When it comes to the classic fairy tale The Wizard of Oz, its rather ironic that people usually associate it with Dorothy and her yellow brick road gang rather than then titular character himself. Director Sam Raimi of Spider-Man fame attempts to put the wizard back into the spotlight with his latest film Oz the Great and Powerful, but will an ensemble cast and magical visuals be enough to give this story a happy ending?
Oz the Great and Powerful is an origin story of sorts; Oscar “Oz” Diggs is a struggling circus magician, and the world as he knows it is turned upside down (both figuratively and literally) when he gets caught in a tornado and finds himself in an unknown magical place that shares his namesake. Wrongfully identified as the prophesied one that will bring peace to the land, Oz attempts to find the greatness he’s always been looking for, while making both friends and enemies along the way.
Though Oz the Great and Powerful is not a direct prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Raimi connects the two by including references in his film that pay homage to the source material, a move that will no doubt please fans of the original fairy tale. Also, the plot of Oz - while still fundamentally textbook, – fortunately manages to provide enough twists and turns to keep you guessing during the film’s 127-minute duration.
James Franco leads the cast as Oz, and while the character possesses certain scoundrel-esque qualities, Franco masterfully lends a sense of vulnerability to his performance that makes him easy to root for. Oz’s desire to make something out of himself is something that a lot of people can relae to, and this creates a strong connection between the character and audience.
Oz the Great and Powerful also features an extensive supporting cast – Mila Kunis, Rachael Weisz and Michelle Williams play the witches Theodora, Evanora and Glinda respectively, and while the three play the good witch / bad witch dynamics well enough, its Oz’s companions who really steal the show. Zach Braff as Finley the flying monkey shines as the film’s main source of humor, and on the flipside Joey King as the China Girl injects a suitable amount of emotion to the movie while playing the role of Oz’s moral compass.
One last part of the film that probably deserves mention is its visuals; while the first 10 minutes are appropriately presented in black and white, the remainder of Oz is a spectacular explosion of color, and whether it’s an emerald garden or dark forest smothered in black, every shade just seems undeniably vibrant. It all comes together nicely to form a visual spectacle that easily blows last year’s Snow White and the Huntsman out of the water.
To steal a line from the movie, Oz the Great and Powerful is good, but not great. The film is your quintessential family movie that doesn’t stray too far from a tried-and-tested Hollywood formula, but does well enough to entertain nonetheless. Older audiences might feel that there’s something left to be desired, but if Disney movies are your cup of tea, then Oz the Great and Powerful will no doubt work its magic on you.
★★★☆☆ – 3/5
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