By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org
Oz the Great and Powerful | Directed by Sam Raimi | Rated PG
It should come to no surprise that The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies.
A truly magical film, what makes The Wizard of Oz so special is not just its wonderful characters, settings, and songs, but its sense of magic and awe. It captivated a genuine sense of wonder, joy, and imagination. In essence, it is the definition of movie magic.
There have been a couple attempts over the years to return moviegoers to the world of Oz, but none of them have been particularly successful. Ultimately, everything that came after it was simply an imitation or it just got it wrong. But, considering the cash cow that the original property is, (which is rather ironic, considering that the original actually flopped at the box office) Hollywood keeps on trying.
This time, Disney attempts to tell the tale of the origins of the great wizard in Oz the Great and Powerful. With all this said, however, while it’s not the masterpiece that the original film was, this new adventure isn’t all that bad either.
Oz the Great and Powerful tells the story of Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco), a Kansas carnival magician who dreams of living a better life. Oz remains determined to become a great and legendary man, much like his hero, Thomas Edison, despite being selfish, arrogant, and a womanizer,
His dreams are put to the challenge one day when Oz gets caught in a tornado in his hot air balloon. Promising to become a better man, he is magically transported to the land of Oz, where he meets the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes that Oscar is the wizard prophesied to bring peace back to her home. Along the way, Oz meets an assortment of characters, and learns about what it means to have a place in the world and what comes with being a great and powerful man.
The biggest problem with Oz is, well, Oz himself. Over the years, Franco has proven that he can be a very capable actor, if given the right role (Pineapple Express, 127 Hours, and, from the looks of things, his upcoming performance in Spring Breakers). Yet, as Oz, he comes across as rather flat. He is not terrible -as he proves himself to carry a good bit of charm in several different scenes- but there is always an underlying sense that he is miscast in this role. Franco always plays it cool, when Oz should be more buoyant. Ultimately, he lacks the presence the character needs.
Additionally, Kunis also comes across as flat. Kunis can be a decent actress too. In fact, she has proven that she can be very good (Black Swan). But here, she’s just off. When she’s Theodora, she’s too flat. When she makes a transformation later as the wicked witch, she’s too over-the-top.
Director Sam Raimi obviously has a knack for pulling off strong villain performances, such as Doc Ock and Green Goblin in the Spider-Man movies. He can also direct over-the-top main performances fine too, as seen with Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead sequels. But there’s good over-the-top, and then there’s bad over-the-top, and, sadly, Kunis is bad over-the-top. This isn’t the first time this has happened to Raimi though (Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3).
Despite the not-so-great performances from the leads, however, the rest of the cast turns out to be strong. The always-capable Michelle Williams pulls in a good supporting turn as Glinda the good witch, as does Rachel Weisz as Evanora. Additionally, Joey King gives maybe the best performance in the film as the animated China Girl doll. Zach Braff, too, pulls in a nice comedic supporting role as Finley, Oz’s loyal monkey companion.
(Side note: what’s with James Franco and making movies featuring monkeys/apes? This is the third time he’s done it, after The Ape and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But I digress.)
The best thing about this movie is the look of it. The art direction and set designs are simply incredible, and the special effects are quite good as well, especially with China Girl and Finley. It’s in these places that the magic of Oz truly comes to life. You want to revisit this movie just to soak in all that this Oz has to offer, much like Pandora in Avatar and the original Oz itself. A lot of time, money, and work went into these sets and designs, and their hard work shows beautifully.
Considering the lofty task that he had to pull off, Raimi did a good job. Raimi is typically at his best whenever he is at his most wild and energetic. There are sequences here where you can truly see pure Raimi magic at work, in places like hurricane scene and the fights between the witches. And I give Raimi major props for having the guts to let a family movie be scary at times again.
But throughout the film, the overlying presence of Disney never seems to go away, and as a result, Raimi’s truly visionary style doesn’t really ever take itself into full effect. As a result, the movie is a little duller than you would expect from the filmmaker. But that’s not to say that movie itself is a bore. It’s certainly fun at times, no question. But there are often parts that drag, and as a result, take away from the full enjoyment of the film.
It’s similar to what happened with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. But at the same time, this film still rises above that film’s failure. This is because, despite its flaws, the movie still retains a sense of heart and magic. Its script is kinda watered down and cliché, but it still captures a sense of love and passion to the source material and the world it lives it. Ultimately, the film, is charming, if not completely arresting, and provides a fun matinee escape for all ages.