"Oz: The Great and Powerful" – Few twists, fine fun

Ryan Perry, Staff Reporter

You probably heard the witches tell their side of the tale in Wicked, but did you ever wonder how the wizard ended up in Oz? Director Sam Raimi’s return to L. Frank Baum’s magical land shows just how the man behind the curtain became Oz the Great and Powerful.
Similar to the 1939 classic, the story begins in early 20th century Kansas, and is shot in black and white. However, the exposition centers not on Dorothy Gale, but on travelling circus magician, Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco). Diggs makes his living as a self-absorbed and selfish conman, short changing his admirably loyal assistant, Frank (Zach Braff).
Soon after Oscar is introduced, he is whisked away in a hot air balloon to the mysterious land of Oz, and the picture shifts to lively color. There, Oscar meets the strikingly stunning witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), who takes him to the beautiful Emerald City and tells him the prophecy of a wizard who would vanquish a wicked witch. To the people of Oz, Oscar is that wizard.
With a timeless and beloved film such as The Wizard of Oz, a prequel story approach can’t be easy. Leave it to Sam Raimi, the director of Spider-Man to do Oz justice.
Raimi delivers characters that the audience can relate to. The cast is well-chosen, and their characters are enjoyable. In place of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are Finley, a winged talking monkey, and a talking China doll. Surprisingly, neither of these side characters are as annoying as they first appear. I was sure that Finley would be Oz’s equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. Both serve as reminders of people from Oscar’s life in Kansas; Zach Braff voices Finley, a symbol of how Oscar treats Frank like a trained monkey. The fragile China doll is voiced by Joey King, who appears early in the film as a handicapped young girl, fooled by the illusionist and heartbroken when he is unable to make her walk.
This serves the theme of the film, which is how Oz mirrors Oscar’s own life in Kansas. The wicked witch he’s tasked with defeating serves as an obstacle in his quest to become a great man. The people of Oz, and their remarkable faith in him, reflect his own determination.
James Franco is rarely cast in this of character type, and he does an impressive job. Franco stretched his sinister muscles in the Spider-Man trilogy, but he has never portrayed a character particularly egocentric until now. Robert Downey, Jr. was originally considered for the role, but if I could recast it with anyone, it would be Johnny Depp. Having already acted a similar role in 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, Depp would fit right in Oz’s shoes. Mila Kunis proved in Black Swan that she has outgrown her teenage role on That ‘70s Show, and she has done it again here. The plot twist surrounding her character is entirely unpredictable, and, though it could have been executed better, Kunis positively surprised me. And who could forget Michelle Williams, bringing irresistible charm to the part of Glinda the Good Witch?
In the end, the special effects are dazzling, the cast is superb, and the story draws on the power of the original classic while still holding its own. The Wizard of Oz has become one of the most cherished films around the world, and since its 1939 release, spin-offs have tried to recapture its heart. For being the first to do it right, Oz the Great and Powerful gets a solid three stars.
~Ryan Perry, staff reporter