Oz The Great And Powerful
By Michael Walters
The Cantankerous Critic
“Oz The Great And Powerful” isn’t in the same category as the timeless “Wizard Of Oz,” (what is?), but it’s a reasonably entertaining reinterpretation of the classic tale if you can take it on its own terms.
It’s a big budget spectacle that’s a bit rickety at times, with some underwhelming performances and stilted line readings, but Oz still manages to sweep away its audience with just enough magic and heart.
The film begins like all Oz movies must, in Kansas in black and white. While, for some, that might invite unflattering comparisons to the original, I was hooked by the old timey spectacle.
James Franco’s Oz is a charming huckster — a carnival magician using sleight of hand, and phony tricks to bilk the simple townsfolk out of their two bits. But before long, he’s swept up by a twister in his hot air balloon, in one of the movie’s best special effects. For once, the digital wizardry enhances the story, instead of simply overwhelming everyone and everything in sight.
Things get a little rockier once the Wizard actually lands in Oz. He’s met by a stunning witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who tells him about a prophecy that proclaims a wizard named Oz will come to deliver the land from the Wicked Witch and claim the throne of the murdered king. She’s actually one of three witches this time, along with her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz in slinky sexy witch mode) and the good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). Throw in a wisecracking talking flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff, and a porcelain doll voiced by Joey King (the most unexpectedly heartwarming character of the bunch) and you’re off to the Emerald City.
James Franco wouldn’t be my first choice for the wonderful Wizard of Oz, but he does better than I expected by playing up his character’s huckster charms. He’s enjoyably smarmy, improvising, and using every cheap trick he can think of to deal with a situation and a place he can’t hope to understand. But, at times, Franco himself seems a little overwhelmed by the production surrounding him, preferring to lay back, slap on a silly grin and watch with the rest of us while Oz unfolds.
Mila Kunis fares far worse however. She never quite masters the cackle necessary to be a good Wicked Witch of the West. Instead, she shouts her lines in an exhausted rasp as though she were a tween girl at a Justin Bieber concert trying to be heard over the noise.
The special effects, on the whole, are pretty good, with terrifying flying baboons that really could give kids nightmares. And rather than trying to recreate the story of the original Wizard Of Oz, director Sam Raimi is able to go his own way and fill in some back story, while still managing to capture a few slivers of what endeared the original film to generations.
This yellow brick road might not be the same one you remember, but it takes you on an entertaining journey all the same.