The consensus on Oz the Great and Powerful seems to be that it’s neither great nor powerful. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. I actually liked it well enough for what it is – a simple, entertaining prequel to a beloved classic. Don’t over think it. You can’t dare to compare this fantastical flick to the original Wizard of Oz. For one, there’s very little singing (bummer). And two, there’s no Dorothy. But hey – this is the wizard’s backstory. The film is colorful and quirky – much like its star James Franco – and doesn’t take itself all that seriously. So, if you can forgive a few potholes along the Yellow Brick Road, you may actually enjoy this journey back to Oz.
Here’s the gist: Franco plays Oscar Diggs, a traveling circus magician with a flair for conning audiences and charming the ladies. One day, his antics get him into hot water and he flees Kansas in a hot-air balloon. The balloon gets swept up in a massive tornado and ultimately lands in the magical Land of Oz, where Oscar’s greeted by a gullible young witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who tells him that he must be the great Wizard that’s been prophesied to deliver the people of Oz from evil! Oscar decides to roll with it. After all, he does believe he’s destined for greatness.
The colorful cast of supporting characters includes not one, but two more witches — Theodora’s cold, conniving and beautiful older sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and her nemesis, the Good Witch Glinda (Michelle Williams), who bears a striking resemblance to Oscar’s one true love back in Kansas. Kunis is a bit of an odd choice for Theodora, but Weisz and Williams more than hold their own in the witch department.
A word of warning to “Wicked” fans. The story of Theodora, Evanora and Glinda does not track with the mythology of the witches in the “Wicked” book or Broadway show, and isn’t meant to. It’s based on the original Oz books by L. Frank Baum. So wipe away all images of Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel singing “Defying Gravity” before you hit the theater for this one.
Oz the Great and Powerful features other new characters of note. There’s a sarcastic winged monkey named Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) who becomes the Wizard’s sidekick, and my favorite character of all – a spunky porcelain doll (voiced by Joey King) rescued from the shattered ruins of “China Town”. She’s as close as you’ll get to a Dorothy in this one.
So, is Oscar the great and powerful wizard that the Munchkins, Tinkers, Quadlings and other residents of Oz can count on to save them from the Wicked Witch (who may or may not be who you think) and her evil army of flying baboons? Or will his penchant for self-preservation kick in at the first sign of trouble? Gee, I wonder.
While this Oz lacks the depth and wonderment of the 1939 classic, there are some parallels that make it a fun companion piece. Oz the Great and Powerful starts in glorious black and white then switches to brilliant Technicolor once Oscar lands in Oz. The supporting characters have counterparts in both worlds. And the Wicked Witch, while exhibiting a lot more cleavage than the previous incarnations, is still green with an evil cackle. No warts though (copyright issues). Maybe they grew in later – as her chest shrank.
Oz the Great and Powerful is rated PG and does contain a few scenes that could scare the wee ones. But it’s generally a harmless ride with a sweet message that sets up the wizard’s motives and motivations for when he ultimately encounters Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. And James Franco is well cast as Oscar. He’s got just the right mix of charm and smirk to pull off the role as written.
In other words, pay attention to the man behind the curtain. He may not be the great and powerful wizard you were looking for, but he’s the wizard you got.