Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a carnival magician. His magic act is a means to con people out of their money and women into his trailer. His act is less than magical. His assistant, Frank (Zach Braff), isn’t exactly happy with his life. He gets paid very poorly. And Oz doesn’t even consider him a friend, despite his longtime loyalty. Oz merely considers Frank his “trained monkey.” When Oz’s philandering ways catch up to him, he takes off in a hot air balloon, which gets swept up in a tornado. This tornado transports him to Oz, the magical land over the rainbow.
Upon landing in Oz (the land), Oz (the magician) meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a beautiful witch. Theodora tells Oz the whole kingdom has been awaiting his arrival as the prophesied wizard who will defeat the wicked witch and free her people. Oz (the magician) uses his charms on Theodora, and she quickly falls in love. Oz’s only real motivation is the unimaginable riches that will be bestowed upon him once he has defeated the wicked witch and becomes king. It is Theodora’s love, and subsequently, her broken heart, that drives her to become the wickedness she fears.
Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) is the one who is really running the show. She pushes Theodora over the edge. With her army of flying baboons, she is intent on taking over Oz (the land) and destroying anyone or anything that gets in her way. This includes Glinda (Michelle Williams). Along with a flying monkey Oz (the magician) saved, Glinda and Oz (the magician) must find a way for Oz (the magician) to realize he is the wizard Oz (the land) needs, even if he’s not the wizard Oz (the land) deserves.
Somebody at Disney got a new 3D machine. And a marvelous 3D machine it is. The effects it can generate are simply amazing. Yet, with great power comes great responsibility. Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean it should be done. The opening credits are fantastic. They lend charm and nostalgia to what is typically dry and dull. I was hopeful that Disney would add the same feeling you get from The Wizard of Oz to this film. This was a good start. Of course, the film starts in black and white. And when Oz (the magician) gets to Oz (the land), they switch over to what appears to be a colorized version of a black and white film, much like the original. But then things start to get out of control. The colorization is super saturated, making it look too fake. The terrain of Oz (the land) is much more wild and, well, three-dimensional than anything I remember from the original. It seems they just wanted to show the power of their fully operational battle station, I mean 3D machine.
The story is obviously meant as a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. And it feels like they are trying to make sure you know it is a prequel. It all feels a bit forced. They make sure to mention the origin of every iconic moment or prop from the original. (Except, ironically, for the ruby slippers. Maybe they’ll explain those in Oz the Great and Powerful II. I hope not.) Every moment of it feels contrived.
And then there’s the casting. I’m not sure who thought James Franco would be a good fit for Oz. He feels disconnected from his character the whole time. I had a hard time seeing him as anything other than the stoner character he plays in every movie. Mila Kunis does a decent job as Theodora. That is, until the evil inside transforms her. Her makeup is less than stellar. She looks more like a stiff caricature. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams are the only live action people who turn in acceptable performances, even if their characters don’t follow through to their potential. The lone standout is Joey King as the China Girl (from Chinatown, no less). Not only is her voice acting well done, China Girl’s animation is the best part of the production.
Despite all this, I don’t think the movie is terrible, though I don’t want to sit through it again. I just feel I’m not in the right demographic for Oz. I think the kids will really love this one. It’s got enough of a familiar story, even if that story isn’t replayed as often as it used to be. They will understand the importance of everything thrown into the mix. I think they will enjoy seeing how everything fits together. Adults, however, will find it to be less enjoyable. And it feels every minute of its long 2 hour 10 minute run time. If you’re going to take the kids, at least do yourself the favor of seeing it in 3D. It shows you just what the medium is capable of. Just don’t expect to leave feeling the same sense of wonderment the kids may feel.