Succumbing to the current ’in’ trend of Hollywood productions with its reimaginings of classic fantastical tales, this isn’t the first time Disney have dabbled in such territory. With Tim Burton’s underwhelming version of ‘Alice In Wonderland’ still fresh in many a mind, it’s no surprise to find there were many raised eyebrows when they confirmed a prequel to a highly regarded 1939 Judy Garland classic. We’re off to see the Wizard? Spiderman and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi is certainly relying on the masses.. but is ‘Oz: The Great And Powerful’ worth walking down the long and winding yellow brick road for?
Bestowed the responsibility of filling in the backstory of the well renowned ‘wizard’, we’re immediately thrust into Kansas and into the world of aspiring hotshot circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco). A serial womaniser with an eye for the theatrics, he’s struggling to bring in the punters for his distinctly average act. With a moral compass that is somewhat wayward, it’s rather fitting his impromptu escape on a hot air balloon results in colliding with a treacherous tornado leaving him in grave danger.
Given a ‘second chance’, he’s transported from a city mired in the Depression to the weird and wonderful world of Oz. With the inhabitants eager for a prophecy to be fulfilled in which a wizard would grace their land and take his rightful place on the throne, Oscar senses greatness is within his grasp. What he doesn’t bargain for however, is the introduction of three witches in the form of Theodora (Mila Kunis), Glinda (Michelle Williams) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz) expressing growing concerns of his capabilities. Cue the guessing game in who is of genuine assistance to him and whom have their own unhealthy agenda as Oscar faces the inenviable task of disposing of the ’wicked’ one..
Whilst easy to be cynical of its hefty budget, Sam Raimi’s version of ‘Oz’ brims with visual splendour and computer generated wonder, whilst paying homage to the classic 4:3 aspect ratio/black and white look of its beloved original in its early stages. The director is not a typical fit for such family orientated entertainment. However, his ability to score laughs from awkward situations (Zach Braff’s showstealing monkey Finley) hasn’t diminished and here shows a clear knack for the sentimental moments also (Joey King’s China Girl dominating such an aspect). The key issue here lies in the lack of tonal inconsistency, with the sudden assualts on the senses occasionally jarring.
Such defecencies are also evident in our leading man. Whilst admirable in his commitment to the role, James Franco never quite convinces nor looks comfortable when executing the theatrical demands of his character, resulting in an often awkward performance. Michelle Williams is competent if slightly bland in the role of Glinda, whilst Rachel Weisz oozes elegance and underlying menace as Evanora. The real standout however is Mila Kunis’ devilishly played Theodora, who lights up the screen on more than one occasion.
Its worn out moral of ‘you can be good whilst striving for greatness’ may border on preachiness and the film may outstay its welcome, clocking in at 130 minutes. However for all its glaring flaws, ‘Oz: The Great And Powerful’ avoids the ‘soulless CGI fest’ tag and manages, to be a solid slice of popcorn entertainment.