Oz: The Great and Powerful is the prequel to The Wizard of Oz... one of our Top 100 Movies of All-Time. Tackling that kind of hallowed ground is a tough and risky endeavor. Lucky for everyone involved, the effort was headed by Sam Raimi.
Some may wonder why Disney would return to Oz. Just read a few The Wizard of Oz quotes and see how it is considered one of the best movies of all time. See, that's the thing. Oz: The Great and Powerful is not a trip back to the Emerald City. It tells the story of how the Wizard got there in the first place. And in director Raimi's hands, it is a compelling, gorgeous and epic marvel.
James Franco is the title character. When we meet him, it is at a Kansas locale where he is a magician in a traveling circus. He has flirted with the Strong Man's girl and that sends him running to a hot air balloon, of all things, to take to the air and get away from his wrath.
Immediately a tornado hits -- this is a Wizard of Oz movie after all -- and his journey finds him finally landing safely in the place that fatefully bares his name. Mila Kunis is Theodora. She finds our hero after his crash landing and believes he is there to fulfill a prophecy about a wizard coming to Oz to rescue them from the oppression of a certain witch. Yet, as we learn, which witch is the evil one is a mystery.
Oz goes with Theodora’s assumption because of a certain room of gold that she mentions. The only thing is, as he meets Theodora's sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Oz learns he must slay the Wicked Witch in order to rule the land. As teased in the Oz: The Great and Powerful trailer, what can be so hard about that?
Every single person in Oz: The Great and Powerful is impeccably cast. Franco rises to the challenge of playing the storied wizard and does so with his own unique flair. We know he's no wizard, yet through his magician backstory we can see where he's taking this character and the people of Oz for that matter.
Zach Braff astounds in dual roles. He is both Frank, Oz’s trusty magician’s assistant in the film’s black and white beginnings, and Finley -- the flying, talking monkey who serves as his supportive sidekick in Oz. Performing live action and voice-over roles, Braff is Oz’s conscience in both worlds.
Kunis has one of the more difficult parts. Her witch will become iconic. But this story is long before that cinematic coronation. She is the point on which Raimi’s film turns. When her heart is broken by Oz, her sister shows her true colors in an effort to comfort her and Oz will never be the same.
It also, will never need a hero more.
Like The Wizard of Oz before, Oz: The Great and Powerful paints a picture of a world that contains people who remarkably resemble individuals from when we were first in Kansas. There is a crush in Kansas (Williams) who is Glinda, the witch we all know from the 1939 film. Williams was born to play this century's version of Billie Burke.
Joey King astounds as a girl in a wheelchair in Kansas who is disappointed that Oz’s magic can’t make her walk again. Yet, her vocal talents for China Girl -- whom we meet in Oz -- are why the character will firmly take its place amongst the story’s legends that include a lion, tin man and a scarecrow.
Having a new character for audiences in China Girl -- one that has an instant classic feel -- speaks volumes as to the deep thought that went into the making of the film. One does not set to walk on a Yellow Brick Road onscreen without knowing that this world must rightfully stand beside movie excellence that has never before been matched.
Having The Wizard of Oz as your template must have been a daunting task. Raimi and Disney have not only done themselves proud, they have crafted a film that is sure to please Oz fans the world over. Our Oz: The Great and Powerful review can firmly state: That is the true wizardry.
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