It’s difficult to be a prequel for one of the greatest fantasy films of all-time. Made in 1939, “The Wizard Of Oz” eventually became one of the most beloved classics in the history of film. It won a couple of Oscars and did fairly well at the Box Office but it wasn’t until it it was shown on televisions across America in 1956 that it became the clear-cut success that it is. After decades of attempting a few successors to the King, FINALLY Disney has gotten it somewhat right.
Despite some glaringly ugly reviews from critics in print such as Rolling Stone (Peter Travers RIPPED it apart!) and The Boston Globe (Ty Burr thought it had its moments), I have to be perfectly honest when I say this film is exactly what it’s OTHER CGI counterparts is not…a brilliant concoction of entertainment that actually fills the shoes that have been left for it. Where “Alice In Wonderland” was completely heartless, I found this movie to have a little spirit. Where “Sucker Punch” was a video-gamers wet dream, this movie incorporates action without letting it take over the film. And there have been a slew of other films that have taken CGI to a level that dampens the fun but not in this case. In my opinion (and everyone is allowed theirs), “Oz The Great & Powerful” is everything that a modern day director could have given us without sucking the life out of the franchise.
If there are any arguments for discussion, let’s start with James Franco as the lead character. Honestly, I didn’t think he would fit the bill. As a philanderer and a hoax, this particular character needed to be dealt with in a cautious way. Make him too goofy and the kids wouldn’t buy him as “the Great & Powerful,” make him too smarmy and it would turn off the parents. Franco balances them both and, although I didn’t find this to be his best role, I thought he did a pretty good job considering the character.
SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie…skip this next paragraph…
The 3 witches are headed by the fantastic Michelle Williams as Glinda The Good. She channels the original (Billie Burke) to a tee (without the odd vocal style that Burke brought to the character) and is the heart of the movie. Rachel Weisz is fantastic as Evanora. She makes the eldest witch her own and gives her just the right dash of evil. She’s beautifully wicked and she was a perfect choice for this role. Finally, the stunning & talented Mila Kunis, who is, sad to say, sorely miscast as the youngest sister, Theodora. I really love Mila. She is a great actress and has a bubbly personality but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t grasp her as this character and when she becomes the Wicked Witch, I just felt like she just wasn’t big enough to be her. It’s not that she doesn’t do a decent job, and there’s a scene where she once again makes an appearance in Munchkinland that is top notch, but overall…the Wicked Witch is such an iconic character, I would have liked to see a different actress give it a go.
SPOILER ALERT OVER!
Other things to note: the CGI land of Oz is spectacular in 3D, there’s a scene with the Munchkins that is hysterical, I LOVED the character of China Girl (a little CGI character that becomes one of the gang when her town is wiped out by the winged monkeys), there are a few references to beloved Frank Baum characters that make short appearances and really give this film a boost, the beginning of the movie is excellent (black & white and shot in 4×3) and I really enjoyed the ending. Some were saying that there were too many endings but I didn’t get that at all. I thought it all wrapped up neatly and answered many questions that I would have had about these characters that would later appear in “The Wizard Of Oz.”
Overall, I think as far as where we are in film today and when attempting to back pedal to tell a story that is linked to a film that is over 60 years its predecessor, director Sam Raimi has done Frank L. Baum proud and directed a movie that is entertaining and faithful without becoming a complete graphics mess. It could have easily been a disaster but I’m happy to say it is not at all…and in the big budget world of modern filmmaking, where giving an effects-laden film heart is becoming more & more difficult, Raimi and the Disney machine have cranked out one that might also someday be seen as a “classic.”
Overall Rating: B+