No movie ever can, or will, replace 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz, but taken on its own
terms, this eye-filling fantasy is an entertaining riff on how the Wizard of
that immortal film found his way to Oz. Like the stage musical Wicked, it assumes that its audience
knows the story told in The Wizard of Oz.
Yet even for people who (for some reason) haven’t seen the other movie, I
suspect this will play as a stand-alone piece; it just won’t have the same
The production pays homage to the 1939 movie by opening in
black & white, in the old-fashioned Academy screen ratio, then expanding
and turning into vivid color once the magician named Oz (short for Oscar)
arrives in the faraway land that bears his name. I was a bit skeptical about
the casting of James Franco in this role, as a small-time carnival magician,
but he is thoroughly engaging as a struggling con man and charmer.
The screenplay, by Mitchell Kapner and David
Lindsay-Abaire (based on Kapner’s screen story and, of course, the works of L.Frank Baum), offers a sturdy and relatable through-line. Our
roguish hero flees Kansas in a hot-air balloon during a tornado and winds up in
Oz. The citizens, who are under the control of a wicked witch, welcome him, as
he appears to be the wizard whose arrival has been prophesized. He tries to
explain that he isn’t a wizard at all, but after being smitten by a beautiful
witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) and dazzled by the golden treasure he will
acquire, he decides to play along. The relationship between Kunis, her sister
Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and the good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams) propels
much of the story that follows. (You’ll get no spoilers from me.) At its core
is the question of whether or not Oz can summon the bravado to become the leader
the people of Oz need and deserve. Zach Braff and Joey King appear briefly at the
beginning of the movie, then morph into Franco’s colorful companions, a flying
monkey and a porcelain china doll.
To pull this off, Oz
The Great and Powerful is played straight; its sincerity should win over
younger viewers completely. It isn’t overplayed (thank goodness), so grownups
can engage with it, too. And, in the tradition of the 1939 classic, director
Sam Raimi and his team fill the screen with sights of awe and wonder, beginning
with a dazzling title sequence designed by Garson yU of yU+co. It’s difficult to rouse
an audience with something new and different these days, but Raimi and company
have pulled it off, and much of the credit goes to production designer Robert
Stromberg, who won Oscars for his work on Avatar
and the 2010 Alice in Wonderland.
Is this an Oz for the ages? That’s not for me to predict,
but I do think it gives audiences of 2013 a satisfying big-screen experience.
It doesn’t eclipse The Wizard of Oz,
but it fills the bill as a modern-day companion piece.