- Rated PG
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
pparently, Sam Raimi wants to be the next Tim Burton. That's the only logical explanation why the director of the “Evil Dead” and “Spider-Man” trilogies would waste his talents making Disney’s latest live-action fairy tale. A not-so-subtle attempt by the Mouse House to cash in on the success of “Alice in Wonderland,” “Oz the Great and Powerful” feels like more of a sequel to that film than anything resembling Victor Fleming’s seminal classic “The Wizard of Oz,” no matter how many cheeky references are crammed into the story. Granted, the movie is better than Burton’s dull acid trip down the rabbit hole, but that’s not saying much.
James Franco stars as Oscar Diggs, a carnival magician who’s just barely scraping by with his cheap parlor tricks and illusions. But when the womanizing Oscar charms the wrong girl during a stop-off in his Kansas hometown, he’s forced to make a quick escape in a hot air balloon, only for an approaching tornado to sweep him away to the magical land of Oz. It’s there that he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch who believes that he's the prophesized wizard that will save Oz from the Wicked Witch and return the land to its former glory. But when Theodora’s older sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), attempts to trick Oscar into killing Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams) in exchange for the kingdom’s riches, Oscar sides with Glinda, inadvertently causing the jealous Theodora to side with her sister.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” isn’t without its charms. The opening sequence is a playful nod to the 1939 movie, starting off in a black-and-white 4:3 aspect ratio before Raimi eventually expands the image to a more modern 2.35:1 ratio once Oscar arrives in the vibrant, candy-colored Oz. It’s more impressive than all of the 3D effects combined, and unfortunately, it’s also when the film starts to go downhill. Raimi is so concerned with hitting all the familiar hotspots – like the Emerald City, Dark Forest and Munchkinland (though it’s never actually referred to by that name due to the various legal issues surrounding the film) – that he completely glosses over the fact that the story is a bore.
James Franco does a decent job of holding it all together as the charismatic conman, but Oscar isn’t half the protagonist that Dorothy was, primarily because his journey to redemption comes across rushed and a little too convenient. (And in a lame attempt to further connect the two films, we learn that Dorothy is the daughter of Oscar’s true love). The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, with Michelle Williams’ Glinda the only character who feels like she's from the same world as Fleming’s Oz, although Zach Braff is a pleasant surprise voicing a good-natured flying monkey who becomes Oscar’s sidekick of sorts. Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis, meanwhile, are wasted in stock villain roles – especially Kunis, whose transformation into the Wicked Witch of the West is laughably shallow. That may be a spoiler for some, but not even Raimi does a very good job of keeping the secret, dropping extremely obvious clues as early as the opening credits.
For someone who supposedly counts “The Wizard of Oz” as one of his favorite films, Raimi’s Oz doesn't resemble it all, nor does the story add much to the mythology. It’s a messy hodgepodge of half-baked ideas and tongue-in-cheek references flanked by a pair of enjoyable sequences that suggest what could have been. Like Oscar’s magic show, the movie is all about the spectacle, but even that fails to dazzle in the way that it should, resulting in a remarkably hollow shell of what many consider to be one of the greatest films in history. If there’s any silver lining to “Oz the Great and Powerful,” it’s that the movie isn't nearly as awful as Disney's first attempt at cashing in on the property (1985's "Return to Oz"), and with any luck, it'll be another 28 years before they try again.