Shockingly enough, I’ve only watched the 1933 original ‘Wizard of Oz’, within the last week. I’d been told on many occasions how mad I was for missing out and to a certain extent, I agree. Whilst I’m not mad on musicals, which it clearly is, the world of Oz and some of the ‘sci-fi’ elements intrigued me, how did Dorothy get to Oz? What is the Wizard’s mystery? What happened to the witches? The mythology was interesting to say the least, and the questions begin to be answered in this prequel, starring James Franco as the eccentric wizard.
‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ is 2013′s first big blockbuster and it tells with a wealth of special effects in hand to give justice to the series and star power behind and in front of the camera means that the budget is a bulky £200 million, a figure already surpassed worldwide, showing it was a good gamble by Disney. Sam Raimi is said talent behind the camera, the man behind the ‘Original Spider-Man Trilogy‘, as it is now ridiculously known and also the brains behind the original ‘Evil Dead’ series of comedy-horror’s which are ALSO being remade. Perhaps one day his prequel to ‘Oz’ will too.
James Franco is our anti-hero, a man who’s devious inability to produce magic, doesn’t stop him from putting on a show. He’s part of a travelling circus ably supported by his right-hand man and ‘Scrubs’ favourite Zach Braff and reconvening with a love interest (Michelle Williams) every time he visits Kansas before a twister engulfs them all sending Franco and co to the mystical land of Oz. During this prologue, the colour and aspect ratio replicate that of the 1933 classic being in black and white and a tiny screen ratio of just 4:3 similarly to 2012′s ‘The Artist’. Then as Franco enters Oz in his hot air balloon, the screen slowly stretches out and a glorious range of vibrant colours fill the screen. It’s a great moment, that had it not been included in the trailer, would have even more of an effect than it does end up having.
The story slowly speeds up with characters introduced and established. Again another slice of continuity from the original film is that characters have dual roles in Kansas and Oz so Braff, the Wizard’s long-suffering assistant, becomes Findley the monkey whom accompanies the Wizard on his trek to the Emerald Kingdom. Braff is the able comic relief who plays well against the eccentric antics of his master and his character is by far the funniest in the film and is well-used in the initial first half of the film before slowly dropping off the closer the film comes to a resolution. Michelle Williams goes from love-interest to one of the three Witches alongside actress of the moment, Mila Kunis and the capable Rachel Weisz. The film does a good job of disguising their true identities. I’m not going to spoil anything regarding them but it’s a good little mystery as to who is the true evil one of the trio.
A character I haven’t yet mentioned is the porcelain girl. A sure fire Disney hit and they can sell a bunch of these! Voiced by Joey Page, who plays a disabled girl back in Kansas, her porcelain form sees Oz actually manage to fix her legs and she also joins her hero on his journey down the yellow brick road. If the monkey is the comic relief, the doll is the character to pull on audience’s heartstrings as a hurt, lonely figure who had her village destroyed by the evil witch.
The plot isn’t the most important thing here. It lacks a bit of ‘oomph’ instead staying at a journey movie, as the Wizard is aiming to reach his ‘rightful’ throne as the prophetic saviour of Oz, it’s all about the interesting characters and this return to the environment that many loved, to see how well it can be replicated with modern technology. Subtle nuances will give long-standing fans a good time, when they get to see the Munchkins, the Emerald City and various little nods to the previous films, they will be ecstatic for sure!
Overall, ‘Oz’, is a solid film. It’s villains may be tangled in a web of mystery, but when they are revealed the transformation is incredible. Franco is excellent in his titular role, and it is probably a good thing it has beaten the Summer rush of superhero flicks and comedies, as, for now, it stands way above other releases, in the stationary gap between Oscars and Summer. And with future sequel-prequel ‘things’ penciled in for the near future, Disney has revitalized the ‘Oz’, franchise in one successful, swoop.
4 Stars ★★★★✰