As a family entertainment, Disney’s ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ is the stunning feast for the eyes visually and should be digested as smoothly as cotton candy on a summer day at the amusement park. No one can argue with director Sam Raimi’s (2002’s ‘Spider-Man’) take on the festive and legendary Land of Oz where magical memories and childhood reminiscences are recalled and revered.
Still, there are big shoes to be filled when a filmmaker dares to hint at revisiting classic cinema whether it is in the form of a prequel, remake or sequel. When one dares to venture to Oz in the millennium age, you better bet your bottom dollar that high expectations are warranted. The question remains: does ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ do justice to the aura of the 1939 treasured ‘The Wizard Of Oz’?
In all fairness, ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ does not look to duplicate the wonderment of ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ but put another spin on the nostalgic gem by highlighting the background of L. Frank Baum’s wizard characterisation. In this case, the wizard is Kansas-based enthusiastic huckster Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs (James Franco, ‘127 Hours’) who is the small-time circus magician with tricky tendencies. In addition to showcasing Diggs’s coming-of-age as the Great Oz, we are treated to his run-in with three witches (Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz).
‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ will appease the majority of ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ fans as signature reminders of tornadoes, The Emerald City, the yellow brick road, flying monkeys, Munchkins, good and bad witches and characters from Kansas playing dual roles of other characters elsewhere. Still, there is a rather slightness to the sumptuous presentation of ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ that does not quite echo the nostalgic nuances of its original inspiration. Although occasionally hackneyed, Raimi’s spry narrative musters up enough suitable excitement to keep its carousing cheekiness intact.
After Oz’s scoundrel-like dalliances with his travelling circus co-worker’s wife, he escapes in an air balloon to avoid further conflict. Oz wants to be assured of greatness but his major flaws are constant obstacles he has to overcome. When a sweeping tornado arrives and threatens his existence, Oz vows to change his scandalous ways and repent. Soon, the unharmed Oz ends up in the Land of Oz.
In this strange new environment, Oz is christened The Wizard of Oz as he is trusted with the sole purpose of protecting the people from an evil witch. The real quandary at hand is whether or not a flawed and shady rascal such as Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs can deliver the prophecy of being a true whimsical leader. Can he believe in himself as well as others believing in him? Is there room for Oz to actually achieve greatness given his skills as a master magician and crafty con man?
The personalities that the shifty Oz runs into are pivotal within the colorful proceedings. The trio of witches in Kunis’s saucy Theodora, Williams’s glassy-eyed Glinda and Weisz’s uptight Evanora present a landscape of lunacy. As Oz schemes to outwit the Wicked Witch he befriends winged monkey Finley (voiced by Zach Braff, ‘Garden State’, TV’s ‘Scrubs’) and is counseled by a veteran hocus pocus master (played by Bill Cobbs). Plus, we certainly cannot forget to include the participation of petite porcelain China Girl neither.
Aesthetically, Raimi oversees a lavish blockbuster production bleeding with ambitious 3-D effects and CGI opulence. The scope is grand and gaudy in ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ and there is no way anyone can question the vibrancy. Screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abiare’s conventional storytelling is a mixed bag of elaborate charm and overbearing cheesiness.
As the roguish Oz, Franco adequately hits the mark as the complicated cad burdened with surrealistic realm of reinventing his tarnished image and becoming the noteworthy wonder he always wanted to be in conception. Franco could have been a little edgier and darker but overall he gives Oz a playful naughtiness needed to convey the angst and adulation.
Everyone agrees that following the yellow brick road in ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ is a ritual that generations will continue to do until the end of time. This may not be said of its millennium-made prequel ‘Oz The Great And Powerful’ but maybe it deserves a few skips here and there on that same iconic yellow brick road, too.
Oz The Great And Powerful (2013) Walt Disney Pictures
2 hrs. 7 mins.
Starring: James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bill Cobbs, Tony Cox
Directed by: Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Critic’s Rating: ** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)