Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a magician, con artist and seducer of women. Traveling with the circus, he attempts to connive audiences with mixed success, but apparently a music box with a sympathetic backstory can melt nearly any woman's heart – or turn them green with jealousy and anger.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, but the nods to the former film are few (due to Warner Brothers owning the original).
Just as in the 1939 movie, a tornado is the means of entry into the land of Oz – and Oz (also Oscar Digg's nickname) lands in this enchanting setting that turns the film from black and white into a stunning color backdrop.
Upon arrival, Oz meets a gorgeous young witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis), who not only is thrilled that he is apparently the mighty Wizard of Oz, but just happens to be wearing a riding outfit with leather pants during her walk in the woods. When she takes off her hat and lets her hair down during his seduction, I didn't know who was really the seducer. They meet a monkey named Finley (Zach Braff, in a dual role which also includes Frank, Digg's assistant). Finley lends the movie the majority of it's humor and much of it's heart. They are attacked by a lion – a reference to the Cowardly Lion – and while Theodora surprisingly cowers (I figured she'd have some sort of witch-like powers), Oz takes on his first challenge – a minor one compared with what he'll deal with in Theodora.
The trio follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City, and they are met by "good witch" Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Where Kunis falls flat in her role, Weisz more than matches hers. Evanora does not believe that Oz is the wizard, but shows him the wealth that awaits if he does complete a nearly impossible task involving a third witch, Glinda.
On the way to find Glinda, Oz and Finley arrive in China Town – which clearly has been devastated. They find one survivor, only referred to as China girl, and Oz healing her legs here hearkens back to an earlier point in the film when he couldn't do the same for another young girl. This is where you begin to realize that underneath all the trickery, there is also a heart. China Girl seems fragile to begin with, but inexplicably ends up becoming a force to be reckoned with.
It's hard not to go into spoilers at this point, but I'll say that Michelle Williams absolutely glows in this film as Glinda – who eventually is revealed as the good witch. She and Weisz are two of the standouts of Oz the Great and Powerful, along with Zach Braff as Finley. James Franco is better than I expected during his journey from con man to wizard (although you can never really take the con out of the man). There is even a short musical munchkin scene, and flying baboons.
The latter portion of the film is quite dark and there are frightening elements that parents of young children should be aware of. Mila Kunis also sports quite a bit of cleavage, including during her transformation scene – another scene that I lifted by sense of disbelief for (Theodora had met Oz just hours before, and the reaction seemed a bit over the top).
Sam Raimi helmed the film, and there is already talk of a sequel. While uneven at times, I found the plot engaging and most of the performances strong.
We watched Oz the Great and Powerful in 3D, although it's not necessary to enjoy the film.
Rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language
Run Time: 130 Minutes
Mousesteps Grade for Oz the Great and Powerful: B