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“Oz” Is Great and Powerful

The first blockbuster of the year has arrived, and it covers some familiar ground.

Oz: The Great and Powerful,” takes audiences to the land of Oz before Dorothy dropped in.

Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a carnival magician. He’s a professional shyster, a sleazeball, an all-around douchy guy who’ll do anything for a buck. After hitting on the carnival strong man’s girlfriend, Oz has to make a quick getaway. He jumps in the closest hot air balloon he can find and gets caught up in one of those famous Kansas tornadoes we’ve all heard so much about.

Oz lands safely and meets Thedora (Mila Kunis) a witch, who is convinced Oz is the prophesied wizard come to kill the wicked witch and bring peace and freedom to the land of Oz. On the way to the Emerald City, Oz and Thedora save Finley, a flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) from a lion, and he joins the crew.

After meeting Theodora’s sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) Oz learns that he could be king of Oz, with the thrown, and scepter, and all the gold in the land … after he kills the wicked witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). So Oz and Finley set off down the yellow brick road to find the so-called “evil” witch. Only, turns out, Evanora might not be telling the whole truth.

oz-the-great-and-powerful-franco williams weisz kunisSam Raimi’s Oz is an oversaturated colorful world that is visually stunning and a delight to watch. The effects are great. From flying monkeys to china doll girls, it’s all beautiful. While I saw the film in 2D, some scenes are obviously for the 3D audience, and I didn’t mind that. Raimi, like the Wizard, is all about the show and won’t stop at a good film when he can make a great one.

I was a bit worried about the casting. Franco can be … unreliable, but he proved to be excellent as the lying, cheating, con-man. Weisz and Williams play their parts perfectly. Weisz is as evil and Williams is good. But never let their characters become one-dimensional. Kunis, who I love, was the only one that felt out of place. Her character has the most dramatic turn and by the end she grows into her role.

Braff and  Joey King, as China Girl, are good comedic foils to Oz as they travel across the land to meet Glinda and learn the truth about the witches of Oz.They bring out the good in him. Bill Cobbs also has a great role as Master Tinker. He can build anything, especially if it’s out of tin. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Sam Raimi movie without a cameo from Bruce Campbell.

Some of the CGI could have been better. While the world is bright and vibrant, some the characters come off way too cartoonish. But that’s a minor criticism.

There are lots of creative allusions to the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” that will satisfy fans. There’s foreshadowing of the scarecrow, Dorothy and the Gales, the wicked witch’s weakness to water, and besides the nods to cowardly lion and the tin-man, stylistically Raimi borrows from the original. The opening of the film is short in black and white, while Oz is in color. Also the screen ration changes from 4:3 Academy ratio to 16:9 widescreen. Also, characters from Kansas become citizens of Oz, like the original.

While the feminist criticism about the changing of a story of a brave farm girl into a story about a greedy magician isn’t unwarranted, it’s kinda silly. This is an origin story about Oz and a world that existed long before Dorothy showed up. This is all just a set-up for her to come in and save the day. Besides, the leading ladies here get way more screen time.

“Oz: The Great and Powerful” is a fun twist on a story we all know. It’s an exciting movie that’s funny and has a lot of heart. It might even be worth the 3D.

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