Like or hate the film, it's hard to deny Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz is one of the most recognizable, universally loved movies of all time, and is regarded higher than L. Frank Baum's original novel that inspired it. Dorothy's adventures to the wonderful land of Oz captured the imagination of audiences for generations, so any new film is understandably going to be met with immediate hesitation.
Rest assured, Disney's Oz The Great and Powerful is the prequel we've all been waiting for. In the generation of Wicked and the books of Gregory Maguire, Baum's Oz has become a bit darker and certainly more twisted, and Disney's new take on the story fits into the canon brilliantly.
The film opens in Kansas circa 1905, where Oscar Diggs (James Franco), known by his associates as Oz, a small-time magician and budding inventor who yearns for great things, but believes he's nothing more than a cheap trickster and an admitted fraud. This all changes when fate chases him into a hot air balloon that heads into a tornado, violently and magically transporting Diggs to a strange, wonderful land filled with real magic and odd characters. Immediately, Diggs is spotted by Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes Diggs to be the prophesied Wizard who would save their land, and she and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) task Diggs to defeat the Wicked Witch who killed their king. With the young China Doll (voiced by Joey King) and winged monkey named Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) in tow, Diggs encounters the good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams) who shows Diggs that things aren't as simple as they may seem.
Director Sam Raimi (the original Evil Dead, the original Spider-Man trilogy) and writers David Lindsay-Abaire (Rise of the Guardians) and Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards) bring a whole new spin on L. Frank Baum's classic tale, bringing subtle winks to the movie while still making the movie unique and original. While Raimi's visuals often look like a Tim Burton impression, Abaire and Kapner's wonderful script tells the tale before the story we all know, giving it a dark and funny origin.
While many will want to make a comparison to the original film, Oz The Great and Powerful is not cut from the same cloth. From the dystopian construction of the Emerald City to the stunning origins of the Wicked Witch of the West, this film is perfectly juxtaposed in a time when dark fairy tales are becoming more abundant and audiences seem to be asking for darker movies, even when it comes to family films. And though the film has moments that are ridiculously cheesy (Evanora curses someone with a poison apple, for instance), they don't detract from the film enough to make it disconcerting.
FINAL VERDICT: Regardless of your feelings of the 1939 film, Oz The Great and Powerful is a wonderful prequel to L. Frank Baum's classic novel, and stands on its own beautifully. Though remarkably darker and more frightening than the original (probably thanks to director Sam Raimi's influence on the film), Great and Poweful certainly lives up to its name.