WRITTEN BY: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire
DIRECTED BY: Sam Raimi
STARRING: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Joey King
RATING: 3.5 stars
Oz The Great and Powerful is one of the few films I would suggest should be seen in 3D. It is a visually stunning film with a wonderful use of colour, costumes and special effects. It also pays homage to the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, with several nods throughout. Although the film appears to be for children, there are some parts that are actually a little too scary for youngsters and some jokes that only adults will understand to enjoy. Of course, the ridiculously good looking cast is also a bonus, so really, there is something for everyone in this latest adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novels.
Set before the events of The Wizard of Oz, and similarly filmed in black and white at the start, Oz The Great and Powerful opens in Kansas. Circus magician Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) is an arrogant and selfish womaniser. When a tornado strikes the area, Oz is caught in the storm and transported in a hot air balloon to the bright and colourful Land of Oz. There, he meets innocent witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) who believes he has come to save Oz from the wicked witch. She introduces him to her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who is not so sure about Oz. He is told he must defeat the wicked witch to take his throne and inherit the gold at the Emerald City, prompting Oz to play along with the guise and use his illusions to impress the locals. But when he meets a witch named Glinda (Michelle Williams), Oz finds something else worth fighting for.
Much of the success of this film comes down to the imagery and mise en scene. Oz was designed by two-time Oscar-winner Robert Stromberg, who also created the worlds in Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. He has done a great job of bringing the world alive, including the yellow brick road, China Town and the forest. Director Sam Raimi has used the 3D effects to maximum benefit, especially during the tornado scene and Oz's ride down a waterfall. The only minor issue is that the film is more than two hours long and a few scenes drag on unnecessarily.
An impressive cast has been assembled for the film. Franco oozes charisma and it's hard to imagine anyone else pulling off the role of Oz as convincingly. His character arc is interesting and Franco is able to show both his comedic prowess and his sex appeal. Unfortunately, the female characters are not as well developed. Williams is beautiful and lovely, but her character lacks any real depth, while Kunis and Weisz are also one-dimensional. But anyway, it's Zach Braff voicing a flying monkey dressed as a bell hop and Joey King voicing a China doll who get the most laughs with their one-liners throughout the film.
I'm sure Disney will make plenty of money out of Oz The Great and Powerful, so a sequel is almost certain.