Journeys to the Land of Oz have been few and far between when it comes to the world of cinema. Many projects have been in development over the years, but none of them can get off the ground. It's not hard to understand why. MGM's 1939 musical version has long been recognized as the definitive film version of L. Frank Baum's magical tale. Walter Murch's attempt at a sequel fell flat in 1986, even though "Return to Oz" has gained a cult following over the years. Walt Disney Pictures has successfully beaten MGM to the punch by providing what I and many others will see as the "official" unofficial prequel to the original.
In "Oz: The Great and Powerful," a crooked circus magician named Oscar Diggs is swept away to a magical land. Upon arriving, he is mistaken as the mystical wizard who is foretold to be the deliverer of its people from the grasp of an evil witch. In order to free them from her clutches, he must steal her magic wand. Oscar embarks on a dangerous journey to find the witch. He's accompanied by a flying monkey and a china doll on his adventures through the whimsical and dangerous land.
I'm going to get brutally honest now. "Oz: The Great and Powerful" uses every bit of imagery it can legally get away with from MGM's "The Wizard of Oz." Director Sam Raimi isn't trying to exploit or make money off of someone else's concepts. You can tell the only thing he's concerned with is paying homage to the 1939 classic. Although there are slight (and I do mean slight) alterations to the designs of the characters and sets, this looks exactly like the original classic for the most part.
The Wicked Witch might be a different shade of green and not have a wart, but the rest of her features are a younger version of Margaret Hamilton's depiction of the character. Another perfect example is the design of the Wizard's Throne Room and the way he appears in a cloud of smoke and fire to his audiences. Did we mention the movie starts in black and white and changes to color when the Wizard gets to Oz? I think I've made my point.
Another thing I've noticed many critics complaining about is the acting. It's being called dull, lifeless, and other such things. I didn't find this to be true at all. You can tell James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz all respected Sam Raimi's vision and wanted to do their best to make "Oz: The Great and Powerful" a visual experience no one would forget. Is Franco a bit heavy-handed and corny at times? Of course he is. That's how the Wizard acted in the original movie as well.
The special effects continued to get better and better throughout the film. The flowers and backgrounds looked rather artificial at first. I could also tell that the film would be headache-inducing in 3D. The camera was sweeping across the scenery way too fast. I would like to note that much of the background resembled a sunnier version of Wonderland from another recent Disney fantasy adaptation directed by Tim Burton.
"Oz: The Great and Powerful" will satisfy fans of L. Frank Baum's books and the original 1939 classic. It's an action-packed journey through a whimsical land you won't forget. While it's a new story using modern special effects, it will leave you wanting to return to the whimsical land as soon as you leave the theater.