Review: ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’

– Joe Keeley contributed to this report

The opening fifteen minutes of “Oz the Great and Powerful” are presented entirely in black and white and in a 4:3 aspect ratio. It’s a nice throwback to the original “Wizard of Oz” movie and makes the eventual entrance to Oz a grand one.

"Oz the Great and Powerful" acts as a prequel to the original "Oz" film. Photo: Disney

Director Sam Raimi’s take on Oz comes 74 years after the original and is, due to copyright reasons, technically a prequel. However, while the classic film is still watched to this day, Disney’s “Great and Powerful” is not likely to have the same impact.

James Franco plays the titular Oz, a carnival showman who finds himself thrust into a magical land that shares his name. It is here that he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a friendly witch who believes him to be the wizard from the prophecies; the one who is to destroy the Wicked Witch.

Although Oz is skilled at illusion, he is no real wizard. Nevertheless, when he discovers that killing the Wicked Witch means a claim to the throne and all the attached riches, he goes along with it.

The plot is a fairly simple one, but it’s still enjoyable following Oz and the crew he (unwillingly) assembles along the way. Oz himself is a bit of a jerk, but he’s got a certain twinkle in his eye that brings a charm.

A flying monkey, Finley, and living china doll are his main companions. The former is quite cute and amusing, while the latter is vulnerable yet tries to be fierce.  They make a good team, and it allows for some amusing exchanges.

There is a nice balance throughout of emotion, humour and tension. Older audiences certainly won’t find it frightening (it is rated PG after all), but there are parts when Raimi’s horror roots come through, with a few jumps and a creepy graveyard scene.

Oz’s self-importance provides laughs, as does Finley and his sweet naivety. The closing farewells might even leave a lump in the back of your throat.

All of the cast in Oz the Great and Powerful are on fine form. Perhaps the best performance comes from Mila Kunis, who manages to be scary and seductive as her character progresses.

Rachel Weisz is also fun to watch, bringing a cunning and slyness to her role as Evanora, sister of Theodora. Voice actress Joey King and the animation team also deserve a nod for convincingly bringing China Girl to life.

The land of Oz is a bright and colourful one, pretty much made entirely out of computer animation. It’s a mammoth fantasy world, but often it can be hard to get a feeling of what Oz actually is.

There is a town made out of china with tea pots acting as houses, and the towering Emerald Castle. The trouble is that all the locations feel pulled together, like they aren’t part of the same universe. Although it looks stylish, it all comes across as a bit ‘generic fantasy setting’.

Another problem is that, oddly, often the green screen is very noticeable. It is especially obvious when characters are walking towards the screen – they just don’t blend into the background properly.

Oz the Great and Powerful ends one short of saying: “Join us again next year for the sequel”, but viewers will be happy to see more. There is still a lot left to explore, especially when it comes to the story of the witches.

The universe of Oz isn’t as fully formed as it perhaps could have been, but Oz the Great and Powerful still offers a fun ride, especially for younger viewers.

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