Movie goers already “returned to Oz” back in 1985, and they found that yellow brick road less lustrous than their memories suggested.
Director Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful faces not only the legacy of that cinematic turkey but the notion that Broadway’s Wicked already revitalized the Oz brand in marvelous fashion.
Raimi’s Oz is still a charmer, an uneven tale saved by a trio of comely witches, an old-school sense of good versus evil and just enough movie magic to distract us from Judy Garland’s inestimable shadow.
James Franco is Oscar Diggs, or Oz to anyone who ever got ripped off by one of his cons. He’s forced to flee his town in a hot air balloon when one of his romantic conquests has dangerous repercussions, and he ends up in a technicolor land thanks to, what else, a twister.
A prophecy says a mighty wizard will one day arrive to dispatch the witch threat once an for all. Oz, seeing an opening right in front of his eyes, plays along as everyone assumes he’s the wizard in question.
Now, Oz has to figure out which witch is which–there are three–and how long he can pull of the “great and powerful” charade before the evil one reduces him to dust.
Oz the Great and Powerful begins, like its predecessor, in black and white and a retro 4:3 aspect ratio. Raimi lets a few images pop through the sides of the screen for whimsical effect, but the gambit essentially works as advertised.
Franco’s Oz is a delightful chap, a second-rate magician with a decent heart buried under layers of greed and neglect. He’s a fine foil for the witches, from sweet Theodora (Mila Kunis) to sharp-tongued Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and the beguiling Glinda (Michelle Williams).
The new Oz doesn’t have singing or dancing on its mind. One musical number is quickly interrupted, and that is essentially that. From there, the story unfolds in haphazard fashion, rushing from one sharply comic set piece to another that’s neither crisp nor involving.
Along the way we meet a scrappy china doll (voiced by Joey King) and a wingless monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) who offer Oz moral support.
Oz the Great and Powerful dismisses notions of the project’s obvious cash grab with a terrific finale, one that pays perfect homage to the source material while letting Raimi luxuriate in his knack for eye-popping splendor.
There’s still no place like home, but this Oz is a fine destination all the same.