Mar 252014

In 1905, A circus magician finds himself transported from the farmlands of Kansas to the magical land of Oz in Oz the Great and Powerful. There, he’s mistaken to be the wizard who is prophesied to destroy the Wicked Witch who murdered the King of Oz. The truth is that he is a con man who decides to adopt the role of the wizard when he realizes it comes with ruling Oz and having a treasury full of gold. The film is a prequel to the beloved Wizard of Oz and stars James Franco as the wizard; Mila Kunis, Rachael Weisz, and Michelle Williams as three witches; and Zach Braff and Joey King as the sidekicks.

As is par the course here on, spoilers abound below in our full review, so here’s the quick and dirty review. Oz the Great and Powerful tries to bring the magic of the Oz books by Frank L. Baum, but it does not fully succeed. The acting ranges from very good (Joey King, Rachael Weisz, and Mila Kunis) to so-so (Michelle Williams, James Franco, and Mila Kunis). There are some great moments in the movie, but the over-reliance on CGI effects really detract from the movie. Instead of tugging at our heartstrings, too often the film tries to wow us with an insane action sequence. My final verdict: C+

Oz the Great and Powerful
Spoilers begin here, so beware. Oz the Great and Powerful has some good things going for it. Fans of the original Wizard of Oz (1939) will see a great deal of homage paid to that film. The movie starts off in sepia tone (brownish) just like the Wizard of Oz and then moves to full color once Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) gets to Oz. Characters that appear in Kansas also make an appearance in Oz. Franco’s assistant, Finley (Zach Braff), becomes his flying monkey assistant in Oz while Joey King plays a wheelchair-bound girl who asks Franco to make her walk plays the China Girl in Oz.

The basic plot of Oz the Great and Powerful is that Franco is a small-time carnival magician who flees the strongman, with whose girlfriend he’s been dallying with. He climbs into a balloon to escape and finds himself blown to Oz. Once there, he encounters Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch who believes that he is the wizard foretold to bring peace back to the land. Franco dallies with Theodora, and rescues a flying monkey from a cowardly lion as they travel to the Emerald City. Once at the city, he meets Evanora (Rachael Weisz), sister to Theodora, and decides to undertake to kill the Wicked Witch in return for a room full of gold. Enroute to the find the Wicked Witch, Oz and Finley come across a village of people made from fine china who have been destroyed by the Wicked Witch. They find in the wreckage China Girl, whose family was killed and her legs have been smashed. Oz repairs her legs with glue and she joins them. They find the Wicked Witch only to find out that she’s not evil, and that she is Glinda (Michelle Williams), who was the daughter of the murdered King of Oz. It turns out the real Evil Witch is Evanora, who has convinced Theodora that Oz has betrayed her and was romantic with both sisters and is now doing the same with Glinda. Heartbroken, Theodora accepts a bite from a magic apple from Evanora, which hardens her heart and becomes the Wicked Witch that we know in the original Wizard of Oz. Franco has an attack of conscience and agrees to lead the people to fight the two evil witches. At the end, they are driven out and he sets up the apparatus to become the mythical Wizard of Oz. The movie ends with him kissing Glinda.

The standouts of the Oz the Great and Powerful are Mila Kunis as the lonely and naive Theodora and Joey King as China Girl. Theodora falls in love with Oz, only to have him essentially discard her, leading her to succumb to her sister’s poison. However, Mila Kunis is less effective as the Wicked Witch of the West. She tries gamely to play heartbroken evil, but she really just seems to run on manufactured rage. The character of China Girl is beyond adorable. Even friends that didn’t care for the movie loved her character. She is a young and pure innocence that helps bring out the best characteristics of Oz.

China Girl from Oz the Great and Powerful
Michelle Williams comes across as flat in her portrayal of Glinda, but the main impact of the movie falls on James Franco’s shoulders, and he fails. The problem with Franco is that he doesn’t capture our hearts nor does he seem in awe of what he sees in Oz. If he can’t be excited to see what this magical land offers him, then how can we? He does have a few good moments where he shows concern and care, but they are far too few.

The other main failing of the movie is that it depends way too much on CGI effects. There are action sequences pushed into the movie that just scream, “Look how cool this scene is!!!!” One example is when Oz’s balloon crashes when it lands in Oz. Instead of just landing and him crawling out, we get stuck with a sequence of  the balloon getting swept down a raging river, past giant flowers, and then over a gigantic waterfall. The movie relies too much on having CGI giving you the wow factor when they should have been focusing on character and story. There’s a reason why the Wizard of Oz is still a classic after seventy years and there’s not a single drop of CGI in that film.

All in all, Oz the Great and Powerful is a mixed bag. It delivers with some performances and characters, but disappoints in others. The two best parts of the movie is Mila Kunis in the beginning as she portrays a vulnerable young woman whom James Franco casually hurts and the two sidekicks of Finely, the flying monkey, and China Girl. If you’re not moved to adopt China Girl within five minutes after seeing her on the screen, then you have no heart. I’m not saying that this film is a bad one, but rather one that had a great deal of unrealized promise. My final verdict: C+

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