Mar 8, 2013 / 4:00 pm
One of my favourite aspects of going to fantasy films is that I can get transported into a realm far from reality where my imagination can soar and I can stare at the screen in childlike wonderment. I remember growing up as a young child and repeatedly enjoying the Wizard of Oz for those very reasons. I was completely enthralled at the adventures of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion as they danced merrily along the yellow brick road towards the Emerald City in the magical Land of Oz. In my opinion the 1939 film starring Judy Garland is one of the all-time greats, so naturally I was slightly worried when I heard that a new film would be made that was set in this wonderful world of Oz.
Much to my relief, however, upon seeing Oz the Great and Powerful, my fears were completely assuaged as I realized that director Sam Raimi clearly had a deep and abiding love for this material and he wanted to pay homage to the original. With this prequel he has created a visual feast for the senses full of vibrant colours and wondrous landscapes, while at the same time staying mostly true to the spirit of what made the original so fun and engaging.
I loved how Raimi shot the opening sequence in gorgeous black-and-white with a reduced 4:3 aspect ratio to really give it that classic feel to it. This is where we meet Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a second-rate magician/con-man in Kansas who is just looking to make a quick buck and seduce a young, would-be assistant (who he wants to use as a ringer for his show). We also meet Oz's (a nickname Oscar goes by) right-hand-man, Frank (Zach Braff) and Annie (Michelle Williams), Oz's true love, who has come to inform him that she is engaged to a man named John Gale (*wink*, get it?). Oz knows that he can't commit to Annie so he sets her free to marry another. When a past indiscretion catches up to him he flees inside a hot-air balloon, only to be thrust into the heart of a vicious tornado which whisks him away.
This is where the screen then expands fully and the picture changes to colour as Oz enters the magical Land of Oz. Here he encounters all sorts of strange and lovely things and this is where Sam Raimi really gets to play with the effects. There are some spectacular, eye-popping visuals on display in this fantasy land and the 3-D actually enhances the experience for a change. There is so much depth to the imagery and all of the sets and colours seemed so lush and beautiful that I truly felt transported into another world.
When Oz meets a lovely witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis), she mistakes him for the prophesied powerful wizard who has come to unify the land. When the promise of great riches are offered, Oz lies and pretends to be this grand wizard. After meeting Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Oz must prove his worthiness and sets off on an adventure throughout Oz whereby he encounters and befriends Finley the flying monkey valet (voice of Zach Braff), China Girl (voice of Joey King), an absolutely adorable 18-inch girl made of actual china, and Glinda the good witch (Michelle Williams). Of course along the way they encounter the scary dark forest and nasty flying apes that are sent to attack courtesy of the Wicked Witch.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a highly entertaining and fun magical adventure filled with stunning visuals and plenty of recognizable and iconic characters for those who are familiar with the original film. There are numerous moments throughout the movie where I could see the homage that was being paid to the original. I think kids are going to love this, although small children may be frightened by some of the scary beasts in the film. I sincerely hope that kids will be inspired to watch the classic Wizard of Oz after seeing this film, because that movie is filled with so much joy.
The performances are solid throughout as well, especially James Franco who gets to ham it up somewhat as Oz as he boastfully proclaims his superior skills in the dazzling art of prestidigitation. His over-the-top style at times is totally in keeping with the classic tone of the film and it works here.
Oz the Great and Powerful is all about putting a smile on your face and some joy in your heart. It's cute, sweet and lighthearted for the most part. In other words just all around fine family entertainment. What more can you ask?
If you want a fun fantasy film filled with dazzling visuals then you might just want to visit this wonderful Land of Oz.
I give Oz the Great and Powerful an 8 out of 10.
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