A prequel? To the all time classic, much loved Wizard of Oz, 74 years later? Surely this has got to be some purely dangerous territory! Done wrong and the dreams and memories built upon generations could be absolutely crushed; yet director Sam Raimi has taken the risk and instead creates a visually rhapsodic fantasy full of nostalgic bliss.
Oz The Great and Powerful is the story of how L. Frank Baum’s cherished wizard character came to be. Oscar Diggs (James Franco) a small-time circus magician and smooth talking con man is whirled away in a tornado from Kansas to the wonderful, vibrant Land of Oz.
Here he encounters Theodora (Mila Kunis) a temperamental witch who assumes him to be the ‘Wizard’ prophesised to fall from the sky, defeat a wicked witch and ascend to the throne. Theodora takes Oscar to the Emerald City to meet her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), a powerful witch who reveals that he cannot become the rightful ruler of Oz until he’s accomplished his mission.
Tempted by the promise of wealth and power, Oscar agrees and he and his new flying-monkey companion Finley (voice of Zach Braff) prepare to face their fearsome enemy. They are joined by the fragile but fearless China Girl (voiced by Joey King) and kindly witch Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams), who help them prepare for the gruelling battle ahead. Together with the brave people of Oz, Oscar draws up a plan through the use of illusion to rid the land of evil once and for all, and become the great and powerful king who will rule from his throne in the Emerald City.
I’ll be honest, entering the cinema I did not have high hopes for the movie, it almost seemed doomed for failure and the initial Kansas sequence filled with overly dramatic and corny acting from the actors surprisingly including that of the leading man James Franco seemed to fit in with these expectations.
Nevertheless, as Oscar Diggs descended into Oz, the box screen expanded and the monochromatic tones were replaced with ever so bright ones; hope for the film was restored. The graphics of Oz were simply astounding, perhaps even more so than those of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
Every last inch of the frame filled with stunning visual details in the most vibrant of hues truly encapsulating the enchantment of the beloved Land of Oz. As the film progressed, Franco’s acting did get better and I really began to believe him in the role of the Wizard. The witches’ performances were quite good, particularly those of Rachel Weisz as Evanora and Michelle Williams as Glinda who truly seemed to be having fun with their roles. However, Finley the adorable flying monkey voiced by Scrubs’ Zach Braff stole the show for me; responsible for not only some of the most humorous lines within the film, but also some of the most heart felt.
Despite being unable to use some of the most iconic elements of the 1939 Wizard of Oz due to legal reasons (including the ruby slippers, the shade of green of the wicked witch’s skin, the witch’s chin mole and the swirl of the yellow brick road); the film did a good job at incorporating intertextual references so reminiscent of the great classic.
Despite my initial assumptions, I was won over by the sensational graphics, enchantment; plot twists and the sense of nostalgia I was left with. It is the kind of movie that is easy to watch and by its end will have brought a smile to your face (several times!). The only thing I would have loved to see was some more musical numbers. Warning: Oz The Great and Powerful is not a musical. Nevertheless, it earns a solid 5.5 stars, an enchanting film fitting for any age group.