Director: Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: PG
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz offering so little spark or magic that it may make you want to click your heels and head back to Kansas. Sure, it’s marginally better than Jack the Giant Killer, Snow White and the Huntsman or Mirror Mirror, but, really, what does that get you?
Accentuating the positive, the Sam Raimi–directed 3D extravaganza features eye-poppingly lavish production design, costumes, props and a Technicolor look that slyly and effectively tap our nostalgia for the beloved 1939 MGM original, right down to the Emerald City, Dark Forest, seductive poppy field and yellow brick road. On the downside, the cumbersome screenplay by Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Ten Yards) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) has a small-time, womanizing con man magician swept up from 1908 Kansas during a tornado and plunked down into the land of munchkins, Winkies, feuding witches and horses of a different color.
Just as in the original Wizard of Oz, he’s given fantasy sidekicks who have parallels to characters in his real life. So the magician’s put-upon sidekick and stooge becomes a faithful, Oz-based flying monkey (Zach Braff), and a wheelchair-bound young girl becomes an orphaned china doll (Joey King) whose broken legs the wizard glues together.
To put it mildly, this Oz trio is nowhere near as magical, memorable or moving as a displaced Kansas farm girl, a cowardly lion, a tin man and a scarecrow. The opening section of the film also pays homage to the original by unspooling in black and white. The wizard, nicknamed “Oz” and meant to be rascally, charming and, in the end, redeemed as a better man, is played by a glassy-eyed James Franco, who not only slurs his words but skates over any of the screenplay’s deeper emotion. Franco doesn’t help. Mila Kunis, equally badly miscast, plays a lovely, if breathy, inappropriately contemporary-sounding witch spurned by Oz and transformed by her beautiful wicked sister (Rachel Weisz) into a confused, dull, completely unconvincing Wicked Witch of the West. Kunis doesn’t help, either.
Most of the heavy lifting gets left to Weisz, who tries her best but never achieves liftoff. The vacuum left by Franco and Kunis also gets taken up by Michelle Williams, bubbly and sincere as both “Glinda” and as a homespun Kansas girl the wizard jilts. Williams and Weisz do help, but the movie just plods and plods along. Anyone but Raimi diehards might find themselves checking their watches. Regularly.