I have a bit of a strange relationship with The Wizard of Oz. I remember liking it when I was younger but I haven't seen it fully for a few years so when I heard about this film, I was hoping that my interest in The Wizard of Oz would be renewed and thankfully, it has. This film was a blast to watch and a really good family film, though there are some problems.
Starting off with the plot, the film frames itself as a prequel to the original film and L Frank Baum's book series, explaining how the wizard got to Oz in the first place and how he needs to defeat the Wicked Witch to become the ruler of Oz. Now this story could have easily gone the way of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and devolve into a generic action fantasy but the film makes a point to say that this cannot happen in Oz and so the real focus of the film comes into play, the power of illusion and technology, especially through the idolization of Thomas Edison. The central message of being a good person also comes through really well through the character of Oscar, played by James Franco, and his character development throughout the film in terms of losing some of the more negative aspects he had when he was a magician in Kansas but embracing some of the more useful aspects he does have, again the power of illusion coming into play. There is also the way in which the so-called 'liar revealed' story is handled as he doesn't really lie since most of the other major characters know that he isn't a real wizard, it's just that they need someone to help and Oscar is the only one who has a chance.
The main reason this plot works so well is because of the really game cast. Oscar could have easily been really unlikable if the wrong actor was cast but James Franco was a great choice. He's able to make Oscar a little bit unlikable but still really charming so you can see how he can become such a successful womanizer and it's clear Franco is having a lot of fun in the role, especially when he goes all Scrooge McDuck in Oz' treasury. He is also really funny in the role, helped in no small part by his brilliant chemistry with Zach Braff as Finlay who provides a lot of the really funny parts of the film. Joey King, previously seen as the young Talia Al Gul in The Dark Knight Rises, is really good as the China Girl, providing a good show of innocence, charm and courage to the character, aided by gorgeous animation. Of course Bruce Campbell gets a role and, whilst brief, it's great to see Campbell having a bit of fun with his role. The highlights though are the 3 witches. Rachel Weisz does a really good job with her character, Mila Kunis is clearly having a lot of fun, especially later on in the film, but the highlight for me was Michelle Williams. Simply put, she was perfectly cast as Glinda and not only does she provide all of the typical stuff you expect from Glinda but she also pokes fun at the character and provides a bit of a badass undertone to the character later on in the film.
Another major reason why the film works is the technical aspect. The effects, the costumes and the music are all brilliant and the little stylistic touches from Raimi in reference to the original (starting off in 4:3 black and white in Kansas and going to full widescreen technicolour when in Oz) are handled brilliantly. This leads onto the main strength of the film, Sam Raimi's direction. Now I watched this in 3D and the way Raimi uses 3D is very reminiscent of a 1950's horror film, mainly in throwing as much stuff into the camera as possible and just have fun with the format. There is also the way Raimi directs the Wicked Witch and that is very reminiscent of his work from The Evil Dead films, especially at the end of the film. It feels like Raimi was influenced by the original Wizard of Oz a lot in his career and the Wicked Witch in particular and it is a blast to see Raimi direct an Oz film of his own.
There are some problems though. Some of the characters can get a bit annoying, mainly the Munchkins, the reason for why the Wicked Witch comes about seems a bit sexist to me and some points in the film are very predictable. There were a few moments when I correctly predicted what was going to happen, especially later on in the film, and that kind of drew me out of the experience.
That said though, the cast, the effects and the direction make Oz: The Great and Powerful a blast to sit through and makes a great return to the cinematic world for Sam Raimi after not releasing a film for 4 years and marks the first really solid family film of the year.
My Rating: 4/5