Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: March 8
3D: Worth it
Oz the Great and Powerful is a strange anomaly, serving as both a prequel and reboot of the known franchise—The Man Behind The Curtain Begins if you will. Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is an illusionist and grifter living in Dust Bowl era Kansas, traveling from town to town with a circus. His serial womanising catches up with him and when fleeing a strongman in a hot-air balloon he navigates into a tornado and is transported to Oz, a distant world not at all like his own. Here, he is the declared the great wizard who is destined to defeat the Wicked Witch and free the land. But will this conjuring chancer be up to task?
If there’s one thing that Raimi has been teaching us in his movies for the last ten years, it’s that to be great and powerful, you must be greatly responsible, or something like that. And with Oz that same fluffy moral growth is on full display, ramped up even more with the grating inclusion of the archetypal annoying Disney child character—here a girl made out of china.
It’s not all humdrum though. As the evil Evanora, Rachel Weisz has a field day, cackling her way through proceedings while Michelle William’s Glenda is every bit her worth and rival. Of the three witches, it’s Mila Kunis who struggles, her charming and coy act is fine but when she shifts a gear to shrill and maniacal, it’s not pretty. Zach Braff generates some decent laughs while reminding us he’s still alive—when you gonna drop Garden State 2 on us, buddy?—in a double role as Oz’s assistant and, later, a flying monkey.
And while the supporting cast is generally strong, it’s Franco’s performance as the grifting Oz that disappoints the most. His half-baked charisma and lecherous horndog approach to the Wizard is an odd one for a kid’s film—you get the impression that his only preparation for the role was countless smokey nights watching the 1939 original while trying to sync it just right with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.
Being that this is a massive $200m Disney movie, it looks every penny of it. A dull, monochromatic opening scene only lures you into the false sense of security before you’re bludgeoned with its full screen multicoloured 3D scope. Raimi injects some of his own flourishes into proceedings; the crash zooms and elemental horror of Evil Dead and the vast, glorious landscape shots of Spider-Man. It does however hold the air that this could possibly have been a Tim Burton adventure, particularly Danny Elfman’s score that is exceptionally Danny Elfman-esque, like a Danny Elfman tribute act led by Danny Elfman.
Ultimately, a movie this big originating from the Mouse House is made with one demographic in mind and it certainly hits just the right amount of elements to satisfy the young’uns, even throwing in some genuine frights. Unfortunately for big kids, Franco’s inability to carry the movie and massive globs of saccharine schmaltz might just prove too much to swallow.