Starring: James Franco (127 Hours), Mila Kunis (Black Swan), Rachel Weisz (The Brothers Bloom), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), Zach Braff (Garden State)
Director: Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead)
Writers: Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rise of the Guardians)
Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes
Release Date: 8 March (US, UK)
The Wizard of Oz is one of those classic movies that we were all forced to watch when we were young, and it is a film that I fondly remember. Despite several attempts, no one has ever been able to capture the magic of Oz the way the original did back in 1939. With the success of Alice in Wonderland several years ago, Disney is now taking a stab at L. Frank Baum’s work in the form of an unofficial prequel. Should you head down the yellow brick road again, or should you tap your heels together immediately and escape back to Kansas?
The story of Oz is tale that has been told in many different ways before (even Raimi’s own Army of Darkness has the same basic story), but one that naturally fits the classic style of the rest of the proceedings. The film feels well structured and the pacing makes the 2-hour plus runtime fly by, but the dialogue could have used more work. I know it’s a kid’s movie, but too often I felt the dialogue was very on-the-nose when it really didn’t need to be. The film has a lot of humour, mainly between Franco and Braff, and most of the time it works well. They never have to resort to pop culture references or bathroom humour in order to create gags the way most family films do these days; it is all through character interaction. Nothing cheap and forced here like that other movie (coughMADHATTERBREAKDANCINGcough). The film also has plenty of references to the original film, from its black-and-white opening scenes to subtle references to characters and locations. It never feels too forced nor does it distract you from the story at hand. The film is an origin story for not just Oz, but the Wicked Witch of the West as well, and this story is handled generally quite well. I know fans of the musical Wicked are probably crying foul, but (as someone who hasn’t seen the show) I can say I have no problem with both versions of the story existing. This is simply just another interpretation of the character and neither version is truly canon with either the books or the original film. The film captures the feel of the 1939 version well; it merely expands upon through the use of a modern perspective and craftsmanship. I’m also glad the film didn’t resort to using a standard action climax and go against the entire style of the source material the way Burton’s Wonderland did. Here, there is a climax but one that feels much more natural to the story and doesn’t feel anywhere near as forced as Alice fighting a Jabberwocky purely to create tension and a sense of threat.
The cast of the film works, though maybe not the most ideal. Franco seems an odd choice for Oz at first (the original choice of Robert Downey Jr would have probably worked better), but he warms on you by the end. Weisz and Williams do well with their roles, even if Weisz hams it up a bit at points. Zach Braff is great as the monkey and has great chemistry with Franco, whilst Joey King as the china girl provides some much needed heart and emotion. My main problem with the cast is Mila Kunis; the way her character develops later on in the film (which I won’t reveal for spoilers sake) feels natural on paper, but Kunis doesn’t sell it convincingly enough. Maybe it’s the over-the-top nature of her performance, maybe the fact Kunis usually doesn’t play this broad a character, I’m not sure. There’s probably an actress out there who could have pulled this off better; I’m just not sure whom. Oh, and before I forget, there is a Bruce Campbell cameo for you Raimi enthusiasts. Whilst not his best, it is amusing and even calls back to his Evil Dead days.
Like Burton’s Wonderland, Oz was shot primarily on green screens with effects to create the magical land of Oz. Like it or not, it is still very visually impressive. The whole film has been designed beautifully, both in its original parts and those lifted from the original film. Raimi utilises his love of moving cameras and odd angles to great affect here, and the 3-D is actually worth the price this time round. Danny Elfman’s score for the film works most of the time, but whenever that choir kicks in it feels too much like a Burton film. And not in a good way.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is good return to form for Raimi, and probably one of the better live-action family films in recent memory. It’s a good companion piece to the 1939 classic as well as a good film on its own, and is a much better film that Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in every possible facet. It ain’t perfect, but that didn’t stop me from having a fun, nostalgia-filled time at the movies.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10