1939 saw the release of arguably the most iconic film of all time: The Wizard of Oz. Since then, no film has really managed to touch audiences as much as this and influence pop culture in such a fashion. The red slippers, the yellow brick road, the Wicked Witch of the West, the cowardly lion, tin man without a brain and a scarecrow without a heart are all easily recognised and associated with The Wizard of Oz. So why on Earth have Disney decided to try and even come close to the original with Oz: The Great and Powerful.
It should be noted that Oz: The Great and Powerful is not a direct prequel to the 1939 film. It is in fact a prequel to the original novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz due to some complicated copyright business. James Franco is Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs, a small time magician/con artist who is transported to the magical land of Oz, where he meets three witches and is said to make the prophecy come true and become the king of Oz.
James Franco is an actor who seems to love trying to add strings to his bow, however as any good huntsman will tell you one string is all a bow needs. Fantasy is the latest in a long line of genres Franco has had mixed success in along with comedy, drama, science fiction, superhero films. And it has to be said that fantasy is not a genre Franco looks at all comfortable with. Based on this performance alone I would be surprised if anyone ever let him loose with CGI again; his vision and hands and everything else was all over the place. His performance was elevated thanks to actual on screen actresses in his presence and when this happened (particularly in the scenes with Michelle Williams) Franco actually looked like a professional actor.
The beginning of the film, set in black and white and pushed back into a smaller frame in homage to the original film, is poor at best. Supposedly set in 1907 the dialogue and persona of the characters really lets Oz down. I found it hard to get into the film with poor performances for the first fifteen minutes or so and Oz being quite frankly, a very hard character to like.
As the film goes on Oz: The Great and Powerful does appear to get better but it has more ups and downs than Oz’s hot air balloon ride that got him there. The problem with this being a prequel is that the audience already know where the story leads, but in this case it feels as though the producers of the film have no idea where it is going. On the surface, though, there is a lot to enjoy thanks to incredibly well put together CGI displays and the intricate work done on the flying baboons is fantastic.
The supporting cast does very little to help the film with the exception of Michelle Williams and Joey King who both perform their roles as well as they could. This isn’t a performance that Mila Kunis or Rachel Weisz can be proud of and either with their characters being rather poorly written and just firing information at us as if they were telling us every single thought which we really do not need to hear. Zach Braff as Oz’s first real friend Finley the monkey provides a few much needed laughs but there are a lot of jokes that really miss the mark… by a lot.
There is already a sequel in the works but it is going to need a much better script, much better performances and any sign of a sense of direction because you won’t find that in Oz: The Great and Powerful.
My Rating: 5/10.