OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
While coming nowhere near the level of dynamic storytelling of the original 1939 “Wizard of Oz,” Sam Raimi’s prequel film has sufficient charms to temporarily rescue the ongoing draught of G and PG rated family films. James Franco is congenial, if not entirely suitable for the role of Oscar Diggs, a con man magician who gets spirited away by a tornado from his black-and-white earthbound reality to a magical (colorful) land in need of some leadership.
Seams show up early in the patchwork script — by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire. Although the writers try as they might to establish Oscar as a worthy protagonist during the film’s extended introduction, the character doesn’t quite take. All ambition and greed, Oscar doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body. Not even Michelle Williams’s local Kansas girl Annie can distract Oscar from his mission to be as “great” as Thomas Edison. Forget that Oscar doesn’t exhibit much skill at anything other than your basic huckster magician routines.
Once plopped down in Oz, Oscar meets up with Theodora, The Wicked Witch of the West (Mila Kunis). Theodora plays her dark cards close to the vest, making Oscar believe that it is her sister Glinda (Michelle Williams) who is the bad witch in need of some retribution for terrorizing the citizens of Oz. Theodora is happy to pin Oscar with the presaged role of folktale hero, if she can make him do her bidding. Theodora’s more evil sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) has her own twisted agenda for the newly anointed Oz. It doesn’t take Oscar a.k.a. “Oz” long to understand that Glinda is indeed the “good” witch in the equation.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” misses a wide-open opportunity for nuanced social commentary that the Depression era “Wizard of Oz” so eloquently seized. An auteur such as Guillermo del Toro would likely have been a better choice to script such a potentially rich fantasy as rooted in the global pressures of modern day existence. Don’t go looking too hard for any message beyond how it’s better to be “good” than “great.” The filmmakers didn’t set their sights high enough, and it shows. Still, “Oz the Great and Wonderful” serves its modest purpose of entertaining little ones.
Rated PG. 127 mins.
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