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Film review: 'Oz The Great and Powerful' lacks brain, heart and courage

March 11, 2013|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • This film image released by Disney Enterprises shows James Franco, as Oz, left, and the character Finley, voiced by Zach Braff, are shown in a scene from "Oz the Great and Powerful."
Disney Enterprises)

I was talking with my mom the other day and we agreed that 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" was my first favorite movie. 

When I was a toddler I would make her impersonate the characters for hours on end, I owned toy models of all the characters, my first Halloween costume was the Tin Man, and, of course, I watched the movie enough times to make my poor parents sick of it. I knew there was basically no chance that the new prequel "Oz the Great and Powerful" would prove to be a worthy successor, but even with relaxed expectations the movie is a letdown.

James Franco stars as Oscar "Oz" Diggs, a sleazy carnival magician from black-and-white Kansas who wants to do great things with his life, but cons people and takes shortcuts at every opportunity. In an effort to avoid consequences, he escapes the carnival in a balloon. The balloon gets caught in one of those trademark terrible tornadoes and he soon finds himself in the colorful Land of Oz.

Local witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) thinks he must be a legendary Wizard because he's named after the land and can do some slight-of-hand "magic." Oz lies and says that he's the Wizard to impress the lovely Theodora and keeps up the lie when he learns that the Wizard gets to be a king with a palace full of treasure in the Emerald City. Oz visits the palace where Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), informs him that the one catch in the process is that in order to become king he has to kill Glinda (Michelle Williams), the "wickedest" of the sisters.

Oz, figuring he can defeat Glinda without using magic, sets out on his journey with his flying monkey sidekick (Zach Braff). They come across a decimated porcelain village and rescue a damaged china girl (Joey King). The group soon encounters Glinda, who reveals that they've been deceived by the real Wicked Witch. She sees everyone through a flying monkey attack and introduces Oz to a peaceful community of farmers, tinkerers, and Munchkins. Realizing that the citizens of Oz need inspiration more than magic, Oz sticks with the lie, leading the community in a crusade to foil the Wicked Witch and another familiar villain.

This film should have at least made for passable entertainment, but it gets ruined by its acting and special effects. James Franco is even less suited for this role than he was to host the Oscars a few years ago. He and Kunis are painfully stiff. The sets are often cartoon-like and unconvincing - it's easy to tell that the actors are standing in front of green screens or that the scene is entirely CGI. The worst parts of the film are the action sequences that combine the two detracting elements. We'll see a bit of action with bad special effects where we can't quite see the actors, then we'll get a shot of the actors doing a bad job of reacting to the action, then back to the action with the bad special effects.

I'm so mad that we're getting "Oz the Great and Powerful" when there's a perfectly good "Wizard of Oz" prequel just waiting to be made. For years I've been dying to see a big-screen version of the Broadway musical "Wicked."

Now I'm afraid that it's even less likely to come to fruition because studios will think that we've had enough updates on the classic. On the other hand, the new film had a terrific opening weekend, so maybe the opinion will be that "Wicked" needs to be made while the property is still hot. In any case, "Oz the Great and Powerful" is a disappointment that isn't likely to end up as anyone's favorite movie.



One and a Half Stars out of Five.



"Oz the Great and Powerful" is rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language. Its running time is 130 minutes.



Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

     

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