Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland hit theaters in 2010, and it ultimately won the Oscars for "Best Art Direction" and "Best Costume Design." Unfortunately, the film itself turned out to be an extremely disappointing adventure into Wonderland. The source material was severely misrepresented, leaving Mia Wasikowska as one of the only worthwhile elements of the feature. Disney is bringing another classic story to the big screen by putting Sam Raimi behind the camera for Oz The Great and Powerful. By putting well-known talent in front of and behind the camera, Disney is hoping to do it right this time around. While it's a big improvement over Alice in Wonderland, I can't entirely support this fantastical adventure.
Oz (James Franco) is a small-time magician, who works at a carnival. He's selfish, greedy, and egotistical, as he complains about the size of his audiences. This ladies' man gets pulled into a tornado and finds himself landing in the mystical and colorful Land of Oz. He quickly meets the beautiful and sweet witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes that he's the magician that prophecy speaks of. She leads him back to the Emerald City, where he meets Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz). After getting thrown in the middle of the battle between Evanora and Glinda (Michelle Williams), Oz must destroy the Wicked Witch in order to free the people in the Land of Oz.
The first act of Oz The Great and Powerful serves to introduce our lead character, Oz. From the moment this character is setup, it's clear that this will be the unlikable character that we're expected to ultimately root for. The character growth is present, in every way you'd expect, but I never found myself liking him at any point through the running time. The antagonists are actually much more interesting than the lead character could ever hope to be. I found myself rooting for the bad guys over the protagonists, which proves that Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay doesn't manage to draw its audiences to favor the main character, which is a real issue. Unfortunately, this is where the problems begin, and most of them are caused by Oz The Great and Powerful being a prequel. Perhaps this would have worked out better as a re-imagining of the source material.
The story in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz will never be forgotten in the film industry, but there isn't very much depth to this script and its supporting roles. There are numerous references for fans, which attempt to make connections to the classic, but it isn't enough to repair this uninspired plot. Oz isn't on his journey alone, as a flying monkey (Zach Braff) and a miniature China doll (Joey King) aid him in getting rid of the Wicked Witch. While the parallelism between reality and the fantastical Land of Oz works, these characters aren't utilized as they should be. The sole purpose of having them around is to reinforce the trends of the values of family and trust. They provide the majority of the typical Disney "feel-good" interactions that we're so familiar with. Younger audiences will enjoy the film's light tone, but older viewers might find it to be slightly tacky, at times.
Oz The Great and Powerful runs for over two hours, which had me excited to look into this fantastical world. Unfortunately, the plot in this prequel has a basic and linear path that has absolutely no room to explore new territory. There's a large amount of build-up, which leads the audience to believe that a climax of epic proportions is on its way. Unfortunately, the ending feels like a letdown. The final battle of good vs. evil ends as soon as it begins. One would believe that both sides would have put up more of a fight than they actually do. The climax of the film is essentially covered in the promotional trailers, which is disappointing. With a set-up like this, viewers are left with a bad taste in their mouths once the credits begin rolling. However, with this being a prequel, Oz The Great and Powerful was heavily restricted, since it's trying to tie in with the 1939 classic. This story could have been given a different spin if it was re-imagined, opposed to explaining what happened previously.
With Sam Raimi behind the camera, I held faith that he would be working with a talented cast. Fortunately, my pre-conceived thoughts have come true, for the most part. James Franco plays Oz, as one of the only miscast actors in the feature. I've never been a fan of Franco, but he simply doesn't elevate this role in any way. He makes an already-unlikable character even more difficult to connect with. Putting him aside, the remainder of the cast fits into this magical world quite well. Mila Kunis delivers quite a few nice surprises in her performance as Theodora. Rachel Weisz works well with Kunis, as Theodora's sister, Evanora. She's convincing in this character, which makes her an excellent casting decision. Michelle Williams plays the nicest witch, Glinda. She's believable, but she doesn't get the opportunity to display very much of the dynamics she's capable of conveying. Ultimately, this cast does what they can with the material.
The story doesn't do any favors for the Land of Oz, but the visuals surely do. The film is presented in black-and-white while Oz is in Kansas, but once he finds his way to the Land of Oz, we're provided with a beautiful and vivid atmosphere. Sam Raimi has worked extremely well with his crew in order to deliver a visually stunning environment, even though some aspects can come across as being cartoon-like. His camera work is very reminiscent of the children's novel on which the movie is based, but in a pop-up book form. The film can be seen in 3D, which is meant to enhance this visual tone. Dolby 3D glasses were provided at my screening, which never interfered with the colors. Those who enjoy this technology will enjoy the visual effects. Sam Raimi keeps his signature style that moviegoers have become accustomed to. He incorporates numerous sequences where objects are meant to extend towards the audience, which will entertain children, although the 3D gimmicks won't appeal as much to older audiences.
After seeing the anticipated return to the Land of Oz, it's difficult to entirely stand behind this film. Oz The Great and Powerful isn't a bad movie, but it doesn't offer everything it should. By making this a prequel, the screenwriters have already set themselves along a very linear and narrow path. The film builds itself to the hope of an epic climax, but fails to deliver. Our lead character isn't only unlikable, but the conclusion is wrapped up so quickly, that it never feels like he's in any danger. Oz The Great and Powerful has numerous flaws, but it will still entertain audiences, even though the film lacks the climax that viewers will be anticipating. Rent it.