FILM REVIEW Oz The Great and Powerful

Going Out
Mila Kunis and James Franco star in ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’.
Mila Kunis and James Franco star in ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’.

Back down the Yellow Brick Road

Daniel Carey

THE pill you took is part of a trace programme,” Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) tells Neo (Keanu Reeves) in the 1999 science fiction film ‘The Matrix’. “It’s designed to disrupt your input/output carrier signal so we can pinpoint your location.” Speaking for a bemused audience as well as himself, Neo asks: “What does that mean?” Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) quips: “It means fasten your seat-belt, Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.”
Dorothy was, of course, the main character in the 1939 fantasy adventure ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and she came from Kansas. Not a huge box-office success on its initial release, the picture nevertheless remains hugely popular almost 70 years later. Indeed, the reference would have been instantly recognisable to most viewers of ‘The Matrix’.
‘Oz The Great and Powerful’, Sam Raimi’s prequel to L Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, makes the eponymous wizard its central character. Like its beloved big-screen predecessor, the picture opens in black and white – and in Kansas.

Oz (James Franco), a magician in a travelling circus, dreams of being a ‘great’ man – ‘Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison all rolled into one’. In reality, he’s ‘weak, selfish, slightly egotistical and a fibber’, as another character puts it. He’s a scoundrel, liable to let down his revolving door of beautiful assistants, as well as credulous audience members who believe in his ability to create magic. Pursued by an angry strongman, he runs for his life, takes flight in a hot-air balloon, is caught up in a tornado and is transported to the land that bears his nickname – and into colour.
Sporting the kind of hat Abraham Lincoln was fond of, the new arrival is promised all the gold he can swim in if he can fulfil a prophecy by defeating an evil witch. Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams turn up as women with magical powers – and not everyone is as they seem. Zac Braff, who played Oz’s assistant on earth, voices the winged monkey who becomes his faithful companion on his witch-hunt. Joey King, who provided the voice of a disabled child in the American Midwest, re-emerges as a china doll whose legs Oz repairs using ‘magic in a bottle’ (AKA glue).
Eventually, he’s called upon to lead an army – consisting of farmers, tinkers and munchkins, all of whom are forbidden to kill – into the Emerald City. It’s a big ask for a self-confessed con man, but the closing stages are particularly strong as moving pictures and fireworks are deployed to good effect.
Blooming flowers, flying objects, airborne villains, aggressive plants and a spectacular landscape make ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ a visual feast. Live action and CGI are often well integrated. The flying baboons who serve as the Wicked Witch’s minions are genuinely scary, though they might spook younger kids, especially those watching in 3D.
On the down side, the script is a bit of a let-down. Laughs are few and far between – Oz telling the monkey “You just sneezed away the plan” is as good as it gets. The one musical number seems rather out of place and could have been omitted, given how it invariably fails to match the glories of ‘Over The Rainbow’ and other classics.
There are hints of a sequel towards the end, and it looks like plans are already in train to return to the subject. The screening I attended was preceded by a trailer for ‘Jack The Giant Slayer’ – another re-imagining of a familiar children’s story, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. It seems there’s plenty of money in nostalgia.

Rating 6 out of 10