Visionary director Sam Raimi approaches Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful with an eye for colorful sets, mostly fun character work and a professional nod towards the original Wizard of Oz. Most of Oz works as a silly screwball comedy, much like most of Raimi’s work, but the film’s sluggish third act only gets worse due to Mila Kunis‘ inability to give an over-the-top performance without going too over-the-top. James Franco does his best to balance things out with his natural charm and sense of humor, but Oz the Great and Powerful quickly becomes boring and useless.
Oz (James Franco) is a good man. He’s a circus magician with dreams of becoming something bigger and far greater. After one of his routine nightly shows he boards a hot air balloon quickly, hoping to escape his boring and far from spectacular life, while also trying to get away from a giant man attempting to pound him in the face. This quick gesture sends him up into a tornado and eventually down into the land of Oz.
After arriving he quickly learns of the lands various witches (Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis) and how the good one is trying to prevent the bad ones from taking over and ruling Oz. There’s a prophecy that speaks of a great man that comes to Oz and helps defeat the evil witch, causing peace and happiness throughout the entire land. Oz initially doubts his ability to rise up and become the person that everyone needs him to be, but through friendship and a little self-discovery he soon realizes that he’s exactly who they’ve all been waiting for.
Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful isn’t exactly a direct prequel to The Wizard of Oz. It certainly borrows a few things from it, like the sets and character designs, but this Oz establishes itself as its own film very early on. Sam Raimi has always been a visual director, often cramming his films full of colorful and bizarre sets and creatures and this one’s no different. Oz looks gigantic and well thought out, with lots of the CGI rendering appearing purposefully out of place to help achieve that dream-like state of being.
The land is full of characters, ranging from dwarfs, witches, monkeys, China dolls and so on. Raimi uses the mythology to his advantage, introducing new things around almost every corner. One thing you can’t say this film lacks is creativity.
But does the rest of the film balance out? Not quite.
James Franco does a great job playing the highest-looking James Franco since Pineapple Express. This isn’t a negative thing, because his oblivious charm is much-needed to help drive the character of Oz up and over his hump. He starts the film out as an asshole without a clue as to why people bother to talk to him and he ends the film finding his heart. It’s telegraphed mostly, but it’s acceptable work because Franco plays it up with just the right concoction of silly and serious.
Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams give middling performances, with not one really outshining the other. Weisz shows no struggle playing the detestable witch looking to rule the world, while Williams counteracts her with a much softer and kind witch. They fill the parts with the traits that will either make you love them or hate them, but never really care for them.
The biggest problem this film faces is Mila Kunis. She’s naturally engaged with the material early on, working great with Franco and clearly showing an understanding of what kind of fun and silly Raimi is going for, but then she goes completely overboard during the film’s second half. Her character becomes a laughable joke, with her performance coming across as trying way too hard. She’s not funny and she’s definitely not scary, which makes her a nuisance.
Raimi is never able to recover from this terrible miscast, causing Oz to go from being a light family affair that works at the very least to an unbalanced level of comedy. Some of the humor will make both kids and adults laugh, while the Kunis-delivered stuff falls on deaf ears.
Sam Raimi‘s a talented enough director to work around it, but it gets to be a little overbearing since she’s one of the main characters that shifts the story from the beginning to the middle and finally the end.
Oz the Great and Powerful works wonders as a screwball comedy done up Sam Raimi style, but while everyone else is having a ball with the material and really adding to it, Mila Kunis is simply holding it back and making you question when you’re supposed to be laughing or holding onto your seat in fear. Her lopsided performance weighs the film’s final act down extremely and Raimi never manages to pull it back together.
Oz the Great and Powerful – 6.5/10
Closing note: The 3D works in doses, like the opening credits or the slow reveal of color and depth as we travel from Kansas to Oz, but most of it feels like a gimmick that was added on last minute by the studio to increase ticket sales.