful world of Oz is good, not great, stunning, not powerful and too slow for complete fulfillment.
Oz the Great and Powerful hits theaters Friday, March 8th in 3D and IMAX.
Shane A. Bassett is a contributor for TheYoungFolks.com. Read more about him on our Partners & Contributors page.