In order to be disappointed, you don’t have to compare director Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful” to its predecessor, the 1939 masterpiece “The Wizard of Oz.” This prequel would disappoint just fine on its own lack of merits.
In all, L. Frank Baum wrote thirteen “Oz” novels after the success of his first, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” upon which the Judy Garland classic is based. Using material from the sequels/prequels, Disney obviously hopes to create a lucrative franchise, starting with this story that goes back twenty years before “The Wizard of Oz” to explain how the Wizard ended up in Oz.
Set in 1905, a charmless James Franco plays the title character, a hack magician and serial womanizer who narrowly escapes an enraged husband via hot air balloon. A tornado takes it from there and Franco’s Oscar Diggs wakes up in a colorful, surreal land filled with a couple of extremely attractive witches played by the extremely attractive Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz.
What gets Oscar into trouble are his lowlife con man skills. Why, of course, he is the wizard-king the prophecy foretold!
From here the story treads a lot of familiar ground along the Yellow Brick Road, but the lack of heart and empathy for the Franco’s character makes it all about the eye-popping but artificial effects and not much else. It is awfully hard to care about a lying womanizer, so the stakes are nowhere near what they were for the altruistic Dorothy, who only wanted to go home, not rule Emerald City.
“Oz” made a half-billion dollars worldwide, so there will likely be a sequel. But It is hard to imagine anyone clamoring for it.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” is available for presale at Amazon.com.
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