The new film from Disney, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp takes on the much loved L. Frank Baum books and… Wait. What? It’s actually Sam Raimi and James Franco? We’ll start again.
Forgive us the levity there but everything in the lead up to the release of Oz The Great and Powerful has screamed Burton & Depp – namely the hyper-realism, fairytale quirkiness and colour overload.
Acting as a “prequel” (no, stay with us), to the classic 1939 Judy Garland film, the story sees circus illusionist Oscar Diggs, played by the aforementioned Franco (127 Hours), on his journey from Kansas to the land of Oz (via, of course, a tornado).
Here Oscar, also known as Oz, hooks up with Finley, a talking monkey, a China Girl and a cauldron of witches – Theodora, Evanora and Glinda. Now, these gals are a rum bunch with each one telling a different story than the other, but it becomes apparent who is wicked and who is good.
It’s a simple tale of good versus evil as Oz gets his gang together along with Glinda, played with supreme syrupy loveliness by Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn), to take on the might of Theodora and Evanora. The former sees the beautiful Mila Kunis (Black Swan) tear the screen apart as she goes from likeable witch in red (bit of a clue there), who’s also got a thing for Oz, to the spurned Wicked Witch of the West. Whilst the latter finds Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) in top form and just as nasty.
Both Kunis and Weisz steal the show, as villains often do. Kunis, in particular, has the more interesting journey of the two and makes for both a superbly cute love interest and also the traditional hat-wearing, broom-riding witch.
James Franco also puts in an engaging performance as the titular Oz, being a slightly unlikeable rascal and then a hero.
In fact, one of the film’s best scenes comes in the form of Oz’s reveal as the “wizard” in a satisfyingly rousing climax. Though the CG-heavy nature of the film and its magical, unreal quality may leave some cold, it’s a tribute to the original which also portrayed a similar visual aesthetic.
The scare factor, for younger viewers, is present too. Raimi plays the film in a family manner though sticks in some frights and slightly horrific imagery (tears burning the skin of Theodora, for example).
Oz The Great and the Powerful includes some memorable moments and the cast are top notch, revelling in the hyper-realism of the piece but there’s a lack of cohesion as the film begins to feel like a bunch of neat and pretty set-pieces. It’s certainly not a disservice to The Wizard of Oz (and the jump from black and white to a different aspect ratio is an appreciated touch), but it’s also most definitely not its equal.
An interesting attempt that falls short but will entertain nonetheless.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 8 March 2013.