When it comes to classic films, almost nothing beats The Wizard of Oz. It’s a near-perfect blend of comedy, drama and music that appeals to children and adults alike. Naturally, many others have tried to capitalize on its popularity with projects related to L. Frank Baum’s source material without explicitly remaking that particular film.
Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful is the latest and most high-profile member of those ranks, having cost a reported $325 million to make and market around the world. It’s also the first not to focus on Dorothy, but rather Oz (James Franco), a Kansas magician with a coincidental name whose story emulates Dorothy’s in many ways.
Like Dorothy, he gets transported to Oz via a tornado and is greeted as a conquering hero. However, he’s welcomed by Theodora (Mila Kunis), who mistakes him for a wizard who was prophesied to bring peace to their world. Thus starts a journey that will have him meet up with two other witches, flying monkeys both good and evil, a fragile girl made of china, munchkins and the multiple other denizens of Oz.
One of the most fun things about the film is the way it pays homage to elements of The Wizard of Oz without ever crossing legal copyright lines. References to Dorothy’s gingham dress, the Gale family, Dorothy’s companions on her trip down the yellow brick road and the harmful property water has on a certain witch abound — and never fail to delight.
It’s plain to see where the money went on this film, and it’s worth every penny.
The film is rated PG, but as directed by Sam Raimi, it often embraces the darker aspects of the story. Raimi seems to thrill in being able to use 3D for certain shots, taking every opportunity to throw one scary creature or another at the camera. Disney is surely hoping that Oz the Great and Powerful will appeal as widely as the original film does, but the scarier parts of the film might impede that dream.
That said, the visuals are worth the price of admission alone. When the film transitions from black-and-white to color — another homage that seems to cut a bit too close to the original — the imagery is stunning. There are some movies that don’t use their budgets wisely, but it’s plain to see where the money went on this film, and it’s worth every penny.
The story is essentially a prequel to Dorothy’s trip to Oz, so where the film is heading is pretty clear right from the start. Most of the subplots and obstacles that come Oz’s way do a great job of advancing the story, but a few seem to be there merely to take up space, making the film about 15 minutes longer than it really needs to be.
For the most part, Franco is a good fit as Oz. The magician-turned-possible wizard is a scoundrel who deep down has a good heart, and the eccentric Franco ably embodies both sides of that personality.
The three women who play witches — Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams — are also cast well, although when an extra dimension is added to Kunis’ role, she’s not quite up to the task.
Oz the Great and Powerful is not a perfect movie, but as a companion piece to a truly classic film, it’s far from blasphemous. It enchants in many ways, and even when it fails to impress, it’s quickly rescued by its superior elements.