Director: Sam Raimi
Writer(s): Mitchell Kapner (screenplay), David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), based on books by L. Frank Baum
Starring:James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Zach Braff
Rating: PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks he's hit the jackpot-fame and fortune are his for the taking. That all changes, however, when he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone's been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity-and even a bit of wizardry-Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well. Written byWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
For months before Oz the Great and Powerful was released I was so excited. From the early pictures of Michelle Williams conjuring fog in the forest in Entertainment Weekly, to the preview shown on the IMAX screen I saw The Hobbit on, I just couldn't wait. And then I found out it was rated PG (I'm not sure what I was expecting) and seriously dismal reviews started pouring in and I just never made it to the theater to see it (although I rarely see movies in the theater--so it really wasn't that big of a deal). I finally sat down to watch it last night and I think my considerably lowered expectations actually helped me enjoy the movie quite a bit more than I would have had I watched it on opening weekend when my expectations were sky-high.
Oz the Great and Powerful follows Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a two-bit magician who travels with The Baum Brothers Circus (wink, wink) with his trusty side-kick Frank (Zack Braff). As one would expect, the movie does open in black and white. The scene opens with Oscar, who goes by the stage name of Oz, trying to seduce his new magician's assistant by giving her a music box that he claims belonged to his grandmother, the war hero. It quickly becomes apparent between his obvious lying to the naive woman and the way he cheats Frank out of rightful share of that day's take, that Oz is not a good man. After being booed from the stage after his performance, Oz is forced to run from the circus' strongman after he finds a similar music box that Oz gave his woman. Oz jumps into a hot-air balloon to get away and is promptly sucked into an approaching tornado which, of course, lands him in Oz.
A lovely witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) comes to investigate Oz's crash landing and is over-joyed when she finds that a magical man named Oz has appeared. It can only mean that the prophecy of her father is coming true: a great wizard who bears the name of their land will defeat the wicked witch and take his place of ruler of the land. Oz, seeing the potential of great money and power, tells her that he is the wizard of the prophecy. Flying monkeys are immediately dispatched and the pair find themselves on the run. After the two spend the night together dancing to a spare music box Oz still has in his magician's coat, Theodora is Smitten (with a capital S) and begins to prattle on about how he will be a great king and she will be the queen by his side. Oz is startled (and obviously a bit scared), but he plays it off as best as he can. Theodora takes him to the castle to present him to the throne and to introduce him to her sister, Evanora (Rachel Weiss). Evanora is a bit more doubtful of Oz's so-called magic and doesn't believe he is the wizard of the prophecy. She shows him the room full of treasure that will belong to him if he should become king, before reminding him of the caveat: he must kill the wicked witch before he can become king. So off Oz goes down the yellow brick road in his quest to find the wicked witch and to break her wand (which will somehow destroy her), only to find that the so-called wicked witch may not be the bad one after all.
For the most part, I really did enjoy this movie, although it is far from perfect. I liked the winks at the original film, like the way he finds travelling partners in a small flying monkey (not related the evil ones) voiced by Zach Braff and a little China girl he helps put back together using glue. Visually the movie is stunning, with eye-popping colors and beautiful panoramas. I liked the way the people of Oz who he is supposed to save have jobs like tinkers (who I'm sure will eventually put together the Tin Man) and a villager who specializes in the making of scarecrows. I loved the trio of witches and the actresses who portray them.
I did find myself rolling my eyes more than once at the CGI. Sometimes it is just too much. There is a scene where Glinda is trying to keep Oz from falling off a cliff that looks so fake it's not even funny. I also sometimes felt like we were in Wonderland instead of Oz with the huge, unfurling flowers that I don't remember being a part of the story. The humor was a little flat and some of the dialogue was trite, but as a child-free adult, I often find PG humor and dialogue flat and boring.
Overall, my complaints didn't hinder my enjoyment of the film. I liked watching the character arcs of Oz as he becomes the man the land of Oz needs him to be. I also liked the origin story of the witch who eventually turns green and is scared of water (if you've seen even a single trailer you already know which one it is). It is a little anti-climatic to know how the story will inevitably end, but it's still a pretty fun journey.