Oz the Great and Powerful

Certificate PG, 130 mins. ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful is essentially a prequel to both L. Frank Baum’s fourteen Oz books and the 1939 Victor Fleming movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Oscar Diggs (James Franco – 127 hours, Your Highness) is a conman and illusionist in a 1905 Kansas travelling circus. When the strong man finds out he’s been flirting with his wife, Diggs escapes in a hot air balloon, straight into the path of a massive storm. magically he’s transported to the land of Oz, where he’s found by Theodora (Mila Kunis – Family Guy’s Meg), a good witch, who believes him to be a powerful wizard come to defeat the wicked witch.

Like the 1939 film, Great & Powerful starts off in black and white, Academy ratio, only transitioning to 2.35:1 and colour when Diggs reaches Oz. Also like the ’39 film, there is a certain amount of doubling up, and the Oz characters have dopplegangers back in Kansas. Michelle Williams plays both Glinda the Good Witch, and Annie, an old flame back in Kansas. Zach Braff is Frank, Diggs’ assistant in Kansas, and also voices Finley the flying monkey. Joey King plays a wheelchair-bound girl in the audience at the circus, and also voices the living doll from China Town.

There’s more nods to the old film, including scarecrows, cackling green-skinned witch and a lusciously colourful digital recreation of the emerald city and yellow brick road.

Whether you like the film or not, I think depends on how you react to Franco. Oscar Diggs is very much the antihero, and in the opening scenes it’s hard to find anything to like about him. Even in Oz, he’s slavering over piles of gold, trading in one witch for the next and being an all round cad. It takes a long time – possibly too long – for him to transform into the likeable character at the end, who battles smoke and mirrors illusions against the real magic of the evil witches.

Mila Kunis as Theodora the witch is… both unsettling and sizzling (literally). Brilliant piece of casting. Rachel Weisz plays her evil sister, Evanora, a cold hearted vamp, and Michelle Williams rounds out the trio (there’s always three witches..) as the good witch Glinda.

A little bit too long, but very enjoyable. We’re off to see the wizard. 7/10