Oz The Great and Powerful

The Wizard of Oz began its life as a children’s book written by L. Frank Baum and originally published by The George M. Hill Company in Chicago on May 17, 1900. It tells the story of Dorthy Gale, a Kansas farm girl who gets swept up by a cyclone and is deposited in the magical land of Oz. The story in large part chronicles her adventures as she attempts to leave Oz and return to the American Midwest.

The book turned out to be so popular that Baum wrote a number of sequels. These included The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz and The Road to Oz.

The Wizard of Oz has also been adapted numerous times into other media, including a successful Broadway musical in 1902 and three silent films. The most famous adaptation is, of course, the 1939 film starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Burt Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, and Jack Haley as the Tin Man. It was a memorable production, with great musical numbers such as “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” “We're Off to See The Wizard,” and “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My.”

The most recent attempt to bring Oz to the big screen may not be a musical, but it's still a decent tribute to the work of L. Frank Baum. Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. It is set in 1905, 20 years before the events in Baum's first book and details the trials and tribulations of an unscrupulous stage magician named Oscar Diggs, the man who eventually becomes the Wizard of Oz.

It features the most iconic characters and locations from the novel including the Wicked Witch of the West, the Emerald City and the Munchkins, and the movie looks fantastic with wonderful CGI and costumes. So to a certain extent the people behind the film have managed to recapture some of the spirit of the 1939 Garland film. However, it has to be said that James Franco (Spring Breakers, Savages, Spiderman) in his performance as the Wizard of Oz is quite bland, and he never really captures the sleazier side of Oscar Diggs. The same can be said of Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Black Swan, Ted) who plays the Wicked Witch of the West. For all that I've enjoyed her ingenue roles in such films as Friends with Benefits, she doesn't seem to have the ability to play a convincing villain, particularly one as unhinged as our favourite wicked witch.

Performances worth noting are Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs) as Finley, the winged monkey, Rachel Weiss (The Constant Gardener, About a Boy, The Bourne Legacy) as the wicked witch of the East, and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, My Week with Marilyn) as Glinda, the good witch of the South.

This is a reasonably good family film with beautiful sets, fast-paced action sequences and plenty of lovable characters; and, regardless of the miscasting of Franco and Kunis, it is still worth seeing.

Two thumbs up.