Oz the Great and Powerful – Sam Raimi
Sam Raimi is mostly known for his work on the Evil Dead and Spiderman franchises, but this will be his first venture into family targeted film. Oz the Great and Powerful is the Disney prequel to L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the much-loved 1939 film adaptation The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland. For Raimi’s first try at family film, it’s a pretty good one.
The prequel is set in 1905 Kansas, twenty years before Dorothy travels to Oz. True to the 1939 film, this movie starts in black and white before we descend into the vivid colour of the land of Oz. The film was clearly made with the intent of most of the audience viewing it in 3D, with gigantic flower bulbs and razor sharp splinters almost coming out of the screen. The aesthetics are a glittering homage to what we remember from the 1939 film as children. The CGI blends well and looks realistic but is still blindingly colourful. The flying baboons would terrify the pants off most adults as well as children. The yellow brick road, Emerald City and munchkins all return. The only notable things missing are the famed ruby slippers which seemed to have been forgotten.
The film features a fairly strong cast with three leading actresses and James Franco in the male lead. Franco is generally typecast, but for some reason he fits this role perfectly. He plays a blundering but ingenuitive ‘magician,’ Oscar Diggs, who makes his wages by performing at a travelling carnival. The film is based around the familiar trope of whether he is a good man or not. He gets transported to Oz where he is found by two witch sisters, played by Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz, who do look stunningly alike. Later on we meet the famous Glinda the Good, played by the lovely Michelle Williams.
Rachel Weisz is convincingly witty, sarcastic and dry as the elder sister, Evanora. Mila Kunis plays the more impatient and naïve Theodora, the Wicked Witch of the East who is charmed by Oscar. Michelle Williams as Glinda is sugary sweet, but knows more than meets the eye. The three of them are mesmerising to watch. The dazzling costumes add that extra cherry on top aesthetically, allowing the three actresses to fully embody the classic good and bad witches.
Also very enearding are the supporting cast:. Finley, the flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff, and the China Girl, voiced by Joey King. The film would not have been the same without them. They are both created by CG but done so well in conjunction with the voice artists that they provided both comic relief and heartfelt counsel. King gets a special mention because of her ability to emulate a sweet little china doll one minute and then a sassy teenage girl the next.
Most people would have rolled their eyes at the thought of a prequel, but it is a truly enjoyable return to the Land of Oz. It could have been a ridiculously cutesy film, but Raimi manages to keep it tasteful, child- and adult-friendly. The humour is dry and in some parts, the kids definitely won’t get it. But it still manages to hold the balance between the adults and children. It is a truly enjoyable experience to watch and while some might say it is tarnishing the classic adaptations and L. Frank Baum’s novel, it is also letting the younger generation (and the elder one) enjoy a much loved classic with a twist.