Review: Oz the Great and Powerful / Cert: PG / Director: Sam Raimi/Screenplay: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire / Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff / Release Date: July 1st
In retrospect, only the vaguely childlike Sam Raimi could have even hoped to make a decent fist of a ‘prequel’ to one of the most famous motion pictures of all time. Somehow, through some extraordinary alchemy of Raimi’s own skills and an innate understanding of the world created by Frank L. Baum in his legendary series of children’s adventure novels, Oz the Great and Powerful is not only a joyous, vibrant and clever fun-for-all-the-family movie in its own right, it also has the decency to pay discreet homage to MGM’s 1939 The Wizard of Oz, staying true to the world, the characters and even the sometimes-simplistic style of the original without making trendy concessions to the expectations of a modern audience. This is Oz much as it was in 1939, albeit with all the green screen, motion capture and CGI technology now available to bring it to life; but Raimi uses real sets and practical effects alongside all the digital trickery and there’s a pleasingly unreal aesthetic about the finished product which creates a gloriously naïve fairytale world full of talking flying monkeys, girls made out of china and wand-wielding witches. Raimi even finds the time to remind us of the cowardly lion and shambling scarecrow of days gone by.
In a wonderfully evocative black-and-white sequence set in Kansas in 1905, struggling magician and incorrigible flirt Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs (Franco) is eking out a living in a tatty travelling circus. Fleeing in a hot air balloon from the fury of the husband of one of his lady friends, Oz is sucked into a tornado and finds himself quite literally (and visually) ‘over the rainbow’ and washed up in the colourful world of Oz where he quickly teams up with friendly witch Theodora (Kunis) and flying monkey Finley (Braff). He’s soon revered as the legendary ‘Wizard of Oz’, prophesied to come to Oz to rid the land of the tyrannical Wicked Witch. But at the Emerald City there’s duplicity afoot in the form of Theodora’s evil sister Evanora (Weisz) who has her own terrible secret and who turns Theodora against Oscar with potentially devastating consequences.
Oz the Great and Powerful is terrific, four-colour fun. Sprightly, uncynical and utterly unpretentious, this is charming, old-fashioned good vs. evil storytelling in its purest, kind-hearted form. Raimi’s Oz is populated by outlandish creatures, scary monsters likely to terrify only the tiniest, evil green-skinned cackling witches and lots of sizzling fantasy action and romance. Franco is a likeable, if slightly too modern, Oz, Rachel Weisz is a boo-hiss baddie in the great panto tradition and Mila Kunis is clearly having the time of her life as Theodora and her green-skinned alter ego. A lively script avoids any sense of knowing post-modernism – this is pure, unadulterated magic through and through – and even if it could lose ten or fifteen minutes from its running time, there’s surely little doubt that this is a movie which, with its vibrant colours and stunning effects and make-up which make it a natural for the Blu-ray format, will be a family classic for years and maybe even generations to come, just like the 1939 musical which inspired it.
Extras: Walt Disney and the Road to Oz / My Journey to oz by James Franco, China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief / From Kansas to Oz, Mila’s Metamorphosis / Elfman’s Musical Concoctions / Bloopers