“Oz the Great and Powerful” takes its time getting started, but once it does, watch out.
Directed by Sam Raimi, with screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, based on L. Frank Baum’s novel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," takes us behind the curtain, cleverly showing us how the Wizard came to be.
Save for Dorothy and her traveling companions, “Oz” is filled with most of the characters we’ve grown to know and love—from the munchkins to the flying monkeys to witches…good and wicked…and we still can follow the Yellow Brick Road, fear the poppy fields and sail away in hot air balloons. Even the opening is in black and white. What helps make the movie its own are some endearing new characters—most especially the adorable China Girl (Joey King) and Finley, the flying monkey (Zach Braff), who befriends Oz (James Franco).
We meet first meet Oz as Oscar Diggs, doing his thing as a carnival magician/con man. He is literally blown to kingdom-come, aka Oz, in a Kansas tornado. Upon landing he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch, and Finley. They are convinced that Oscar, who soon takes the name Oz, is the great wizard for whom they have been waiting to rule. One hesitates to say much more without giving away the plot. Suffice to say, “A woman scorned is a dangerous thing.”
I may be in the minority, but I loved James Franco as the young Oz. His is an understated performance, but it serves the story well. Franco has a ready sly smile and a twinkle in his eye, so you’re never quite sure what he’s thinking—perfect for a con artist. The witches are also well cast. In addition to Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz as Evanora and Michelle Williams as Glinda are beautiful, spunky and fun.
I saw "Oz" in 3-D, but I don't necessarily recommend this treatment. 3-D does not further the enjoyment of the movie. In fact, it’s almost distracting. What does work is how China Girl and Finley are brought to life. Whatever the technique, China Girl seems very real in miniature form and Finley’s monkey eyes are eerily human-like. It's those small, detailed special effects, and the movie has many of them, that serve the movie well, and 3-D is not necessary to view them.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" is just plain fun. So grab some popcorn and enjoy.