Raimi’s prequel follows Oscar Diggs (James Franco) from his humble beginnings as second-rate circus magician to the all-powerful wizard of the Emerald City. As expected, he encounters a menagerie of weird and wonderful characters along the way, including Zac Braff’s talking monkey butler and a host of witches – varying in wickedness – played by Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz.
Some may feel a prequel to The Wizard of Oz to be blasphemous, so beloved is the 1939 classic, and yet a cynical view of the film is in keeping with its lead character. If the subtext of the original film was a young girl’s journey into womanhood, Oz the Great and Powerful can be viewed as a study of what makes a man, focusing as it does on Oscar’s transition from irresponsible Kansas playboy to mighty figure behind the screen.
Equally intriguing is the subplot that offers a glimpse of how the Wicked Witch of the West earned her broomstick. The cast perform their duties admirably, with the only minor concern coming from later scenes in which Kunis’s witch Theodora reveals her darker side. A talented comedic actor, Kunis lacks the powerful presence required to give her character the maniacal menace called for.
Ultimately the reason why Oz the Great and Powerful feels more like an unsubstantial adventure when compared to the timeless classic of 1939 is due to Raimi’s modern vision of the kingdom of Oz. Digitally captured as a vast mountainous landscape stretching as far as the eye can see, it looks more like a PS2 videogame than the magical world that captured our hearts all those years ago. It is still however a passable piece of fantasy fun, and unlike Tim Burton’s soulless Alice in Wonderland, avoids the predictable epic final battle.
With plenty of enjoyable nods to the original film, Oz the Great and Powerful holds the attention for the more than 2 hours running time. However Raimi’s offering suffers from the same condition affecting the Tin Man in the 1939 version – a lack of heart.