Oz The Great and Powerful Director: Sam Raimi Screenwriters: David Lindsay-Abaire, Mitchell Kapner Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff Walt Disney Pictures Rated PG | 127 Minutes Release Date: March 8, 2013
Based on L. Frank Baum‘s Oz novels, Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to Baum’s 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and an homage to the classic 1939 MGM film, The Wizard of Oz.
Set 20 years before Dorothy clicked her heels, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) arrives in the magical Land of Oz where he encounters three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams).
Theodora is convinced that the small-time magician and scam artist is a great and powerful wizard of prophecy, destined to overthrow the Wicked Witch who killed the king of Oz. Oscar must follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City where he will reclaim Oz from the Witch and free its people of her vile and cruel ways.
Along the way Oscar encounters Finley (Zach Braff), a flying monkey in a bellhop uniform, and China Girl (Joey King), a living china doll whose home and family were destroyed by the Wicked Witch.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a peculiar potion concocted from elements of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the Star Wars prequels, and a pinch of Raimi’s Spider-Man and Evil Dead franchises.
Let’s start with the scenery. Raimi’s film is certainly dazzling and yet, for all the spectacle and computer-generated splendor at work in Oz, there’s never one genuine moment of awe or amazement to be had. It’s empty illusion – nothing but green screens and motion-captured counterparts.
The landscapes look like Candyland, or one of the video game levels from Wreck-It Ralph. Everything’s shiny and pristine and Willy Wonka-esque and yet, the Wicked Witch has supposedly enslaved Oz – shouldn’t the Emerald City be a dark and dangerous place now, twisted by the Witch’s power? I guess not.
As for Oscar’s associates, Braff does his best Billy Crystal impression in bringing Finley the Flying Monkey to life, but the character fails to capture the wonder and merriment of Dorothy’s companions from the 1939 film.
Joey King as China Doll is a step in the right direction, however. A brilliant bit of computer wizardry, this living, breathing piece of porcelain often upstages the human actors in Raimi’s film – probably because she’s more at home surrounded by candy-coated pixels.
Speaking of humans, there are a few scattered throughout Raimi’s film. James Franco delivers an entirely decent performance as Oscar Diggs, though it would have been interesting to see what first and second choices Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp could have done with the wily con artist. As for the witches, Michelle Williams is great as Glinda the Good – and for all the eye candy in the film, nothing tops the rosy-cheeked, golden-haired goodness of Williams.
DISCLAIMER: I’m about to discuss specific plot points regarding Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful. This is a SPOILER WARNING! I really don’t think there’s much to reveal, but journey no further lest ye fancy spoilers and secrets!
It’s clear that Raimi wants you to suspect Evanora (Weisz) will become the Wicked Witch of the West – she’s draped in back, she wears a green crystal around her neck, and she shoots green force lightning from her fingertips – but it’s so painfully obvious that Theodora (Kunis) will transform into the green-skinned broom rider that the whole ‘surprise’ twist is anything but – it falls flat, as if Dorothy’s house had tumbled from the sky and crashed on top of the script.
Kunis is a wonderful actress – but she isn’t Wicked Witch material. For me, this is the greatest downfall of Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Let’s begin with Raimi’s approach to the character – he tries to make you sympathize for her by giving her a backstory. Theodora is heart-broken by Oscar and, in her dispair, deceived by Evanora into becoming a wretched hag. That takes away from her evilness, does it not? So now you have a villain who isn’t even that threatening – combine that with the fact that you know Oscar survives and becomes the Wizard and you’ve got a pretty pointless antagonist.
Ok, END SPOILERS.
Another problem with the Wicked Witch is the makeup. We’re talking about the most iconic villain in the history of cinema – more iconic than Darth Vader, the Joker, Ted Turner, George Lucas – you name it. The prosthetics used on Kunis make her look more like a cartoon villainess from Jim Carrey’s The Mask than the legendary Wicked Witch of the West. Did I mention she’s wearing a stereotypical ‘Sexy Witch’ costume? She’s wearing a corset! She looks like a Halloween costume model!
The Wicked Witch is actually more of a Green Gobliness. Instead of a glider, she buzzes around the city on a broom bellowing black smoke, throwing fireballs that look a lot like the Goblin’s pumpkin bombs. All that’s missing is a motorcycle helmet and a few “We’ll meet again, Spider-Man!” screams and you’ve got what could have been Raimi’s Spider-Man 4.
Like the Star Wars prequels, Oz the Great and Powerful focuses on all the wrong things – the scenery is pretty, but the characters are empty – and the heart and spirit of the original has been watered down by explaining away too much of the magic. I mean, come on… a prophecy!? If it didn’t work for Anakin Skywalker, it sure as hell isn’t going to work for Oscar Diggs.