Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Review: James Franco & Michelle Williams Are Marvelous

I don’t want to be a good man…. I want to be a great one.” -Oz

In 1939 Warner Brothers released The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton and Billie Burke. The film remains a classic for young and old and the visuals are more spectacular than many films that have come out in the last decade. Director Victor Fleming created a masterpiece based off of L. Frank Baum’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and is one that I’ve watched countless times during my childhood and a film I revisit every year.

When a movie studio, in this case Walt Disney Pictures, takes on a prequel to one of the most beloved films of all-time its always going to be risky. Director Sam Raimi (the Spider-Man trilogy) is a perfect choice for the role because he can mix spectacular visuals in with the darker elements of the story. What he creates is a visually splendid film that Wizard of Oz fans will enjoy.

It’s the year 1905 in Kansas and we are introduced to Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time magician that works with a traveling circus. Oscar’s assistant Frank (Zach Braff) clearly works harder than Oscar, running the show behind the curtain, yet earns much less than Oscar at the end of the day. From the looks of things his female assistants never last more than a week and Oscar can’t commit to his on-off girlfriend Annie (Michelle Williams).

A tornado strikes Kansas and Oscar is whisked away in a hot air balloon landing in the mystical Land of Oz. There he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a good witch who asks him, “Are you the great man we’ve been waiting for?” The Land of Oz has been waiting for a wizard to come and save them from the Wicked Witch. Oscar, who also goes by Oz, tells Theodora that he is a wizard and after flirting with her throughout the night, the two head to the Emerald City where Oz can claim his thrown.

On the way to the Emerald City, Oz and Theodora find Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), a precious flying monkey who begs Oz to take him on his journey. When they reach Emerald City, they are greeted by Theodora’s sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who claims Oz can only be the Wizard if he defeats the Wicked Witch.

On the journey to the Dark Forest, where the Wicked Witch lives, Oz and Finley meet an orphaned China Doll (voiced by Joey King) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), the good witch of the South.

The question remains, “Who is the Wicked Witch?” Will it be Evanora, Theodora or another unknown character? The answer dare not be given away as the surprise is shocking and offers an important twist to the story.

Franco is incredible as Oz and brings something fresh to the story. There is a presence of him throughout the movie, even during the few scenes he isn’t on screen. Williams, who is known for her roles in smaller indie films, is just lovely as Glinda. She embodies everything a younger Glinda would be: smart, classy and sweetly magical.

Braff, who plays Finley through motion capture, is certainly the comedic and kid friendly element to the film. His performance is so great that he is more engaging than some of the human characters in the film. The young King, who voices China Doll, is certainly a favorite part of the film. If you don’t walk away wanting to take China Doll home with you, I’ll be shocked.

There is a certain female that is a tad miscast, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t work her little heart out in trying to make the character memorable. Oz the Great and Powerful may lack some of the magic the original had, but it makes up with fun characters (Finley and China Doll) and gorgeous visuals.

Oz may not be a film that is appropriate for younger children, since there are some scary scenes of the Witch’s flying baboons, but it will please fans of The Wizard of Oz and attract fans of a new generation.

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