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Overall Rating

Awesome: 5%
Worth A Look45%
Average: 32.5%
Pretty Bad: 17.5%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Oz the Great and Powerful
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by Jay Seaver

"It is at least darn good and enjoyable, and sometimes more."
4 stars

I must admit, I groaned upon finding out that one of my favorite filmmakers would be making a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz". Not just because I'm not a particularly big fan of the original, but because it seemed like kind of a dumb idea: Why do this exercise in putting things into place when L. Frank Baum built so much more? Of course, that question ignores how Oz has thrived for a hundred years in part because many beyond Baum have made fine contributions, with this group being just the latest.

Still, it can't be denied that director Sam Raimi and writers Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire aim to recreate as much as expand: The movie starts in black-and-white, with circus magician Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) stopped near where he grew up in Kansas before a tornado transports him to the magical land of Oz. There, he meets friendly witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells him of a prophecy that that a great and powerful wizard would fall from the sky and defeat the wicked witch who poisoned the king of the Emerald City, becoming King himself. Well, this Oz isn't exactly a wizard, but being King sounds nice, so he heads off down the yellow brick road, picking up a couple of fantastical companions - Finley the flying monkey (voice of Zach Braff) and a China Girl (voice of Joey King) from a teapot village - along the way.

Yes, the filmmakers take every visual and storytelling cue they can from the MGM musical that won't lead to legal action from its current owners, but they create enough of their own and update it with enough modern special effects to grab the attention of those who don't appreciate what 1939 had to offer. The landscape Oz finds when arriving in this new world is big, colorful, and beautiful, and while the visuals don't always look fully real, they always look like something that could spring from a child's imagination. New sights like the China Girl's village are fun discoveries, and there's always just enough going on in the background so that the fantasy world doesn't seem to stop at the edges of the screen but not enough to distract.

The cast play their parts with the knowledge that they're in a kids' movie, and it works pretty well: Franco finds a nice spot where Oz can be a bit of a bounder but also self-aware, the butt of jokes but still with enough potential to be heroic in the end. Mila Kunis maybe has the best part, playing Theodora as still basically a naive, emotional teenager in many ways; Rachel Weisz makes her sister obviously calculating to the audience but not a simple monster. Michelle Williams is pretty great as Glinda, so utterly Good that she can't refer to Oz as much worse than a "fibber" but also nobody's fool. Zach Braff and Joey King give pretty great vocal performances for very well-realized animated characters.

The biggest problem this movie faces is one inherent in stories set before a beloved work - the audience knows, if not how it ends, how things will eventually shake out. Oz is especially vulnerable, since the writers don't invent villains that can be safely disposed of at the end. Potentially worse, it's not like Dorothy will later do anything that Oz can't manage (well, maybe he can't actually drop a house on a witch, but the heroes could probably approximate it). So how do you not make the grand finale something of a letdown?

Well, you've got to not only be clever, but actually make cleverness the point, and that's perhaps what makes this an unusually good kids' movie: Violence on the heroes' parts is taken off the table early - Oz doesn't want to kill the wicked witch when that's suggested, and Glinda matter-of-factly mentions that the good people of Oz are forbidden to kill. So the whole last act becomes a matter of ingenuity and preying upon the limited imagination of their opponents. It's easy to say that and then have the hero deliver a decisive blow, but sticking to those principles and making it work is impressive. That's something that the movie quietly does well in other areas, too - for all that pieces of Oz are presented as tragic, the filmmakers also make quite certain that being cruel - or shall we say wicked? - is a choice, not something excusable by circumstances or destiny.

The movie does those things very quietly, though, because a large part of it seems to be Sam Raimi having fun. A PG rating doesn't do much to slow down his love of cartoonish slapstick, and 3D seems to agree with him - he, cinematographer Peter Deming, and the FX guys do a good job of using it to separate here and there, as well as throwing stuff at the audience at moments when the urge to swat it away is most enjoyable. Folks who remember him from his scary-movie background will see him pull out a few of his old tricks, including an amusing Bruce Campbell cameo, but he never lets things get darker or scarier than the 1939 movie (although he rightly has no problem with flying baboons giving a new generation of kids nightmares).

In many ways, this thing shouldn't work nearly as well as it does, especially for those of us who don't already love Oz in one form or another. But it does - it's an impressively enjoyable fantasy adventure that really does seem to play for all ages.

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originally posted: 03/13/13 12:49:35
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell visionary not bad but nothing special 3 stars
5/16/14 SID RUMKOWSKI Great film by former director,now Hostess twinkie Sam Raimi. 5 stars
6/20/13 Charles Tatum Visually interesting, a nice prequel. 4 stars
6/16/13 Lauren it was ok - ...just ok 3 stars
5/26/13 Philip I had a better time seeing this than I did seeing Tim Burton ruin Wonderland. 4 stars
5/06/13 dr.lao A very enjoyable film 4 stars
4/02/13 Caleb Pretty fun overall, though not as good as RETURN TO OZ 3 stars
3/25/13 Flipsider The biggest fault is the soundtrack... downright TERRIBLE. 2 stars
3/20/13 KingNeutron A little disappointing, but I did tear up a couple times :P 3 stars
3/18/13 Beryllium is toxic No movie yet explains how earthlings can long survive in Oz with so much beryllium. 4 stars
3/17/13 Lenny Zane Could've been 5 stars if they'd let Mila Kunis get back her pretty face & good nature! 4 stars
3/13/13 Man Out Six Bucks Great film for all.Should have G rating.Less NWO than OZ 5 stars
3/11/13 Juan Sam Good review, but I have to disagree. The movie was quite fun! 4 stars
3/08/13 Daniel High Good visuals, but the story and directing are lacking. See Wicked instead. 3 stars
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  08-Mar-2013 (PG)
  DVD: 11-Jun-2013


  DVD: 11-Jun-2013

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