Oz the Great and Powerful would probably knock em dead as the basis for an attraction at Disneyworld. Director Sam Raimis reinterpretation of The Wizard of Oz universe is loud, eye-poppingly colorful, and thanks to 3-D, theres enough stuff hurtling at the audience to make you feel like youve stepped into a meteor shower.
But it doesnt make for a very good Disney film. Mildly diverting and clever in spots, this Oz is certainly no bookend for the 1939 classic that introduced author L. Frank Baums fanciful adventure to a wider world.
Raimis prequel conceit, based on a script by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, is to tell the wizards origin story. So the film opens in black and white as Oz (a miscast James Franco) lives one step above criminal. Hes a low-rent Kansas magician and charlatan who gets by on the carnival circuit through charm and moxie. While on the run from the strongman and his clown sidekick for some infraction, Oz hops into a hot-air balloon, gets swept into a tornado and lands, of course, in the magical kingdom of Oz, where the film blooms into CGI-enhanced lollipop color.
He is met by Theodora (Mila Kunis), one of the witches of this kingdom, who informs him that he must be the wizard that has been prophesized to rescue them from the clutches of the one she dubs the Wicked Witch (Michelle Williams). But then he finds out that Theodora, along with her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), may not be telling him the truth.
Along with his new sidekicks Finley (Zach Braff), a flying monkey with a hint of attitude; China Girl, a small girl made of china (Joey King), and a parades worth of tinkers, farmers, and munchkins Oz has to man up, slay whomever is the evil one, fall in love, and live if not happily ever after, then at least live comfortably enough until Dorothy comes along.
Because Raimi (Spider-Man) couldnt tread too closely to the original without infringing copyright, part of the films fun comes from how the well-known concepts are reimagined. Theres a lion but hes not cowardly, there are scarecrows but theyre not alive, and the biggest Tin Man of all just may be Oz himself, who needs to find a heart.
Kudos to the technical teams that make Finley such an impressive and expressive melding of human and simian. He also gets some of the best lines. On top of that, its amusing to see long-time Raimi stalwart Bruce Campbell the star of the directors early Evil Dead films in a cameo as one of the Emerald City gatekeepers.
Yet, like so many big-budget movies these days, its hard to care much about whats going on, especially as the film builds to its special-effects-driven conclusion. Francos smirking performance doesnt help much.
There may be enough here to keep younger children entertained, but with Ozs 130-minute running time even they might get twitchy. (Plus, parents take note, the Wicked Witchs menacing flying baboons are a little on the scary side.)
The Wizard of Oz certainly deserves a better successor. But the amusement-park ride will be awesome.