The credits roll, and the audience is transported into a vaudeville film, complete with the unusual combination of black and white 3-D and eye-popping visuals. “Oz The Great and Powerful” is not the dainty prequel to the 1930s classic that many were expecting. The film is nothing short of an epic adventure with the wonderful wizard.
We first meet Oscar Diggs (James Franco) in the heart of Kansas as a magician in a traveling circus. Franco plays the part of a greedy, selfish con man with comedic sincerity, often relying on his assistant Frank (Zach Braff), to keep the magic of Oz’s show alive. The audience is briefly introduced to Annie, a simple farm girl in love with Oscar, but he’s too blinded by the prospect of his own greatness to recognize hers. After a magic show gone wrong, Oscar flees the scene in a hot air balloon and is transported to the world of Oz. Vivid color swiftly replaces the stark black and white as Oscar travels by balloon through lush valleys and waterfalls, always taking great care in keeping his magician’s hat and bag of tricks close.
On the shores of Oz, he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a naïve young witch who is convinced Oscar is the man the Land of Oz has been anxiously awaiting. She informs him of the prophecy that a powerful wizard with the name of her great land will save the people from the Wicked Witch. Oscar accepts the challenge and prepares for his biggest trick yet: convincing people of Oz he is the great man they’ve been waiting for. As the Great Wizard of Oz, Oscar will essentially be king, gaining the wealth and power he so yearned for as a traveling circus man. A ladies man, Oscar seduces Theodora as they make their way to the Emerald City. Along the Yellow Brick Road, Oscar acquires the trusty sidekick Finley, a flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff.
When the Emerald gates open, Oscar is introduced to the temporary ruler of Oz and the sister of Theodora, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), whose elegance and subtle wickedness carries the film. Evanora sends Oscar on a quest to kill the Wicked Witch to fulfill the prophecy, leaving Theodora alone and brokenhearted.
On his journey he meets China Girl, voiced by Joey King. Her village destroyed by the Wicked Witch’s winged baboons, she’s a broken character but manages more spunk than her older and experienced counterparts. Oscar reluctantly allows her to join his witch hunt and a familial bond develops among Oz, Finley and China Girl. The underdogs travel to the Enchanted Forest, an obvious cinematic nod to Disney’s “Snow White,” and they realize the witch they are trying to destroy is actually Glinda (Michelle Williams). A one-dimensional character, the script does little to showcase her talent. Oscar is enchanted by her and vows to help her and the good people of Oz defeat the true Wicked Witch, Evanora.
Protected by a giant impenetrable bubble, Glinda’s kingdom is full of pastel colors, soft lines and art nouveau architecture. Together, Oz and Glinda plot to overthrow the Wicked Witch but are taken aback when Theodora’s broken heart and her sister’s scheming turns her evil — pitting two powerful villains against the good-hearted witch and a mere mortal.
Trickery, illusion and the power of believing become the weapons of Oz and Glinda, while Theodora and Evanora resort to violence — something in which the people of Oz don’t believe.
Oscar’s background in bluffing aids the good people of Oz in their quest to take back the kingdom. The power of deception, though used for good, is an unusual theme for Disney. However, Disney handles it with care, not so much glorifying the deceit, but commending the real magic of ingenuity, imagination and technology that result in the triumph of good over evil.
The comedic talents of Braff, Tony Cox as Munchkin Knuck, and King lend heart to a script that relies on quips and sarcasm. Franco manages to gain some laughs but not enough to play the title role. His quirky smile and youthful energy save him from dullness. He is less than a convincing wizard, but makes a solid effort in theatrics.
Director Sam Raimi originally casted Kunis for her abilities in “The Black Swan” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” roles that portrayed both her vulnerability and wickedness. Kunis disappoints in her role as Theodora, nailing the naïvety at the beginning of the film but failing to truly convince the audience of her malevolent nature when she turns to the wicked side. Weisz as Evanora is the most thrilling to watch; playing the bad girl suits her. Her chemistry with each cast member is genuine, allowing the fantastical elements to feel more real.
A must-see in 3-D, the film is a compilation of three separate worlds — the dusty Kansas carnival, the Emerald City, and Glinda’s castle. The first is dull and aged, reflecting Oz’s unfulfilled dreams. The Emerald City has a 1930s feel to it, with high ceilings, gold trim and strong lines and shapes. Glinda’s castle seems to glisten in the sun, with a signature Disney-inspired castle atop mountainous and lush terrain. The 3-D effects are magnificent and modern, bringing the Land of Oz to life in vivid pictures.
Part romance, part adventure tale and part transformation of the self, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a fantastical tale of what can happen when you just believe.
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