Only a wizard could effectively create a prequel to the film that the Library of Congress hails as the most watched motion picture in history and while director Sam Raimi cast spells on audiences with his Spiderman reboots, Raimi’s latest venture into recreation results in a film that is great but not powerful enough to hold the same company as its predecessor.
Of course we are talking about the nostalgia of Yellow Brick Roads, Emerald Cities and wicked witches. Oz the Great and Powerful tells the story of how The Wizard of Oz truly came to be. Before Dorothy could wear her ruby red slippers and discover that there’s no place like home, we had to have a world for her to travel to.
In a nostalgic nod to its predecessor, Oz begins in black and white. Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a womanizing, has-been circus magician traveling from city to city manipulating women and breaking their hearts with his music box charm. When Diggs’ dirty tricks catch up to him he escapes in a hot air balloon and collides with Oz’s preferred method of public transportation- the tornado.
Cue the technicolor when Diggs finds himself transported to an enchanting land and is immediately thrust into fulfilling a prophecy that a great wizard would arrive in Oz to save the land from a powerful wicked witch. The conman is initially more enchanted with the riches than the actual quest before him and quickly gathers a ragtag team including a flying monkey and china doll.
It’s here where Oz succeeds. It’s visually epic interpretation of the magical land is well worth the few extra dollars to don the 3D glasses and Diggs’ ragtag team provide some comical and emotional moments that are largely absent from Franco’s performance- which is odd since Franco is known for artistic license and prolific performances in recent films.
With all this talk about Diggs and Oz you cannot forget the witches. First, the sister duo Theodora and Evanora, portrayed by Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz respectively, are the first introduced, followed by the beautiful Michelle Williams as Glinda.
See one (or two) of the three may turn out to be wicked and Disney’s who could it be marketing was clever but the why it happens marks a giant step back from its critically lauded female heroine in 2012’s Brave. It’s almost as if the writers channeled spirits from the early 1900s when writing the roles of the witches, once again pushing less than ideal role models on to what is sure to be a large youth audience.
Diggs ultimately steps into the role of a great wizard through trickery and while the story’s endings and dialogue are largely predictable, the film will surely entertain children and adult audiences looking to escape to magical world of Oz once again.
Had Oz been able to create more of a bridge to its predecessor (there is a lion and some scarecrows but no established connection) it would have a greater possibility of cementing the longevity that surrounds The Wizard of Oz. Instead it ends up being great just not powerful enough to still whisk audiences away 74 years down the road.