Cameras have officially started rolling on Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great and Powerful, which Walt Disney Pictures is hoping will follow in the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland and become the next ultra-popular spinoff of a classic piece of literature (and its respective previous film adaptations).

Rather than the semi-sequel route that Alice went, Oz is a semi-prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz story that incorporates several elements from author L. Frank Baum’s original Oz novels with some brand new material to give it a “fresher” feel.

Starring as Oz the Great and Powerful is Oscar-nominee James Franco, who previously collaborated with Raimi on his Spider-Man trilogy. Raimi will also reunite with composer Danny Elfman on this project, marking the pair’s first teamup since their fallout after Spider-Man 2.

Here is the official synopsis for Oz: The Great and Powerful:

When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot—fame and fortune are his for the taking—that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity—and even a bit of wizardry—Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.

Additional cast members for the film include Zach Braff as Diggs’ put-upon circus assistant (and the voice of a CGI-winged monkey named Finley); Joey King as another digitally-rended character, the fragile China Girl; and Abigail Spencer as “a young woman who is a willing subject of Oz’s magic tricks.” Any bets on whether or not she ends up being seduced by Franco’s non-magical shyster?

Disney is clearly hoping that Oz takes off at the box office like Alice in Wonderland did last year. Not only are the basic ingredients (beloved literary source material, celebrity-filled cast, and a quirky blockbuster director) the same, Oz will also utilize the talents of Alice producer Joe Roth, production designer Robert Stromberg, and composer Danny Elfman. That’s not to mention, Raimi’s film is scheduled for release almost exactly three years after Tim Burton’s Alice hit theaters.

The odds of Oz the Great and Powerful coming anywhere close to matching Alice‘s billion dollar success seem rather poor, put mildly. Franco may be a big name, but he’s nowhere near the bankable star that Johnny Depp is, especially when Tim Burton is involved. Plus, the main appeal of Alice was how it seemed like a match made in heaven, bringing together a very popular and eccentric actor-director duo to offer what (visually, at least) promised to be a phantasmagorical take on Lewis Carroll’s strange but beloved source material. Matching Raimi and Franco with the Oz story just doesn’t read as quite so lucrative on paper – even though the final product could very much be an improvement on Depp and Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

We’ll see how it all works out when Oz the Great and Powerful arrives in theaters on March 8th, 2013.

Source: Walt Disney Pictures