Oz: The Great and Powerful

Directed By: Sam Raimi

Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, and Joey King

Anything is possible.  If you had asked me a few years ago whether we'd ever go back to Oz on the big screen, I would have laughed in your face.  I would have thought that no filmmaker would have the guts to deal with their work being forever in the shadow of Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz, an untouchable classic.  As this weekend demonstrates, I would have been quite wrong.  Sam Raimi, famous for helming the Spider-Man trilogy, is taking us back to the magical Land of Oz  It's time to go back to Kansas.  It's time to journey once again to the Emerald City. It's time to follow the yellow brick road.

Trickster Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) headlines a magic show for a traveling carnival.  When not on stage, he's pursuing the ladies.  With "his grandmother's music box", Oz whisks one too many ladies off their feet.  When a fellow carnie (Tim Holmes) learns that Oz has been messing with his girl, he intends to make the con man aware of this in a rather forceful way.  Ready to beat the life out of Oz, the carnie pursues him relentlessly.  Fleeing the carnival, Oz makes his way to a hot air balloon and gets himself to a safe altitude.  Though he escapes the carnie, Oz finds himself headed straight for an inverted vortex, a tornado in modern terms.

The hot air balloon takes Oz on a wild journey to a land aptly named Oz.  There, he meets a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis).  She informs him that he's the great wizard for whom the people of Oz have been waiting.  He's destined to become their king and to end the evil of the Wicked Witch.  Theodora takes Oz to the Emerald City to meet her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), another witch who can tell him more about his prophecy and what he must do to become king.  She sends him on a quest to kill the Wicked Witch by retrieving and destroying her magic wand, the source of all her power.  While journeying to find the witch, he befriends a flying monkey named Finley (Zach Braff) and rescues a China Girl (Joey King).  When he finally meets Glinda (Michelle Williams), the so-called Wicked Witch, Oz learns who the Wicked Witch really is and what his prophecy actually entails.

Cynics will hate it, and modern moviegoers may shun it.  Regardless, Oz: The Great and Powerful is a fun, wholesome fantasy adventure that honors The Wizard of Oz and the many Oz novels by L. Frank Baum.  With some old-fashioned storytelling, Sam Raimi directly pays homage to Victor Fleming's 1939 musical.  With the technologies of today, he creates Oz and makes it a more dazzling fairytale land than it's ever been.  With some charming performances from his cast, he fills this visually stunning fantasy world with plenty of colorful characters.  Altogether, Oz: The Great and Powerful is a thrilling, cinematic experience that transports us to the new magical Land of Oz.

While Oz: The Great and Powerful is not legally a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi does everything in his power to establish otherwise.  Raimi gives us a black-and-white tale of simple Kansas folk and their simple problems that turns into a vibrant, colorful fantasy film.  He gives us a dreamland rooted in Oz's real life with many of the same faces and problems from the carnival back in Kansas.  Raimi even gives us a quick tune from the Munchkins of Munchkinland.  All of this breeds a sense of familiarity that will be welcomed by longtime Oz fans.

Though he honors the traditions of the past with Oz: The Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi modernizes the Land of Oz and turns it into the breathtaking, magical world it was always meant to be.  With the technologies of today and Raimi's creative touch, this fantasy land offers some truly dazzling visuals, especially in IMAX 3D.  Additionally, Raimi makes the film a much more immersive experience with 3D.  For example, when Oz is flying through a tornado and going down waterfalls on his way to Oz, Raimi's deft use of 3D will make you feel like you're actually on this wild ride with the trickster magician.

Raimi's cast does an excellent job as well.  As the titular character Oz, James Franco is the kind of lead we need today to take an audience back to Oz.  He brings the right dose of wit and charm to the big screen as he woos the ladies and chases greatness.  Michelle Williams gives a solid performance as Glinda the Good Witch.  She makes the character her own and doesn't try to be the bubbly witch Billie Burke gave us, which works to her advantage.  As Theodora and Evanora respectively, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz are a delightfully evil pair of sisters.  While they certainly don't outdo Margaret Hamilton's iconic performance some 74 years ago, these wicked witches deliver the goods.  Voicing Finley and China Girl respectively, Zach Braff and Joey King are definitely my two favorite characters.  Both play up their cuteness factor and bring plenty of laughs to this fun adventure.

As wholesome and sugary as Oz: The Great and Powerful is, it's not The Wizard of Oz reboot in 3D.  This movie is its own story and its own wild adventure.  We're not watching an innocent teenage girl with ruby slippers.  We're watching a con man work his magic on the ladies and dupe the people of Oz into thinking that he's something he's not.  In this way, Sam Raimi really succeeds with this film.  He gives us an old school adventure with the right dose modern flare.  Oz: The Great and Powerful gets a 0.03% rating.  This fantasy adventure is for all ages, but the wine coolers aren't.