Obviously, any youngster who didn’t grow up with The Wizard of Oz on constant rotation had a deprived childhood. Nearly 75 years later, Sam Raimi has directed an honest, wholesome continuation of L. Frank Baum’s mythology. In the land of Hollywood where nothing is sacred, the great Wizard himself receives the obligatory ‘origins story’, attempting to stay loyal to what is so adored about the magical 1939 musical just with less singing, a few more computer effects and without quite the same aplomb.
Oz: the Great and the Powerful begins in 4:3, black and white as traveling magician Oz (James Franco) gets caught up in a tornado, landing in the wonderful world of Oz where he encounters two witches (Mila Kunis and Rachel Wiesz) declaring him the answer to a prophecy that states a magical wizard will free the land from a wicked witch and become king. Despite lacking genuine powers, Oz hoodwinks himself into the role and the riches it promises, embracing a journey across the land where he encounters Glinda (Michelle Williams) and discovers she might not be the real wicked witch after all.
The film’s primary problem lies in its failures in characterisation despite a lengthy running time. Witches lack wickedness besides being wicked in name and having scary looking minions. Rom-com china doll Mila Kunis is awfully limp and miscast as the iconic and infamous Wicked Witch of the West, failing to do the genuinely nightmarish Margaret Hamilton anything close to justice. None of the performances or characters are memorable and the 130 minute running time could have been used a lot more wisely, even if Zach Braff voices a fairly amusing flying monkey sidekick for Oz and its action set-pieces are entertaining. It is, good, clean family fun with a pleasing sense of adventure and nostalgia, beautifully revisiting and re-imagining a world full of colour with a dark edge even if that edge isn’t as dark as it could have been because of its failure to define its characters (which isn’t a question of its PG certificate, as The Wizard of Oz demonstrates). It’s not a perfect film and it’s certainly not a classic film but it is an amiable family movie which does a fair job of introducing a wonderful world of imagination for a new generation of kids.
Review by David Rank
Oz: the Great and the Powerful is released on 8th March in the UK and US. Certificate PG (UK). Running time 130 mins.
Comments and feedback are always welcome or just give the film a rating by using the stars at the top.