|James Franco in front of a green-screen looking at nothing but imagining a pile of money... for motivation -in Sam Raimi's film of Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful|
**1/2 out of ****
Are you a good waste of time, or a bad waste of time? A prequel to The Wizard of Oz definitely sounds like a time-killer movie. The concept of how a con-man became a great and powerful con-man (who would one day play a role in a Kansas farm girl’s concussion-induced dream) isn’t very interesting. It could still be a little fun, right? I guess it was.
The structure echoes the beloved classic film. It appropriately begins in black and white but amplifies the transition to color by changing from the classic square-shaped screen to widescreen as we arrive in Oz. He then finds his way to a city is given a task, which leads him to make some whimsical friends along the way.
This time, the lead character lacks innocence and his journey is about finding greatness he regularly fools people into thinking he possesses. The story is about how those who spin illusions can be heroes. Disney would love to spread such a message.
The world of the movie never looks very real and doesn’t have to. Like the original film’s obvious painted backdrops and matte landscapes, this movie is mostly a bunch of visual effects that fill the screen with bright colors and provide the essence of an animated film with real people inserted.
It’s a pleasant visual experience, no doubt, and Sam Raimi’s directorial style is energetic with his typically corny sensibilities. Then there’s the script, which reminded me of how much I hate the word prophecy in fantasy movies, but still seems worth forgiving because everything weak about it, was bound to be elevated by a good cast… That wound up being this movie’s biggest problem and the worst of that casting is sadly the wizard himself.
James Franco needs to be demoted from his current status in Hollywood. I think a lot of him, but he continues to take high-paying roles that are way outside his range. IMDB’s trivia section on the movie claims Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr. and Christoph Waltz were all considered for the role. I can imagine how improved this movie would be if any of those men had been Oz, but I’m sure they had better things to do.
The other weakness is Mila Kunis. Bless her heart. She does what she can with the role but doesn’t have the chops to play Theodora, the good woman destined to turn into the Wicked Witch of the West. As silly as that role is thought to be, there’s creativity and playful energy required, that I hate to say, this beautiful actress lacks.
It’s Rachel Weisz as Evanora, for whom a house will one day be dropped upon, who shines with perfect theatrical versatility. There’s also Michelle Williams as Glinda, who doesn’t have to try very hard to look like the sweetest witch in Oz.
There’s other supporting characters like a monkey who sounds like a less-funny Nathan Lane but is in fact an unenthusiastic Zach Braff. He’s really one-upped by the 13-year-old Joey King who does a very emotional voice performance as a tragedy stricken little girl made of china.
There’s also three-foot six-inch actor Tony Cox (Marcus in Bad Santa) who doesn’t have enough screen time but is always great, and the Raimi-arranged cameo by Bruce Campbell as one of the Witch’s guards.
I don’t know what Danny Elfman’s scores are like to fresh ears, but his approach to fantasy movie music for the past decade, has been nothing but imitating himself. I am so tired of everything he does for this genre sounding like a weaker version of his score to Edward Scissorhands.
The movie is fun but not enough. This yellow brick road is a rough ride varying between a zany bubble riding scene and boring scenes of needless exposition, which drag out the running time to two hours and ten minutes. I was decided on seeing this movie as a glass half-full during the climax when Oz finally becomes the Wizard, which was a goofy visual feast that put a grin on my face almost as awkward as James Franco’s. This was preferable to a stupid battle scene and I liked it.
By the end, I could say that this seemed like a good waste of time. Oz is something acceptable but nothing to get excited over. Okay Disney, what are you doing to Star Wars? (Fingers crossed)