The man behind the curtain is the star of Oz the Great and Powerful, an extravagant fantasy epic that serves as a prequel to the all-time classic The Wizard of Oz. James Franco (127 Hours) is Oscar Diggs, a small-time magician who is whisked away by tornado to the magical land of Oz. Here he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who mistake him as a prophesised powerful wizard who has come to defeat the evil Wicked Witch.
Director Sam Raimi (Drag Me to Hell, Spider-Man) brings his trademark humour and visual inventiveness to the film, which benefits greatly from a tone that’s high on whimsy and overriding with a strong sense of fun. Indeed, this is a movie made to appeal to the little kid in all of us – every frame positively bubbles with enthusiasm while the cast hams it up something shocking. Franco’s womanising conman cum wizard is particularly over the top, but the actor succeeds in straddling the line between charming and sleazy.
Oz itself is realised with vibrant colours and CG magic. Too much CGI if you ask me. It looks very much like a more mainstream version of Tim Burton’s twisted vision of Alice in Wonderland. On the plus side this does mean it’s a somewhat more palatable affair though it can still feel fake, phony and oversaturated at times. That said, the CGI is effectively used to bring Finley the Flying Monkey (Zach Braff) and China Girl (Joey King) to life, the latter of whom steals most of her scenes. These two accompany the ‘wizard’ on his journey through Oz, much in the same way as Dorothy was eventually joined by the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. And despite Oscar’s story closely mimicking Dorothy’s, Oz the Great and Powerful spices things up with a surprising take on the infamous Wicked Witch of the West as well as some tasteful nods to the 1939 film.
While the plot lacks subtlety by adhering to blockbuster clichés (a prophecy in a fantasy film?! say it ain’t so!) and although the 3D gimmickry is obvious to the detriment of the 2D experience, it nonetheless manages to work. Simply put, Oz the Great and Powerful entertains. It might not be a classic like The Wizard of Oz, and it’s certainly not a musical – the one musical number by the munchkins is sadly cut short, but this prequel has undeniably broad appeal that will see it rise above the cult classic status of the original’s forgotten pseudo-sequel Return to Oz (which remains my favourite Oz movie). All in all however, Oz the Great and Powerful is a fine piece of escapist fantasy and a worthy if overdone revisit to one of cinema’s most enduring worlds.
A whimsical and entertaining prequel beset by too much CGI and distracting 3D effects when watching in 2D.