Sam Raimi puts his own spin on the origin story of the famous wizard of Oz in Disney’s prequel “Oz the Great and Powerful”. There are witches, magic tricks, and good vs. evil all set against the colorful and all too familiar Land of Oz.
The Story – Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a traveling circus magician and a master of illusion, conning people, and breaking women’s hearts. When he’s caught in a tornado (yes, of course it’s a tornado!) he’s swept into the Land of Oz. There he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz), two sisters who have taken over Oz and banished Glinda (Michelle Williams) from the Emerald City. Oscar (better known as Oz) must battle the witches and restore peace to the Land of Oz.
The story is not necessarily a bad one. It’s just lacking in certain areas and there are plot holes that are large enough to be somewhat questionable. Oz is a colorful land filled with peaceful people who supposedly can’t kill. The major problem with the story is that there isn’t enough background information on the Land of Oz or its residents in order to get a good grip on what’s truly going on and why. Glinda states that the citizens of Oz can’t kill; or won’t kill because it’s never clear which one it is. Also, all three witches have magical powers so it’s quite unclear why they really need Oz to begin with.
The witch story (of Evanora and Theodora) is not really up to par with the rest of the film. They have no real motivation save for power and a broken heart on Theodora’s part (which seems completely contrived since she only spent one night with Oz). The only understandable witch aspect is that of Glinda’s plight to help her people. The rest comes off as bland and unoriginal (a green apple to turn Theodora green screams “Snow White”).
The plan against the witches is very witty and clever and the end ties in well with “The Wizard of Oz”. But because the audience already knows what will happen, much of the suspense is taken away from the climactic battle.
The Characters – Stories are only as strong as the characters who lead them. The characters who stand out in “Oz the Great and Powerful” are the ones who aren’t given enough screen time. China girl (Joey King) and Finnley (Zack Braff), Oz’s sidekicks and friends, really steal the show and should have been in more scenes. They have the best lines and are smart, lovable, and much more entertaining than the main cast.
Oz can be charming and annoying all at the same time. He fools people and yet doesn’t care who he hurts as long as he gets the glory. James Franco is mostly playing James Franco, but it generally works for “Oz”. Mila Kunis’s presence and exposition is decent enough in the beginning… until she turns into the Wicked Witch of the West. Kunis isn’t an amazing actress to begin with, but now filmmakers should know to never cast her in an evil role again. Her performance as the wicked witch is cringe worthy and her evil cackle is downright painful to listen to.
Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams are the actresses who really play their roles properly and extremely well. Weisz seems downright gleeful playing Evanora, the true wicked sister. Her dominant presence is wonderful and entertaining to behold; and Williams shines as Glinda, her sophistication and class following her in every scene.
The Production – “Oz the Great and Powerful” has amazing and stunning visuals. The backdrop and CGI characters are beautiful and extremely realistic. The usage of a smaller screen and the black and white touch at the beginning of the film gives it more authenticity. The costume designs and close-up shots are gorgeous. However, the CGI is so well done and distracting that it takes away from the main story sometimes. Its major downside is that there is just too much of it so nothing ever feels or looks completely real.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” gets a 3 out of 5 stars. Sam Raimi puts imagination and creativity to work to bring the Land of Oz to life but at the unfortunate expense of an underdeveloped story.