Film review: Oz the Great and Powerful

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James Franco stars as the savior of a pre-Dorothy, Wicked Witch-ruled land in Oz the Great and Powerful. James Franco stars as the savior of a pre-Dorothy, Wicked Witch-ruled land in Oz the Great and Powerful.

Behind the curtain: Oz the Great and Powerful is a playful take on the wizard’s rise

In this day and age, when everything in life—movies, television, sporting events, you name it—seems rooted in money, a prequel to The Wizard of Oz feels like, perhaps, the most cynical of moneymaking schemes. Is there a more surefire way to earn tons of cash than with a prequel to one of the most beloved movies of all time?

It’s hard to say. Disney has tried to climb on the L. Frank Baum movie train before, in 1985 with the miserable Return to Oz. Any filmgoer wishing for the magic of Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow should probably set his sights low. When sinking into that theater seat and donning the 3D glasses, remember: No Oz will match The Wizard of Oz.

Thankfully, director Sam Raimi knows what he’s up against, and he’s wise to pay homage (clumsily, most of the time) to the 1939 film that many people consider a classic. He even sneaks in some knowing references to his earlier work—namely the Evil Dead trilogy—while keeping Oz’s PG wheels turning.

Some people will grouse that Oz the Great and Powerful is a pale imitation of a great film. But I think, perhaps unwittingly, that’s part of this movie’s charm. After all, the Wizard is revealed near the end of The Wizard of Oz to be a shyster. In Oz the Great and Powerful, he’s revealed to be a shyster from the moment he’s seen on screen.

Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a carnival magician. This movie, if you’re given to the bent that The Wizard of Oz is a masterpiece, is a lesser cultural event. The filmmakers know it. The writers know it. Disney knows it. So why don’t we all have some fun with the stupid thing?

That’s what Sam Raimi is good for when he’s not making For Love of the Game or Spider-Man 3: Fun. And Oz the Great and Powerful is fun while it lives within the confines of Disney parameters and the conventions it must follow.

For example, we know there must be a Wicked Witch. There’s some bizarre marketing campaign out there trying to keep the identity of the Wicked Witch a secret. Don’t get caught up in it. The explanation really doesn’t make sense, anyway.

For that matter, lots of things don’t make sense in Oz the Great and Powerful. Why is it so long? Why are so many of the jokes telegraphed, and so poorly? Why does the whole thing work?

Sometimes, even the most cynical of us can close his eyes and believe. And after a rotten day, Oz the Great and Powerful, with its tale of a ne’er-do-well who does well, was just the thing I needed. You try not to cry when Oz fixes the China Girl (Joey King).

Sure, Mila Kunis isn’t quite right, and Rachel Weisz (and the audience) deserve better. But sometimes we get what we get, and sometimes it’s good enough.

Oz the Great and Powerful/PG, 130 minutes/Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

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  • Shame on CNN

    re:” we get what we get, and sometimes it’s good enough.”

    So the reviewer is telling us to see this movie simply because it’s there?

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