I went into Oz with an open mind and very low expectations for two reasons, the first being that I’ve never really been a big fan of James Franco’s work and secondly this movie is a prequel…to a recognized movie classic no less. Other than X-Men: First Class none of them in recent years have been even decent let alone good.. *cough cough Star Wars, *cough cough Prometheus*. Did we really even need to know how The Wizard of Oz came into power?
The movie focuses on carnival sideshow magician Oscar Diggs (played by Franco). He’s a dishonest, oversexed and underachieving stage performer in Kansas who dreams of doing great things with his life. His heroes are the likes of Houdini and Edison, but the traveling carnival he works in is making him little or no money and his lofty aspirations seem to die a little bit each day.
After one of his shows ends in an embarrassing confrontation with a crippled child’s parents he receives a visit from long time friend Annie played by Michele Williams (who later plays as Glenda The Good). Annie wants to be with Oscar but the life of a simple married farmer holds no appeal to him. Their conversation is interrupted when the carnival strong man attempts to exact punishment on Oscar for romancing his wife forcing Oscar to escape in the carnival’s hot air balloon. Unfortunately for him, a massive tornado has taken shape not far from the carnival and sucks the balloon and him into it then spits them out in the wonderful world of Oz.
First off, the opening credits sequence here makes this a MUST see in 3-D. The use of it through out the movies isn’t as engrossing but is far better than a lot of other CG movies (like for example Alice In Wonderland). There is a scene where its snowing and the falling flakes are done amazingly well.
Franco’s portrayal of the lovable rogue turned hero is uneven in parts but still fun and entertaining. I don’t think the movie gave me enough to justify his sudden change of heart but it’s excusable because it did a lot of other things surprisingly well. One of them is a pair of companions of Oz’s that weren’t shown in the trailer so I won’t spoil them but one of them in particular is just rendered jaw-droppingly well. Seriously, when this character was on screen I just marveled at it.
Another thing that was done well was the performance of the three witches. Michelle Williams already looks angelic to me so throwing a tiara and white dress on her with constant closes up of her near glowing smile as Glenda The Good was fine by me.
Rachel Weisz as Eleanora was the weak link in the three though. She seemed too mechanical and not really into her performance but giving her green force lightning as a witching power certainly made up for that.
Mila Kunis as Theodora however, was the best of the three. In the first part of her performance with Oz she under acts and gets some laughs but in the second half of her performance she over acts and although I didn’t LOL through much of it she made me smile wide and remember the original movie which had not happened once up to that point in this one. In fact Kunis and William’s performances keep the second half of the movie afloat while the story slows down to check off boxes and reminds us all that this is linked to The Wizard of Oz. Munchkins, tinkerers and yellow bricked roads. “He can make scarecrows!!! Check, check, check they’re all here, we got it. *Yawn* Please move on.
Overall, Oz is a pleasant surprise of a prequel and is worth catching in theaters in 3-D. My 8 year old son had no interest in seeing it but I imagine that the pure spectacle of the colorful world that director Sam Raimi created here would hold the attention of most small children.
Which reminds me, the flying monkeys in this movie are eff’ing insane! They aren’t in it a lot, but there is a “battle” scene in which you get to see them in all their scary hideousness and WFT!! I’m guessing that since most small kids are already on a steady diet of COD and Twilight it won’t scare them too bad (if at all) but I found them to be genuinely creepy.
Yeah, you have my blessing to go see this movie and not feel cheated afterward. I certainly didn’t.