March 8, 2013 by Vinnie Leduc
A last-minute cut from our list of honorable mentions for most anticipated movies of the year, Oz the Great and Powerful has always looked at least visually appealing throughout its marketing campaign, if not curiously intriguing. Containing plenty of allusions as an homage to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, this Disney adventure is set a couple decades prior to the Dorothy & Toto tale that so many generations of audiences are already familiar with. But while the colorful film may deliver in the nostalgia and eye candy departments, Oz the Great and Powerful ultimately does not live up to its name.
Although it’s presented in black-and-white 4:3 aspect ratio and mono sound (one of the various neat hat tips to The Wizard of Oz), the prologue is one of the highlights of the movie before it blossoms into surround sound and widescreen bursting with color that hasn’t been this vibrant since Life of Pi or Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. From the beginning and throughout the film, one that could’ve been chopped up to make a bunch of Skittles commercials, the 3D visuals are backed wonderfully with a whimsical score by Grammy and Emmy winner Danny Elfman, who should have an Oscar by now.
The cast features Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner James Franco as the eponymous protagonist and also stars Golden Globe nominee Mila Kunis, Oscar and Golden Globe winner Rachel Weisz, and Oscar nominee and Golden Glove winner Michelle Williams as the trio of witch sisters. That’s a lot of star power, but Franco and Kunis seem terribly miscast. Even after you realize that director Sam Raimi is passing off much of the film (his first PG-rated one, by the way) as a comedy, you can’t help but suspect that Franco is not totally invested in his gig, as if he’s still co-hosting the Oscars like a scarecrow with no brain behind that knowing smile. Kunis nearly puts her role up there with her turns in Max Payne and The Book of Eli as another example of miscasting, but she manages to surprise by the second half of Oz.
Families will appreciate the simple, common, and overstated theme and message of believing. Kids will delight in the rainbow palette splashed across what would otherwise be a continuous green screen behind the actors. Adults may also delight in some of the CGI (particularly the China Girl), may smile along with the pervasive sarcasm exhibited by Franco, and will appreciate the references to The Wizard of Oz, especially considering the legal barriers to do so. However, they might not buy the overall production. Despite the movie knowing how to put on a decent show, the characters seem like modern people stuck a century back, shrugging at the conspicuousness of the smoke and mirrors and bells and whistles. Kind of like Franco’s con man mistaken to be a prophesied savior and wizard, Oz is neither great nor powerful, but with a strong conclusion that bookends the film like its prologue did, the fantasy story is one that can be a fun two-hour escape. Oz the Great and Powerful gets 2.5 out of 5 stars.