I know I’m completely in the minority here, but I am not a big fan of the classic “The Wizard of Oz” movie. No, I don’t get nostalgic about it, It’s not a big part of my childhood, and I don’t understand why other people, including my mother, make such a big flippin’ deal about it. In my opinion, it’s a watered-down, sentimentalized adaptation of a good book with a cop out ending (it was all a dream, really?!)
That said, not giving a hoot about the original makes it easier for me to enjoy this reimagined prequel, which, despite lukewarm critical reception, was well-received by me and my family. There are a fair amount of flaws- James Franco’s somewhat over-the-top performance as the titular wizard, as well as some forced humor, come to mind, but for every lame joke there is an effective one, there are delightful characters and genuine emotion, and damn it, the CGI-generated colors and backdrops look so dang pretty on the big-screen TV.
Oscar (James Franco) is a flim-flam man operating in Kansas as a ‘magician,’ smooth-talking young girls, and lacking appreciation for his partner Frank (Zach Braff) at every turn. After a particularly poor show, Oz is blown away in a hot air balloon by a twister and (segue from black-and-white into color, as a nod to the original) lands in the radiantly beautiful but potentially deadly land of the as-yet unnamed Oz.
No sooner as he landed there than Oscar meets Theodora (Mila Kunis,) a wide-eyed witch who falls for his charms. Theodora believes Oskar is there to fulfill a prophecy that will bring peace to a land plagued by a wicked witch. Lured by the promise of gold and riches, ‘Oz’ leads Theodora on to believing he is the chosen one, and is aided by a strong-willed and somewhat annoying china girl (voiced by Joey King) and cute n’ furry bellhop monkey Finley (also voiced by Braff) on an epic quest where being a epic-scale bullshitter might just be the thing that makes Oz the man for the job.
In true ‘Oz’ form, people from Franco’s Kansas life reoccur in different forms in the land of Oz. Among these are Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams,) who appears to be the double of Oz’s old flame Annie who he can’t admit he loves, Frank the assistant AKA Finley the monkey, and a wheelchair-bound girl from Kansas (King) who is the voice of the orphaned china doll.
James Franco is a mix of appealing and charismatic-enough and hammy, pulling potentially cramp-inducing smiles and not above scenery-chewing. Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are appealing as beautiful witch sisters. Michelle Williams, who is typically a wonderful actress pulls a performance similar to that of Anne Hathaway in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” that is so wishy-washy it makes you go so what? Williams is not bad, as Hathaway was, but seems to be trying too little just as Franco is trying too hard.
This film is done by Sam Raimi, the man behind the “Spider-Man” and “Evil Dead” trilogies. And do you know what? I think for the most part he does a good job. Nothing beats hearing your little sister’s delighted laughs at a certain scene reverberate across an empty theater, and she wasn’t alone in her enjoyment. “Oz” is no masterpiece, but it’s funny and cute and it might just behoove you to ignore the critic’s opinion on this one.