Oscar Diggs is a Kansas circus magician who has a run down magic show, charming patter and an eye for the ladies. However, Oscar also aspires to a life a greatness like that of his hero, Thomas Edison.
When one of his romantic escapades leads to a close call with the circus’s strongman, he decides to make his escape in a hot air balloon, a decision that will take headlong into a tornado… and over the rainbow to a land populated by with flying monkeys dressed as bell hops, girls made of china and a wicked witch who will stop at nothing to prevent the prophecy of a wizard claiming the throne of the land of Oz from coming true.
I must admit that I approached seeing this film with a little trepidation given that although Disney’s previous stab at classical literature, “Alice In Wonderland”, directed by Tim Burton, looked amazing, it felt like it was a case of the film trying to work against the material that everyone knew and loved. In the case of “Oz The Great And Powerful”, Sam Raimi, alongside scripters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, deliver what is basically an origin story to the much beloved works of L. Frank Baum that takes in elements of the various cinematic interpretations of the Land of Oz, alongside Baum’s literary world, plus a faint dash of Gregory Maguire’s “Wickedverse” version of Oz along the way.
Visually, Raimi’s vision for this story has the “Wow” factor. As in the musical film version of “The Wizard of Oz”, this film starts in monochrome depicting Oscar’s life as a man aspiring for greatness, despite being little more than a conman and a philanderer. Once, the adventure truly begins upon his arrival in Oz, the viewer is greeted with a vision that is truly jaw-dropping and full of colour, beauty and works fantastically alongside the 3D.
The cast perfectly compliment the roles to which they’ve been cast.
James Franco takes on the role of Diggs, a character that is usually seen as an old man, and effectively characterises the man behind the Wizard. He is given the task of taking the character from being a philandering, albeit lovable, rogue and conman into a hero worthy of the prophecy bestowed to him.
This film has three beautiful actresses who deliver three fantastic performances in their roles of the three witches of Oz.
Michelle Williams gives a warm portrayal in her role of Glinda (aka Glinda The Good) who becomes the catalyst for Oscar’s transformation. As in “The Wizard of Oz”, she also portrays a second character in Kansas who is intrinsic to the Oz mythos.
It’s not a real spoiler, if you’ve read the press for this film, that Rachel Weisz is the villain for this film in the role of Evanora. Ms Weisz delivers a multi-textured, yet predictable given the framework of the plot, performance that ranges from convincing sympathy and willingness to the prophecy concerning Oscar to downright villainy befitting a character like Evanora.
However, I want to reserve the highest praise for Mila Kunis who portrays the role of Theodora. As the first person who Oscar meets on his arrival in Oz, Theodora is his guide… and initial love interest, and it’s a credit to Ms Kunis that she can deliver a performance which takes Theodora on a logical plot arc which is befitting the Oz stories along with being heartbreaking in its progress.
As in Dorothy’s friendships in “The Wizard of Oz”, Oscar has characters from the “Kansas world” who becomes his companions in Oz. Zach Braff shows off both his dramatic and comedic acting chops in the twin roles of Oscar’s fairground assistant, Frank, and his alter-ego in Oz, the flying monkey, Finlay, who is both cute and sassy in his screen performance. Oscar’s other main companion is the cruelly orphaned, yet gutsy, China Girl, vocally portrayed by Joey King, who also delivers a brief, but heart rending, performance as a girl who asks Oscar to give her the ability to get out of her wheelchair and walk again.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sam Raimi film if there isn’t cameo performances from his regular collaborators, his brother Ted and Bruce Campbell, who portrays a skeptic in the fairground audience at the beginning of the film and the Emerald City’s Winkie Gate Keeper respectively.
Speaking of regular Raimi collaborators, the soundtrack is scored by Danny Elfman, who provides a score that compliments the fairground side of Oscar’s Kansas existence and the magical nature of Oz. A remarkable feat considering that the soundtrack was composed and completed within six weeks.
There is a VERY minor quibble with this film and it’s that I wish that the Kansas scenes were in 2D as well as monochrome to help the transition between Kansas and Oz become more magical. However, this is small as I still had my jaw slackly hanging open at the special effects depicting Oz.
If you’re a fan of the Oz stories, please make it your mission to see this film. If you’re not familiar with the Oz stories, but enjoy a film filled with adventure, enchantment, great acting performances and beautifully realised direction and visuals, please make it your mission to see this film. Hopefully, Disney will learn from the experience of their production of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and keep this property in-house and retain Sam Raimi to either direct, or produce, more films based on L Frank Baum’s books.