Set in Kansas in 1905, "Oz the Great and Powerful" introduces Oscar Diggs (James Franco), also known as Oz, a traveling magician with Baum Bros Circus. Oscar is also a professional con artist, but doesn't give nearly enough credit to his loyal assistant Frank (Zach Braff). Oscar has always dreamt of being a great man, but his lack of ethics and morality and extremely greedy intentions have always held him back. He is accidentally thrown into the Land of Oz where he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), their rival Glinda (Michelle Williams), a living China Girl (Joey King), and a talking flying monkey in a bell hop suit named Finley (Zach Braff). The prophecy has foretold that a wizard who shares the name of the land will come to save everyone from the clutches of The Wicked Witch. Even though everyone in Oz believes him to be that wizard Oscar can't find the courage to tell everyone the truth.
"The Wizard of Oz" is in dire need of a revisit. It was something that was seen at a very young age. Not much is remembered other than having a fear of flying monkeys and trying to get a glimpse of that urban myth of one of the munchkins hanging themselves on set and the sequence supposedly making it into the final print of the film. Judging "Oz the Great and Powerful" as a stand-alone film was the only option since it had been so long.
You can go ahead and welcome Danny Elfman back to a Sam Raimi film. This is Elfman's first collaboration with Raimi in nearly nine years and it's Elfman's score that helps bring that circus theme to life. The opening credits are particularly eye-catching and immediately establish that carnival-like atmosphere. The fantasy adventure begins in black and white and is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio (full screen). It opens with the Baum Bros traveling circus and you witness some of the tricks Oscar has up his sleeve. The tornado sequence is done really well as the debris flying around makes full use of the 3D effect and the organ that passes by is a little unsettling in a good way. Once Oscar makes it to Oz, the film transitions to color and the aspect ratio changes to 2.35:1 (widescreen). The moments when Oscar is witnessing the colorful and wondrous Oz for the first time may be the highlight of the film. Personally speaking, those particular moments are really influential; someone being taken out of their element and placed in a strange new world is just amazing and reminiscent of "Alice in Wonderland" in a way.
The film hits its peak once Oscar arrives in Oz. Oscar meets Theodora (Kunis) and saves Finley (Braff) who becomes Oscar's life servant because of it. After meeting Evanora (Weisz), Oscar sets out to the Dark Forest to break the staff of The Wicked Witch and become king. They meet a little China Girl (King) who decides to tag along after Oscar fixes her broken legs. Finley is the best character of the film. He's hilarious nearly every time he opens his mouth. The Dark Forest is also really creepy and the flying baboons are even more terrifying than their relatives.
Everything is progressing smoothly until Glinda (Williams) is introduced. Just because she's The Good Witch doesn't mean she has to be so lame and boring. All she really does is make fog and bubbles. The film suddenly takes a dive into really cheesy territory at this point, too. The special effects seem a bit too overzealous at times as witches probably shouldn't fly around and shoot fireballs or electricity from their hands as often as they do. Mila Kunis is kind of awkward as The Wicked Witch. She’s believable as Theodora, but once she transforms it almost seems like she's trying too hard. Her constant squawking and bizarre and rigid hand movements make her seem more like a giant parrot than anything else. Rachel Weisz is mostly satisfying as Evanora until she starts shouting at everyone near the end of the film. Then her voice suddenly starts cracking more often than the Squeaky Voiced Teenager on "The Simpsons."
If you're planning on seeing this in theaters, the 3D is utilized quite well and used rather frequently so it’s worth the money. Hats are thrown, a strong man bursts through a door, the debris in the tornado, snow, hummingbirds, water fairies, gold coins, and spears all jump out at you. It's certainly the best use of 3D so far this year, but it doesn’t exactly have much competition just yet.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" does stumble about halfway through and never really recovers from its trip into incredibly campy territory. Funny, charming, and imaginative, "Oz the Great and Powerful" is a film that lingers on the cusp of greatness but has to settle for being nothing more than acceptable.