In a word, “Oz The Great and Powerful” is outstanding. In a run on sentence it is like a fun-filled roller coaster, the kind that does not make you sick-to-your-stomach but one that flies as fast as a witch on a broom, dips down waterfalls as you catch your breath and glides like a bubble as you meander the Emerald City. It has enough wand action and spells for wizard seekers and fantasy that would satiate a Tolkien lover. It is sure to become a new family classic in the Disney video library.
The prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” hints and blends enough from the original to keep hardcore Ozite fans happy including the opening scenes which are in black and white, the vibrant Technicolor as you enter the Land of Oz, and the witches army and flying baboons. There’s even a hint to how the scarecrow came to be and cowardly lion. The only thing missing is a classic hit such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that every generation has sung since 1939.
As far as the storyline goes, “Oz The Great and Powerful” focuses on Oscar Diggs (played by James Franco) and how he traverses the Kansas circus route as a gutless, heartbreaking scam artist and becomes the most powerful wizard in Oz. Along his epic journey he encounters three witches that will impact him for better or worse: Glinda (Michelle Williams), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis).
Of course he has a couple of sidekicks who, even though they are pint size, bring a ton of levity throughout the flick. Zach Braff appears both in both human and CGI form as Frank/Finley and delivers each with laugh-out-loud panache. But many of the scenes are stolen from a tiny porcelain soul, China Doll, played by Joey King. Joey started acting at four years old and with ten years under her belt she has a bevy of voice-overs and a long list of films to her credit. China Doll will be a role she will be remembered for.
“Oz” is the latest film by director Sam Raimi. As a prequel to the classic Warner Brothers 1939 film this has a lot riding on it with a devoted built-in audience who grew up watching it annually since 1959 when it first aired on television. In fact “The Wizard of Oz” may be the most watched family movie of all time. So with a tremendous worldwide audience the prequel could be a new blockbuster franchise.
But when Disney optioned the rights to produce the prequel several notable items were not possible to include such as the iconic ruby red slippers. That is because Warner Brothers is such a legal nitpicker and owns the copyright. You won’t even find a mention of Dorothy or the wart on the Wicked Witch’s chin. Perhaps if Disney had ruby red slippers displayed in the Smithsonian they would be nitpicky too
Fortunately the original book by Frank L. Baum has content the classic movie and even the stage prequel, “Wicked,” left out. The book provided Disney with other characters and material to create a plausible storyline centered on Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs. (And yes, that is the full name Baum used in his beloved novel.)
Without any preconceived notion on what to expect, “Oz The Great and Powerful” was wonderfully entertaining and frequently LOL funny the minute you stepped into Kansas. With Disney at the helm facets of the movie felt like a new ride at their theme park. 3D was used very effectively and most notably in a vivid scene that takes you for a ride right from your theater seat over a giant gushing waterfall. It reminded me of “Soarin’ Over California.” If Disney could carve out one of their most successful movie franchises ever based on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride, why not do the reverse and create a ride to follow a movie?
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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL lands in theaters on March 8th!