It has been 113 years since L. Frank Baum penned The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and since then, it has been reimagined countless times in many different arenas, from the beloved 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz to the popular Broadway play Wicked.
Back behind the camera for the first time in four years, Sam Raimi has given Baum’s story a 21st century revamp, depicting Oz for this generation. It’s a bold move: with Oz the Great and Powerful being based on such beloved source material, this latest version will not please everybody, but there is a lot of enjoyment to be derived from the latest excursion into the land of Oz.
Serving as a spiritual prequel of sorts to the aforementioned 1939 film, the narrative focuses on Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs (James Franco), a two-bit circus magician who dreams of greatness. When he is swept up in a freak tornado, he soon finds himself in the magical world of Oz, where he quickly encounters Theodora (Mila Kunis), who is convinced that Oscar is the wizard prophesised to defeat the wicked witch and restore peace to Oz. The kingly reward that comes with the feat tempts Oscar into action and, accompanied by flying monkey Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) and the adorable China Girl (voiced by Joey King), he sets out on his mission to fulfill the prophecy.
It’s a predictable story, as we follow Oz on his rite of passage to becoming ‘great and powerful’, a moniker he is certainly not worthy of at the film’s outset. Screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire could have streamlined Oz’s journey a tad more; the film is overlong, and there are some superfluous sequences that could have been done without. With that said, the writers deserve credit for adding some emotional layers to Oz when he could have so easily been shallow. A conversation with an old flame in a circus tent in the film’s first act speaks volumes about the character, and helps ground the film.
In a wonderful homage, the film starts off in black and white and a 16:9 aspect ratio, and once we’re in Oz, the film transitions to glorious Technicolor, and we are inundated with some stunning visuals. Raimi gives us a minute or two to take it all in, and why wouldn’t he? Flowers blossom in beautiful fashion (fleetingly bringing Avatar to mind) and overarching shots of The Emerald City and The Dark Forest are breath-taking. Additionally, the 3D is put to excellent use throughout, with some moments almost guaranteed to startle audiences.
Initially, both Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp were offered the role of Oz – both were busy working on other blockbuster projects – before Franco was ultimately cast. There is a fine line between whimsy and charm, and despite some hiccups, Franco delivers a likeable and sincere lead performance.
Of the supporting players, Kunis is especially impressive, but Rachel Weisz and Michele Williams both deliver solid performances as the film’s witches. Everyone involved also does an admirable job of acting with the CGI characters, who are almost always involved in the film’s more humorous moments.
Visually beautiful, and at times surprisingly deep, Oz the Great and Powerful is a satisfying take on the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The higher-ups at Disney have already commissioned a sequel, and although Raimi is unlikely to return to the helm, he has certainly laid a solid groundwork for others to build on.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is playing in cinemas now.
We are currently seeking Film contributors on WhatCulture. To find out more about the perks of being a Film contributor, click here.