To put it bluntly, Oz the Great and Powerful is magnificent. That's a big call, but it's true. Raimi has cleverly managed to recapture the magic of The Wizard of Oz (a film that remains dear and special to millions of us) and yet give us a completely fresh tale told very well.
This film could be called a prequel of sorts. It's the backstory to the wizard himself and how he came to be in Oz. He's actually Oscar Diggs (Franco), a small-time carnival magician and conman making a living in Kansas. He's whipped away by a tornado and finds himself in the land of Oz, where he meets pretty young witch Theodora (Kunis), who tells him that he's the magical wizard sent to fulfill a prophecy and save the land. But Theodora's sister Evanora (Weisz) has other ideas ...
There's much more to the story than that, but to give away more is to enter spoiler territory. The film is not perfect – it's a little long, and some of the middle act feels somewhat padded, but it evokes such a sense of time and place, and brings back happy childhood memories of the classic Oz, that you can easily forgive small faults. And no offence to Franco, but he's outdone in the acting stakes by the three actresses playing the witches – especially Williams, who's utterly enchanting as good witch Glinda. He's certainly not terrible, and seems to revel in the role of a cad, but the gals are just great.
The real wizard behind Oz the Great and Powerful, though, is Raimi. He's clearly a massive fan of the 1939 Victor Fleming film, and shows great respect to L Frank Baum's characters. Raimi cleverly opens the film in black-and-white, in a 4:3 screen ratio, and switches to colour and widescreen when Diggs reaches Oz – all lovely, and a great homage. But what Raimi really gets right with this film is the use of 3D. Not that many live-action directors have properly used 3D since its recent resurgence. The names Martin Scorsese (Hugo), James Cameron (Avatar) and Ang lee (Life of Pi) are really the only three that spring to mind as having used 3D to its full potential. Raimi can now add his name to that list. Again, no spoilers here, but if you're going to see this film, you absolutely need to see it in 3D, OK? It will impress you...
The Wizard of Oz holds a special place in my heart. It was the very first film that I ever saw in a cinema as a child (it was on rerelease; I'm not that old) and has always been one of my favourite films ever. Raimi's lushly beautiful Oz the Great and Powerful manages to recapture the joy and magic that I felt as a child, and for that I thank him wholeheartedly.
SECOND OPINION | David Howland ★★★ If Oz the Great and the Powerful has a problem, its that it’s a Disney film first and a Raimi film second. The film that Oz the Great and the Powerful feels most similar to is another Disney-produced film, the 2010 Tim Burton-directed update of Alice in Wonderland. In hiring Burton for that film, Disney hired a director with early cult appeal, who in more recent years has tended to lean towards large-scale, mainstream productions, perhaps resulting in a slight dilution of his early film’s personality. The same is true of the Raimi-directed Oz update.
Oz is a better film than Burton’s Alice. The female cast, particularly Williams in what could have been a relatively bland role, do a great job, and though Franco is fine, the lead role could perhaps have been better cast. Plot is thin on the ground, but the larger-than-life, fairytale-like characters are enjoyable, often genuinely funny, and Raimi, unlike Burton, is thankfully able to avoid an unoriginal, go-to, final battle sequence.
Oz is at times a highly entertaining, theme park ride of a movie, with Raimi using the 3D to throw all manner of debris at the screen or send the audience floating in bubbles through a lush, CGI-heavy land. Very much a family film, Oz is light on scares; despite the Wicked Witch’s deafening cackle, there’s an absence of any real peril. Like one of those theme park ride without a height restriction, everyone can go on and there’s fun to be had, it just might not be the most fulfilling experience.