Movie Review: Oz The Great and Powerful (***)

Movie Review: Oz The Great and Powerful (***)

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Rating: PG

Running Time: 130 mins.

Premise: A prequel to The Wizard of Oz.  Circus illusionist Oz (James Franco) gets swept up in a tornado and finds himself in the magical land of Oz.  With the help of a flying monkey in a bellhop uniform, a china doll girl, and Glinda the good witch, Oz must take down a pair of wicked witches and restore peace to the kingdom.

Behind-the-Scenes: Director Sam Raimi claims that The Wizard of Oz is his favorite movie of all time.  Robert Downey, Jr. was originally cast as Oz, but had to back out due to scheduling conflicts.  After Johnny Depp turned it down, Raimi gave the role to Franco, whom he had previously worked with on the Spider-Man trilogy.  Disney has the rights to L. Frank Baum's book, but not any of the imagery in the 1939 classic film, so don't go expecting any ruby red slippers here.

The Good: At a cost of upwards of $215 million, you'd be hard-pressed not to find something on screen worth looking at.  The movie looks amazing and is a true feast for the eyes.  The 3D coupled with the technicolor landscapes make this worth seeing on the big screen.  I was surprised by how much Raimi was able to put his own personal stamp on the movie - he has a field day with the flying monkeys and the dark forest.  Despite its PG rating, Oz is frequently quite intense and scary, especially for the youngsters.  Credit Raimi and his Evil Dead origins for that.  Some of the casting is spot-on: Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams hit all the right notes as Evanora and Glinda, respectively.  Nice to see Zach Braff back on screen, even if it is mostly as the voice of the monkey, Finley.  Great effects work with the little China Girl.  Cool to see the origins of the Wizard.

The Bad:  The film is stuck with Franco instead of Robert Downey, Jr.  Man, RDJ would have been fabulous here.  Franco isn't bad - he fares best in his more dramatic scenes opposite the China Girl - but he spends most of the movie wearing a shit-eating grin that grows tiresome over the course of two hours.  Hate to say it, but Franco is miscast.  Mila Kunis, normally great in almost everything, seems lost at sea here, unsure of how to play her poorly written character.  The script is overstuffed and barely passable, never really making the most out of its Oz setting.  The humor is pleasant and inoffensive; it's just not that funny (save for the obligatory Bruce Campbell cameo).  This Oz pales in comparison to the original film.

Should You See It?:  A mixed bag, but yes, especially if you're a sucker for all things Oz or big-budget spectacles.  If you do see it, don't wait for video.  See it on the big screen and in 3D.  Disney must love that I just said that.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars.

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