It says an awful lot about today’s cinema-going audiences that when Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man trilogy- three of the highest-grossing films of the 2000s, has a new, family-oriented film out, his name isn’t even on the poster! Instead is the sentence- ‘From the creators of Alice in Wonderland’. Firstly, Lewis Carroll created Alice, not Disney, Secondly, as you will know if you read my reviews regularly, I despise Tim Burton’s 2010 adaptation of Carroll’s book. It is cliché-ridden, boring, ugly, unfunny and completely studio-controlled. Therefore, I was worried that this new prequel to The Wizard of Oz would fall into the same hole.
I am delighted to report that this is not the case. Oz takes everything that was wrong with Alice and makes it OK. For example, the cute little creatures that appear for two minutes and then become irrelevant are actually cute and fun to watch, unlike in Alice, when they were loud and irritating. This film knows who its lead is, unlike Alice, which switched between treating Mia Waschiowska’s Alice and Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter as the main character. This film’s lead, James Franco, looks pretty inexperienced in this sort of film, despite his large role in the Spider-Man films. At the start of the film, his character Oscar is a selfish, scheming fair magician who fails to explain to a child in a wheelchair why he can’t magically make her walk. In true Wizard fashion, this girl is portrayed as a delicate china doll once Oscar reaches Oz. His assistant in Kansas, played by Zach Braff, turns up as Finley, an adorable and witty flying monkey (not one of the evil ones, mind you, although we really never get an explanation as to why he isn’t evil).
Another charming homage to the original film you will have seen in the trailer, as the film begins in 4:3, black and white, stereo sound. Once Oscar reaches Oz, the screen stretches out (the most beautiful cinema effect of 2013, I will say) to widescreen, colour arrives, the sound becomes mono and the 3D is amped up (the modern day equivalent of colour, as a cinematic gimmick). I’m not a very big fan of 3D in general, and in recent years I have been disappointment by the underwhelming use of it in The Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black 3, but I can safely say, having experienced the full-throttle version of Oz, that Disney have the best 3D. From Alice to Toy Story 3 to Tron: Legacy, I always get a pleasant surprise with the mouse-house’s use of the effect, and i’m pretty sad that it won’t be used in the upcoming Lone Ranger. The scene when Oscar is caught in a storm identical to the one in Wizard, and little particles are floating around him, moving outside the 4:3 perimeter is one of the best uses of 3D I have ever seen.
The first 2/3 of the film are incredibly enjoyable, and it’s only when the witches start to play a more prominent role that it gets a bit tedious. The secondary plot involving one of the three witches’ (Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams) transformation into the green skinned Wicked we know and love is uninteresting and purely in the film to fill out the ridiculous 130-minute running time! At least Alice was short! The concluding face-off between the witch and Oscar pays beautiful homage to the original film, as does the whole experience.
The story is very old-fashioned, but sometimes it’s nice to see a good, old-fashioned blockbuster. The visuals are stunning and the actors all do their best. Oz The Great and Powerful is flawed, but it’s still an extremely fun film for the family!