It’s safe to see the wizard, Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz
You’ll see he is a whiz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was
If ever, oh ever a wiz there was, the Wizard of Oz is one because
Because, because, because, because, because
Because of the wonderful things he does
So go and see the wizard, Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz
Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a magician in a travelling circus. He doesn’t earn much money, but his work allows him plenty of opportunity for philandering. He realizes though that his occupation makes him unsuitable as a husband… unsuitable for anything, really. He longs to do or be something great. Fate intervenes when he gets chased into his hot air balloon by an angry, jealous strongman on a day when a tornado is approaching. Oz and his craft are sucked into the storm.
When he emerges, he’s not in Kansas anymore. He’s found his way to the wonderful land of Oz. It’s a beauteous, magical realm filled with plants and creatures beyond the imagination. Almost as soon as he lands, however, Oz is greeted as the fulfillment of a prophecy. He’s greeted by Theodora (Mila Kunis), a good Witch who informs him that the kingdom of Oz is plagued by a Wicked Witch, but that it’s prophesied that a great Wizard will fall from the sky and defeat her, before claiming his place on the throne.
Oz doesn’t know how to react to that. For one thing, he’s attracted to Theodora, and doesn’t want to dispel her illusions of him. Eventually, as he’s led into the Emerald City and Theodora’s sister Evenora (Rachel Weisz) shows him the royal treasure, he wants to keep pretenses up to get ahold of the mountain of gold. But the truth is, he’s just a man, and the only magic he knows is some slight of hand.
Nonetheless, he sets off to find and defeat the Wicked Witch. With the help of a flying monkey in a bellhops’ uniform (voiced by Zack Braff) and a small talking China Doll (Joey King) he meets along the way, Oz learns he has more going in his favor than he initially thought. He has the belief of the people of Oz.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” is a gorgeous, fun slice of family entertainment.
The land of Oz itself benefits greatly from 3D and CGI. The Emerald City and Yellow Brick Road look fantastic, and the surrounding landscapes are lavish and detailed. Director Sam Raimi expertly mixes in practical sets and green screen work in order to create a believable, beautiful environment. This kind of fantasy film is the perfect playground for digital artists, and they take full advantage of it by creating a wondrous realm and then rendering it in 3D that the audience can actually see and feel.
Within this world, a simple, but charming story takes place. Franco’s Oz comes from a life full of bs’ing people, but when it comes times to prove what he’s got for real, he balks. It isn’t until he realizes that his great con-man skills could come into play here as well that he starts to make headway. His companions, Braff’s monkey and King’s doll are sweet substitute’s for Dorothy’s companions from the ’39 film. The plot machinations aren’t complex, but they do have a worthwhile story to be told, and it works nicely as a prequel to the events of the original.
Acting wise, certainly James Franco isn’t a threat to win any awards for this performance. The many criticisms of him and his abilities won’t be dispelled with this role. But with everything else that’s going on being so colorful, he’s not asked to carry the show. There’s plenty of support surrounding him, most notably Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz as the three witches of the land.
Certainly, this movie is no threat to eclipse “The Wizard of Oz” in anyone’s heart. That film had an incomparable cast, legendary songs, and has had 80 years of being beloved. As a prequel and companion piece, however, we could do much worse. In today’s day and age of shameless cash grabs and unworthy remakes and sequels, it’s refreshing to see a property being revisited in a respectful manner. “Great and Powerful” is a prequel that makes sense within the mythos, and offers viewers a new and entertaining story, all while maintaining the spirit and tone of the original film.
That in itself is a rarity, and worth recommending.