“The Wizard of Oz” is responsible for a bevy of adaptations, including one of the most beloved movies of the 20th century (1939’s Judy Garland stunner), as well as one of modern theater’s most successful musicals (Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Mendzel powerhouse “Wicked”). Be it Dorothy Gale’s famous song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or the immediately recognizable green skin of the Wicked Witch of the West, most people are familiar with L. Frank Baum’s fantastic tale.
Because of this, it makes perfect sense for a prequel of such a phenomenal nature to grab moviegoers’ attention. Much like the Johnny Depp-ified “Alice in Wonderland,” “Oz the Great and Powerful” is an adaptation of an iconic story influenced by the marvel of CGI. Disney hopes to get another hit on their hands, but this prequel is far from a perfect fairytale.
James Franco leads the way as Oscar Diggs, a Kansas magician otherwise known as Oz, whose greatest talent is conning others. After a pesky run in with a tornado (those tend to happen in Kansas quite a bit), Diggs is whisked away to an enchanted realm known as Oz. The conman is soon revered by the citizens as a prophet/wizard meant to save everyone from the evil that is the Wicked Witch. He is especially doted on by the good witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), who genuinely believes he is the real deal.
Oscar, the self-absorbed man that he is, isn’t interested in exterminating the Wicked Witch. That is, until he’s told that defeating her will bring him riches beyond his wildest beliefs; the perfect goal for a shady con-man. However, throughout the film Diggs redeems himself in a Disney-esque way, ultimately finding a purpose for himself by saving the citizens of Oz from certain destruction.
Theodora isn’t the only pretty witch in the land, though. Two others include her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and everyone’s favorite good witch Glinda (impeccably portrayed by Michelle Williams), who both captivate Oscar’s attention. Each actress brings her respective character to life in a refreshing manner and are, if anything, underrepresented. Though, that’s to be expected when the story is about the “wonderful” Wizard of Oz.
Franco tries his hardest to portray the multiple layers of Oscar Diggs, but falls a little flat. He is out-shined by Weisz’s deliciously devious character, as well as Williams’ sweet and sensible Glinda. Kunis displays a bit of range with her witch, but is clearly less seasoned to her older counterparts. The script is more to blame for this, though, adding in some awkward romantic elements to push the plot and establish Diggs as a lothario.
The movie itself is fairly predictable. However, this doesn’t mean that it is not enjoyable. Families will love the film for its majestic settings and aptly added humor from the side characters. Diggs’ newfound flying monkey servant, Finley (Zach Braff) and a rescued china doll (Joey King) are highlights of the movie with their humorous one-liners.
All in all, director Sam Raimi (of “Spider-Man” fame) does an impeccable job of helming a project that relies heavily on visuals. Some of the images in the movie leave audiences breathless, especially the grand landscapes of Oz. Even smaller details, such as China Girl’s porcelain skin, must be appreciated for their seemingly seamless appearance. As previously mentioned, the film comes across as a little too foreseeable, but considering it is a family movie, that’s not too surprising.
Of course, nothing can compare to the original “Wizard of Oz,” but “Oz the Great and Powerful” knows that its predecessor is untouchable. Rather, the film strives to get audiences excited for what’s to come with plenty of references for fans. “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a fun time at the movies that will have all who see it leaving with a smile and the belief that everyone can obtain greatness so long as they believe in themselves.
Speakeasy Rating: B+
Starring James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff
Is Disney ruining your childhood with these prequels, or should we go ahead and start dream casting our “Beauty and (before he was) the Beast” fanfic? (Kidding. Kind of.) Tell us in the comments and on Twitter!