“I don’t want to be a good man,” says Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco). “I want to be a great man — Houdini and Thomas Edison rolled into one.” He’s a cheesy side-show magician, working a traveling carnival in Kansas, 1905. Blown away in a tornado to the magical Land of Oz, Oscar meets Theodora, Evanora and Glinda (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams), sister witches, one of whom is — or will become — the Wicked Witch of the West. That’s the set-up for this colorful, special-effects-full prequel to the 1939 film classic “The Wizard of Oz.” (Is there anyone who has never seen that great family film?)
Which sister is the Wicked Witch? Will Oscar and his friends defeat her armies? Does Oscar become the “wonderful Wizard of Oz”? For answers, see this visually exuberant fantasy.
James Franco is Oscar “Oz” Diggs, fast-talking, self-absorbed, second-rate magician who performs his illusions with help from side-kick Frank, played by Zach Braff. Braff is also the voice of CGI flying monkey Finley, who carries Oscar’s heavy satchel through the Land of Oz. Oscar’s morals are not the best — he’s a sometimes charming rogue and huckster — but Franco works hard, especially with smiles and eyebrows, to make Oscar likeable. Braff’s Finley, like Jiminy Cricket in “Pinocchio,” is the voice of Oscar’s conscience. Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams are witch-sisters Theodora, Evanora and Glinda. I won’t reveal which sister is the wicked witch, but it’s not Glinda.
Others in the large cast include Bill Cobbs as bearded Master Tinker and Tony Cox as Knuck (the “k” is silent), aka “Sourpuss.” Joey King is the girl in the wheelchair and voice of CGI “China Girl,” the film’s most affective character.
“Oz: The Great and Powerful” is a visual treat, a fantasy prequel to the 1939 original film. It’s full of movie-going pleasures, but not as much heart as the well-beloved original. Sam Raimi directs. Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the script (from L. Frank Baum’s novels). The question here is not how Dorothy gets home — she and Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion meet in Oz later. Here we discover who the Wizard is, how he got to Oz, and why the Witch of the West is wicked. Interesting questions but without the emotional tug that Dorothy’s homesickness for Kansas and Auntie Em have.
Rated PG for action and scary images — flying baboons are nasty — “Oz” runs 130 minutes, a stretch for small kids. Adults will enjoy visual references to the 1939 film, including a small-screen, sepia prologue and 3-D, full color Cinemascope Land of Oz. The opening credits are great fun, too. If you’ve not seen the 1939 “Oz” recently, watch it before you go.
“Oz: Great and Powerful,”
A con-man with a pitch,
But which witch is which?