Sam Raimi and Disney took a venture onto hallowed ground on March 8. This marked the opening of the film “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” and while colorful, it was not the nostalgia fest they hoped it would be, but still managed to post the best opening weekend since the “Hobbit” in mid-December.
This isn’t a remake or a sequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” but a prequel, the story of how the Wizard came to Oz. Coincidentally, the wizard’s name is Oz, or rather Oscar Diggs, a womanizing traveling circus magician, played rather unenthusiastically by James Franco. In an attempt to escape when his exploits catch up to him, he climbs in a hot-air balloon and encounters a tornado, mirroring the one that originally took us to Oz, flying buildings and all.
This is where the movie transitions from the sepia coloring to color, again resembling the original film. This CGI world is far more detailed and colorful than anything we remember, with only the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City our last remaining obvious throwbacks.
From here we meet our witches. First is Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, who quickly becomes smitten with the “prophesized Wizard,” followed by Evanora, with a rather inspired performance from Rachel Weisz, and lastly our old friend Glinda, played by Michelle Williams, who doesn’t quite have all the sugar-sweetness about her just yet.
For our companions, we have the winged monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff, who attempts to wittily banter with Franco’s wizard, only to fail due to the lack of luster in Franco’s performance. And then we have the China Girl, voiced by Joey King, who alternates between being helpless and well, made of china, to full of fire.
The big mystery of the film has been who turns green in the course of the movie. Considering both sisters, Theodora and Evanora are evil at the core, everyone has a 50-50 chance of guessing right. And by the first hour of this 45-minute too long film, the chances are upped to about 100 percent in one witch’s favor.
Normally, I would see the movie in 2D, for the sheer sake of being a penny-pincher. Due to all the early reviews coming out, I took the on the 3D, along with the knowledge that Sam Raimi likes to play a bit more with 3D than the standard conversion most films experience. And it was worth it, for the most part. The 3D had great depth of picture. There were a few things that flew out at the audience, like one of the scary plants in the Dark Forest and snowflakes conjured up by Glinda. The before the screen picture was also rather impressive. Instead of a flat screen, the impression of “being in the movie” was present, and the characters and their surroundings protruded a bit from the screen, for that bit of you-can-almost-touch-it that moviemakers strive for.
“Oz: The Great and Powerful” is the first major picture of the year, box office wise. Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz, as two supporting characters, gave amazing performances. We saw a more hardened side of Glinda, one that was willing to face battle for the people of Oz, and Evanora was as two-faced as they come, in a rare big production appearance from Weisz. Mila Kunis as a love-struck witch with a dark side was a bit off base, but worked because of the fun she clearly had once that dark nature was revealed. The attempted meaning of finding the good in oneself is lost amidst Franco’s performance, where he keeps the con-man air through to the end.
The two hour and ten minute movie runs a bit lengthy, and, for a movie targeted at a younger generation, is where its true fault lies. The verbosity and general lack of sequences with large amounts of action will be the downfall of parents who bring their kids to see it. As popcorn fare, it does little to supplement the original, or truly provide for the nostalgic, but at the very least it’s a fun trip to the theaters as studios start rolling out their larger productions. One that will probably end with a trip to the Disney Store to buy a stuffed Finley, that is running about $20, because he’s the cutest part of the movie.