Movie review: 'Oz the Great and Powerful' never soars
James Franco and Michelle Williams in "Oz the Great and Powerful."
Rachel Weisz in "Oz The Great & Powerful."
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Many of the touchstones are there: A blue gingham dress, Dorothy's surname of Gale, an adventure somewhere over the rainbow, a yellow brick road and a cackling witch with a broom and a green cast to her skin.
But "Oz the Great and Powerful" never soars or touches the heart in the way the 1939 original did and still does; it's downright boring at times. Maybe it's lack of the four core characters or those enduring songs but while the new visual and special effects are spectacular, the characters are not as vibrant or memorable.
To its credit, however, the fantasy turns a porcelain doll with crackled skin into the character of China Girl who interacts with the humans in a most believable way. The same holds true for a talking, winged monkey dressed like a miniature bellhop.
2.5 stars = Average
James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz.
PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.
In a gutsy nod to the original, it opens in black and white and stays that way for about 20 minutes. No need to adjust your 3-D glasses; Oz and color are coming.
"Oz," directed by Sam Raimi ("Spider-Man" trilogy), is a prequel that imagines how the wizard came to be so wonderful and in Oz.
It starts in 1905 Kansas as traveling circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) tries to woo a local woman with his standard approach -- flattery and a music box he must purchase by the gross -- and to entertain the locals by levitating a "volunteer" as his assistant (Zach Braff) provides sound effects from the wings.
He disappoints a young patron who has an impossible request and does likewise with a sweet visitor, Annie (Michelle Williams), who announces another man has proposed to her.
Annie obviously hopes Oscar will provide a reason she should reject the suitor. But the magician says, "I'm many things but a good man is not one of them. ... I want to be Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison all rolled into one" right before escaping into a hot-air balloon, which is pulled into a twister and transports him to Oz.
In that magical land rich with mountains, waterfalls and fields of flowers, he encounters blond-haired witch Glinda (Ms. Williams) and two sisters, Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz), along with the expectation that he is the wizard everyone has been waiting for, to reclaim the Emerald City from a wicked witch.
Lacking real magical powers, can he really do that? Will he trust the wrong witch? Loot the treasure at his disposal? Flee? And what about that vow he made from the storm-tossed balloon? The one that started with, "Get me out of here and I'll do great things ... I promise, I can change."
Mr. Franco is so earnest and boyish here that it's hard to buy him as a possible con artist. Casting three witches provides for some sleight of hand but might still be one too many, especially when a few costumes invariably show too much cleavage for a PG-rated movie.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" drags at 127 minutes and never manages to make you feel as though you've been swept into a bubble like Glinda floating through the air. Characters who can hurl fireballs or shoot lightning from their fingers seem to have wandered in from a superhero movie in the next auditorium.
As in the 1939 film, some actors do double duty in Kansas and Oz, mainly with their voices and character traits. Munchkins turn up, along with 10-foot-tall Emerald City guards, menacing flying baboons and even a lion and some scarecrows.
It took courage and brains for writers Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire to try to follow the yellow brick road into further fanciful adventure but there's still no place like home -- where you can (re)watch the original.
First Published March 8, 2013 12:00 am