Oz the Great and Powerful Review

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When the first concept art for Oz the Great and Powerful first premiered two years ago at D23 I was instantly excited, primarily because of the cast and director that’s involved in the project. Sam Raimi returns from his 4-year hiatus to direct Oz the Great and Powerful, the prequel to the beloved Wizard of Oz. Oz the Great and Powerful tells the adventure of how Oscar Diggs (James Franco) became the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz (I dare you to not read that without singing it in your head) and how the Wicked Witch of the West came to be such a witch. But has Sam Raimi presented a worthy prequel to the Wizard of Oz, or has he presented an underwhelming dud of a prequel?

Fortunately, while it will never live up to the classic, Oz the Great and Powerful is a funny, charming, and magical adventure that’s worthy of the classic. Raimi delivers enough funny moments and magical sequences to keep the film entertaining throughout. In a time when Hollywood pumps out a lot of awful prequels, Oz the Great and Powerful goes against the norm and is actually a great movie. It’s easy to pick apart the film, especially for those expecting Oz to be as much of a classic as the original was. However, the film gives an easygoing movie going experience with that innocent Disney touch.

The film follows Oscar Diggs, a magician and conman, who escapes from the circus only to find himself being pulled into that fateful tornado which transports him to Oz. Theodora (Mila Kunis) finds Oscar and believes that he is the great and fabled wizard that will set Oz free from the evil Witch. Oscar is reluctant to take on the job, that is until he sees the massive amounts of gold that await him once he kills the Wicked Witch. Seizing the opportunity to kill her archrival Glinda (Michelle Williams), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) sends Oscar on a journey to kill the “wicked witch”. Only upon meeting Glinda and the other residents of Oz does Oscar realize that he is in way over his head with the charade he’s pulling.

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Oz the Great and Powerful is not set on any pre-existing L. Frank Baum book, which is probably a reason why the story feels too complex for its own good. While the main narrative is simple, it’s the uneven way that the narrative gets from point A to B is what makes the story feel convoluted.

Fortunately, the charming performances from the cast help create an entertaining film – despite the convoluted story. Even though moviegoers will figure out who the Wicked Witch is (spoiler alert: it’s not Glinda), Raimi is still successful in making the journey fascinating.

The man that steals the show, as he should, is James Franco. James Franco is one of my favorite actors today, and I feel that any dramatic role he takes on (except for a few of his stoner movie roles and Spider-Man 3) is sure to be a great movie. Here he delivers another charming role as the titular character Oz. Here he plays a great scumbag con artist, that deep down has a big heart – despite how he feels about himself. While you hate his tactics and the way he uses other characters, Franco still makes the audience like him. It’s very much like how the audience responds to Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Tony Stark.

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Similarly, Zach Braff and Joey King are both the other scene-stealers in the film as Oz’s sidekicks. Zach Braff’s Frank/Finley character is easily one of the most charming and funniest characters in the film. While James Franco is responsible for carrying the film, its Braff’s humorous and heartening performances that will make you feel for his characters. Joey King (she’s the young Talia al-Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises) also shines as China Doll. Much like Zach Braff’s performance, Joey King’s performance as China doll makes you feel for the character. When you first she China Doll, you will automatically fall in love with the character.

Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz round out the rest of the cast with their quality performances. Weisz does a good job of playing Evanora, since she plays the scheming witch so well. Williams also does a good job as Glinda the good witch, as she gives that naïve vibe but she actually knows more than you think she does. Besides Williams sounds so much like Lily from CBS’ How I Met Your Mother that you’ll have a hard time not smiling at her character. Mila Kunis plays a double-edged sword here. While her good witch performance is great, it’s her evil witch side that seems very artificial. It feels as if she doesn’t have that on-screen gravitas to portray the iconic Wicked Witch.

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Still if there is one thing that might really put off moviegoers is the heavy use of CGI in the film. The Wizard of Oz still holds up as a classic today despite its practical effects. For 1939, the effects for The Wizard of Oz are still quite effective. Here a majority of the $200 million dollar budget is used on the special effects, while a lot of the special effects are quite beautiful; some of the scenes with the live actors seem off with the background, which will get distracting at times. Some scenes also feel too “clean” will not feel like we’re set in a realistic setting at all. For a big budget film, I figured the effects would be better than that.

As for the 3D, I suggest that you watch the film in that format. Unlike Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful is actually shot in 3D. It shows in the film as well, since the film looks great in 3D. Raimi does a creative job in using the format to tell the story of Oz, and this is especially prevalent in the Kansas scenes.

Oz the Great and Powerful is an entertaining origin story for The Wizard of Oz’s most memorable characters. In spite of the convoluted story, cheesy Wicked Witch performance, and some awkward CGI effects, the movie is really entertaining. Franco, Braff, and King make the movie and the witches only add to the experience. I promise you at the end of the movie, if you’re a fan of the original, you will want to see The Wizard of Oz after you watch Oz. That reason alone is what makes Oz the Great and Powerful such a worthy successor to the classic film.

Grade: A-

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