Director Sam Raimi has at last found his Oz, the Great and Powerful, and it’s neither Robert Downey Jr. or Johnny Depp – rather, it’s his Spider-Man trilogy star (and all-around busy man) James Franco.

Franco emerged as a contender to headline Raimi’s spin on The Wizard of Oz just a few weeks ago, but he’s been in a news a lot of late, between rumors about him starring in Akira and a Linda Lovelace biopic. That’s not to mention that he’ll be co-hosting the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday.

Deadline says that Franco has at last nailed down his acting schedule for 2011 by signing on the dotted line for Oz, the Great and Powerful. He’ll begin work soon with indie director Noah Baumbach on While We’re Young before setting off to appear in Oz this summer – and then moving onto Broadway to star alongside Nicole Kidman in a revival of Sweet Bird of Youth in the fall. Presumably, that means Franco’s plans to shoot As I Lay Dying this summer are essentially kaputt at this point.

Disney is the financial force behind Oz, the Great and Powerful, and has apparently been struggling to reduce the budget for the project down to a “mere” $200 million. Apparently the company is planning for Raimi to create immensely elaborate (and given the director’s style, probably mildly twisted) versions of colorful locales like the Emerald City and Munchkinland. Is it fair to say the Mouse House has let the $1 billion worldwide gross of last year’s Alice in Wonderland go to its head?

Alice producer Joe Roth is also working behind the scenes on Disney’s new Oz movie. Similar to how last year’s Wonderland flick featured an older (relatively speaking) version of its title character, who sets out on a new adventure in her respective fantasy land, Raimi’s Oz flick picks up with Franco’s character prior to his days residing as a fake wizard somewhere over the rainbow.

It turns out the fellow was a womanizing shuckster whose scandalous ways forced him to flee the everyday world in a hot air balloon and travel to Oz. There he causes even more trouble by getting involved with a handful of sensuous sorceresses, one of which may be played by Mila Kunis (it seems she’s done “bewitching” Natalie Portman).

These are all only rumored plot elements at this point, and surprisingly risque ones at that, considering that Disney is the one releasing Oz, the Great and Powerful. The company is presumably assuming that the movie’s success will have more to do with moviegoer’s good will towards The Wizard of Oz, and not rest so much on the shoulders of its male star and director. That’s not meant as a cheap shot at Franco and Raimi – there’s just no denying that they aren’t as bankable a pairing as Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.

The success of Alice in Wonderland is in part to blame responsible for all these literary re-envisionings and retold fairy tale movies coming out over the next couple of years. It’s arguably a better trend than the wave of Hollywood’s reboots and remakes that’ll be arriving in the near future, but how much better is up for debate.

How does Oz, the Great and Powerful sound now that Franco is a lock to star?

Source: Deadline