A review for the film “Oz: The Great and Powerful” is a bit more on the complicated side than it should be. On many levels the film could be viewed as a prequel to one of the most loved films of all time, “The Wizard of Oz” from way back in 1939, and the film can also be another attempt at revamping a family favorite by the Disney machine, which was successful with “Alice in Wonderland.” Unfortunately, Oz fails largely in one key area-storyline.
The whole story about a con man with a heart of gold that inspires others to do great things was new and fresh when L. Frank Baum wrote it more than a century ago. In 2013, movie fans need a bit more exciting than CGI characters made of china and a flying monkey. Even in the pivotal ending, a little fireworks and some smoke and mirrors work wonders, but it just does not translate well. “Oz: The Great and Powerful” was not marketed as a period drama, but that is what viewers get. Director Sam Raimi just can’t squeeze enough magic out of the yellow brick road, but he gives it all he’s got.
What he’s got is a talented cast and some great computer hocus pocus. While the Los Angeles Times does not exactly have faith in the performance of the title character Oz played by James Franco, I thought he delivered a splendid job. He has some cardboard quality to him, but I believe that is the way Oscar Diggs would have actually looked and sounded (granted 100 years ago). Mila Kunis, who could have been the face of the film, actually gets covered in makeup to play the Wicked Witch about halfway through, but still has the charm she always seem to bring to film. Michelle Williams also summons great charms to her good witch character, but everybody gets their hands tied by a story that is a lot older than they are.
The visual effects for “Oz: The Great and Powerful” are spectacular. The 3D is actually worth the investment (which is a tough sell in a tech heavy film), and Raimi uses the effects to enhance the film and not carry it. The CGI characters could be the most important ones in the film, and they have a lifelike quality that really amps up what could have been a theatrical disaster. All told, the problem here for me was not with the actors, but with the material they were given to work with.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the film occurred as I was leaving the theater, two parents and three kids were talking about the “Iron Man 3” trailer and not the adventure in Oz. That’s never a good sign of a memorable flick.