‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:35 am,

Oz the Great and Powerful James Franco Oz the Great and Powerful Review

The story of Oscar Diggs is a worthwhile tale with a satisfying payoff – an experience that will leave most filmgoers glad that Raimi decided to investigate the humbug behind the curtain.

Oz the Great and Powerful, from director Sam Raimi, is the most recent project to draw from Frank Baum’s Oz book series – which has seen numerous re-imaginings, spin-offs, and adaptations since it first debuted in the year 1900. For more than a century, the Land of Oz has served as inspiration for countless fan-favorite dramas in a variety of mediums – including MGM’s 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz (drawing extensively on the first book in the series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) as well as the Broadway play, Wicked (based on Gregory Maguire’s revisionist novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West).

As a result, while Disney has positioned Oz the Great and Powerful as a spiritual predecessor to the iconic 1939 film, Raimi’s movie is not a direct prequel – a detail that has been lost in the shuffle of pre-release debate and anticipation. Fans and fault-finders will argue over conflicting plot-points between the two high-profile movies, but regardless of where it fits in the franchise cannon, is Oz the Great and Powerful a successful film deserving of recommendation? Considering the quality of prior adventures in the world of Oz – not to mention spin-off re-imaginings of iconic characters – does a blockbuster CGI exploration of the titular Wizard of Oz (played by James Franco) offer a magical and captivating experience worthy of a return trip to the yellow brick road – especially in 3D?

Certain fans could, without question, be put-off by Oz the Great and Powerful, since the film makes liberal (yet respectful) use of iconic franchise characters: most notably Oz, Glinda, and the Wicked Witch of the West. However, any alterations to the characters or larger world successfully serve the story at hand, and several enjoyable nods to the famous Judy Garland-starring original should please longtime followers – if they’re willing to keep an open mind about Raimi’s effort.

Oz the Great and Powerful Michelle Williams Oz the Great and Powerful Review

Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch

Oz the Great and Powerful is surprisingly exciting with beautiful visuals and a sharp balance between humor and emotional drama that makes even flat supporting characters memorable and well-worth their respective screen time. There are some on-the-nose moments and underdeveloped ideas, but the central story – the making of a great (and powerful) man – invokes the “spirit” of Victor Fleming’s classic in an entertaining return to Oz for modern moviegoers.

As indicated, Oz the Great and Powerful explores the origins of several characters that play key parts in The Wizard of Oz – as well as other Oz adventures – but the film’s primary focus is on non-wizard Oscar (Franco). A womanizing sideshow magician, Oscar “Oz” Diggs wears out his welcome in the traveling circus and, fleeing for his life by hot air balloon, is sucked into a tornado – crash-landing in the magical world of Oz.

The people of Oz eagerly welcome Oscar, believing his arrival is part of an age-old prophesy that suggests a wizard from the sky will defeat the Wicked Witch and bring order to the land. Tempted by the promise of unlimited wealth and armed with nothing but magic tricks and a few faithful friends, Oscar sets out to kill the tyrannical witch.

The story is pretty straightforward, especially for film fans who are already familiar with elements of the Oz mythos – witches, Munchkins, flying monkeys and other magical inhabitants. The movie serves as a dual origin story for both the Wizard of Oz and the Wicked Witch of the West – though Oscar is the primary focus and his personal journey from conman to great man sets all of the other characters in motion.

Oz the Great and Powerful Frank China Girl Oscar Diggs Oz the Great and Powerful Review

Finley (Zach Braff), China Girl (Joey King), and Oscar ‘Oz’ Diggs (James Franco)

Aided by a likable performance from James Franco, Oscar is surprisingly deep – especially since an older version of the character once pleaded for Dorothy to “pay no mind to the man behind the curtain.” As it turns out, that man has a story worth telling and, unlike many films that attempt to explore the origins of a known Hollywood icon, Oz the Great and Powerful actually has the potential to make the character’s presence in the original Wizard of Oz more impactful.

The film is less successful in its effort to provide a Wicked Witch of the West backstory – which will be a point of contention among moviegoers. Raimi puts forth a valiant effort, attempting to provide his own take on one of cinema’s most well-known (as well as one-dimensional) villains. While the Wicked Witch is fun to watch, the character’s motivations are thin and unsatisfying – especially when paired against the charming evolution of Oscar.

Most moviegoers will quickly realize (or possibly already know) which of the Oz witches is on track to become the infamous green-skinned evildoer; however, the lack of surprise doesn’t detract from some amusing moments with the character and a competent (intentionally over-the-top) performance from the actress who plays her. In fact, all three of the Oz witches (played by Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams) deliver in their roles – balancing the whimsical but sometimes frightening tone of the movie, while providing some pretty slick hand-to-wand combat.

Oz the Great and Powerful Wicked Witch Oz the Great and Powerful Review

The Wicked Witch of the West in ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’

Equally impressive is the visual aesthetic and design. CGI characters like Oscar’s sidekicks Finley, a friendly flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and China Girl, a living doll (voiced by Joey King), are responsible for some of the most humorous and emotional scenes in the entire movie. The characters are a major triumph in digital acting – once again raising the bar for what filmmakers can do with non-human roles.

Additionally, Raimi pays homage to the wonder of the classic movie by balancing dreamlike backdrops and creatures with believable live-action elements. It’s a seamless and striking product that toys with the boundaries of cinematic presentation and storytelling – especially as the film transitions from a black and white 4:3 picture ratio to 16:9 widescreen color.

Raimi puts the same thought into his use of 3D. Admittedly, taste in 3D is subjective, but Oz the Great and Powerful is full of breathtaking 3D sequences that without question enhance the land of Oz. Most often, the effect is used for depth in massive shots that position characters against the grand scale of The Emerald City or The Dark Forrest – but the director also includes some fun in-your-face moments for startles and scares. That said, while Raimi delivers one of the better 3D efforts, worthy of the premium pricing, film fans that have a hard time with the 3D format (eye strain or nausea) may find a few isolated set-pieces to be off-putting – even though the effect is comfortable and immersive most of the time.

Oz the Great and Powerful 3D Oz the Great and Powerful Review

Oscar Diggs arrives in the Land of Oz

Oz the Great and Powerful presents a captivating take on that wonderful Wizard of Oz – fleshing out the character with a beautiful and emotional adventure. At times, Raimi tries too hard to connect all the dots between his film and the original, creating an awkward gray area between “spiritual predecessor” and “prequel” that may be off-putting to Oz canon purists. However, on its own, the story of Oscar Diggs is a worthwhile tale with a satisfying payoff – an experience that will leave most filmgoers glad that Raimi decided to investigate the “humbug” behind the curtain.

If you’re still on the fence about Oz the Great and Powerful, check out the trailer below:

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Oz the Great and Powerful runs 130 minutes and is Rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Oz the Great and Powerful Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Oz the Great and Powerful episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. No amount of cgi, 3D, or Mila’s big beautiful eyes is going to make up for a poor script, flat acting and a too long movie. Save you $$ wait for the DVD

    • I agree. I loved a lot of elements from the third act, but the writing and acting were so, so poor around that, and the first hour and a half are really a chore to get through.

      • I was yawning and had to fight closing my eyes. It was just plain boring to me.

        That said, my 4 year old daughter loved it and was terrified at the same time, so at least she got something out of it.

      • I feel as if there is a really amazingly brilliant movie deep down in this. There are just moments like with glinda where she kinda/sorta breaks the fourth wall (“If it was easy we wouldn’t need a wizard would we?”) that just make me love this movie. I haven’t seen the original in awhile, so I wasn’t sure how similar the make up for the wicked witch but it felt like it was keeping true. Is the movie campy? Yes, but it is the kind where you are supposed to have fun with it because the whole idea of the world within the movie is whimsical.

  2. Haha @Paddlegal. As I left the theater I turned to my wife and said “another one we could’ve waited to catch on Redbox.”

    It was ok, but do you really wanna spend 15-20 bucks on “ok?”

  3. I tried. So hard. When I wanted to get up and leave the theater I told myself ‘Self, this is going to get better.’ After that moment I had a couple of chuckles. I thought the china girl looked interesting. And, the smoky head at the end was good. But, too little, too late. I didn’t feel for (or care for) any one of the characters in this film. I was almost as bored as the characters were in this shoddy attempt of a movie. Franco comes off more as psychotic than charismatic or charming with that slow-motion wide grin more than he comes off as even mildly entertaining. The way too artificial ‘blooming flowers’ that introduce you initially to OZ were so gut-wrenchingly awful I just couldn’t figure out why the movie-makers thought this would *transform* us into the land of OZ. And, after a 3 minute meeting, the soon to be wicked witch falls madly in love with our Wizard and then, after that deep and long relationship, hits the jealousy button when she finds out Mr. Wizard actually *flirted* with another girl! GASP! I mean, 3 minutes of gooey-eyed stare means they are gonna get married after all! So, when she finds out about Mr. Wizard’s flirting she must obviously lose her mind, turn green, cackle and become an even worse actress for it. There is no relationship built in any way to get you to actually feel for this ridiculously over-bearing character. This was so completely disjointed and removed from OZ in every way imaginable. No magic. Stiff (and quite terrible) acting. Plodding story-line. And hollow characters. Nothing in this film is redeeming. Nothing is great. And, most certainly, nothing is powerful. Well, maybe later. When the stench of a pile of burning DVD’s reaches the collective noses of all those poor people surrounding those who later buy the DVD in lieu of paying horribly high prices at the theater. That’s when the final bell will toll for this movie. When every single person who wishes to see it actually does. And then all will realize that their childhood has been hijacked (and destroyed) by people who truly must have been ‘Over the rainbow’ to think this was going to be pulled off without angering the true OZ believers. Yes, there are a few out there who would defend this movie to the death. But, then there are a few who would jump off of a cliff just because Glinda and the Monkey did it. Disney, please stay away from the rest of my childhood. If you don’t, I’ll hold my breath until I turn purple.

  4. I kind of liked it. Some of the story could have been told better but it wasn’t bad on its own. I mean Evanora was basically emperor Palpatine with green lightning instead of bluish-purple but everything else worked well enough. And I liked the subtle nods to other Oz versions like the herd of “horses of a different color” or the nods to “Wicked” with how the Wicked Witch of the West’s heart was destroyed or her screaming out about “defying” the Wizard. It’s the little things you look for that make it more enjoyable as a whole.

  5. So this is a review “without the sugar coating”? As George Takei would say, “Oh my…”

    Okay, first things first, James Franco’s acting is utterly horrible. Some of the worst that I have ever seen. I liked him in Freaks and Geeks and Spider-Man, but he is just painfully bad here.

    Secondly, the screenplay is horrible itself. That was disappointing. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars to film an underwritten, awkward story. Oh, well.

    I like Mila Kunis a lot, and her character wanted so badly to be compelling, but her acting was a bit off as well, and again the Theodora character was handcuffed by the script. I feel like giving Mila some benefit of the doubt because of that.

    The good? Michelle Williams (!!!)(who was too good for this film), Rachel Weisz (although not foaming-at-the-mouth wonderful, as many people seem to be feeling; her character was not emphasized enough to justify the messianic hyperbole, regardless of how great an actress she is), Porcelein China Doll Girl (heartbreakingly adorable and astonishingly well-animated), some of the initial Oz scenic panoramas, and the big Wizard scene at the end.

    But there was far too much green screen cartoonishness, childish dialoge and humor, and awkward character development. This films is not without its charms, but could have and should have been so much better. Disappointing overall.

    • Just to add one more thought, OZ THE GREAT & POWERFUL does not succeed in being as epic and visually majestic as its famous old “sequel” THE WIZARD OF OZ. Really, 70+ years later and we can’t make something that looks as good? I’m not talking about hi-tech or 3D or ambitiously panoramic. I’m talking non-fake and classy. This one was a step down in both regards.

    • Most of the scenes with the Little China Girl weren’t animated beyond her mouth. That was a fully trained puppeteer in a green-screen suit to edit him out going old school with various marionettes. You also have to consider the original 113 year old narrative that everything else was derived from since it was written originally for kids. You’re going to have cartoonish over-the-top dialogue and behavior. If it was taken down a more serious and thoughtful route you’s have a “Wicked” movie version rather than the Wizard of Oz.

      Although I imagine the commercial success of this will probably make Universal more willing to cut loose the cash for a big-screen version of Wicked now, so you will get your more serious version in a couple of years.

    • 100% agree with you, good comment.

      Mila Kunis is horribly miscast as the Wicked Witch. Just awful, seriously, give her a Razzie quick.
      Good work by Michelle Williams though. she portrayed a younger version of Billie Burkes character Glinda, absolutely perfectly. Out of all the cast, Williams appeared to be the only one who took the time to watch the 1939 movie and actually study the older version of the character she was portraying.

      How James Franco gets lead roles, ill never know.

      • You do realize that the 1939 version is a horrible representation of the original novels that bears only passing resemblance to its source material, right? And that, by law, Disney had to base this in that source material rather than solely on the MGM film that’s currently owned by Time Warner? You’re comparing apples and oranges and then complaining that they aren’t closer to being the same.

        • What source material did Disney work off of? None of this garbage had anything to do with oz. Was there a Tin man, or a Dorothy or a Scarecrow or a Lion in the original source material for the 1939 version? I think there was. No aware person expected this movie to be ‘the same’ as the original. I’m sure most were aware it was the story of the Wizard and not Dorothy. But, on the flip side, we were also expecting a movie less like a video game for morons (with obnoxiously out of place C.G.I. and horrible acting along with character changes –flying BABOONS– and characters created out of thin air that were about as thin as air itself.) and more like something enjoyable enough for us to remember fondly. I’m happy for the about half of the viewers that feel they got that. And, about as angry as the top 2% that this flimsy thing even gets the honor of having the name OZ attached to it. Here’s a hint — ‘IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE RIGHTS TO DO IT RIGHT, DON’T DO IT AT ALL.’ Period.

          • They worked off the original Baum novels from the early 1900’s, actually. Dainty China Country/China Town is right out of the novels. Just like the Lion being an actual lion, Glinda being the Good Witch of the South/Quadling Country, Oz being a real place and not a dream sequence, etc. The Baum novels were public domain in terms of film rights and were the ultimate source of the film. In fact Time Warner threatened to sue over the exact shade of green for the Wicked Witch of the West’s skin when the film was being made. Simply put, Disney was FORBIDDEN to make it too similar to the 1939 film. Then again, most people have never so much as picked up the original novels and have no concept of how far off from the MGM film they are. (Dorothy should be ten and hardly acts as a “damsel in distress”, the “ruby slippers” should be Silver Shoes, the witches should not be related to each other, the Wicked Witch of the West should be a one-eyes old hag with an eye patch that forced Dorothy to act as her servant rather than trying to kill her, and EVEYONE in Oz dating back to when Lurline/Ozma the First brought magick to the land is permanently immortal and stuck in their current ages and states of health. That’s how the Tin Man survived being dismembered by his own axe.)

            • Most longtime fans are aware of the political nature of the original books. The ‘yellow’ brick road representing the Gold market, the Silver shoes… well, you get it. And, many of the lead characters representing politician’s of that day. However, when making the 1939 film they decided to aim it more at children and whimsey. More fantasy than politics. And, quite a few less ‘scares’ at it was aimed at children. Not to mention pure ‘time’ restraints and production difficulties. They simpky couldn’t fit all that story into one movie. And, they had only planned one movie. Even movies nowadays trim the books down quite a bit. Most understand that the 1939 film strayed from the original book. But, it stayed true to the moral fiber intended. This ‘idealistic’ film now, however… The professor is nothing more than a sleaze. There’s no effort to make you really care about him or why the witch is so angry (except that after her 3 minute encounter with marvel she fell so deeply in love with him)… So, when she turns ‘wicked’ it’s laughable. and, what about the prophecy? When did this enter the story? I’ve read all 14 original books myself (the ones written by Baum) even the last one ‘Glinda of Oz’ published after he died. If there is one thing in any of them about a prophecy I cannot recall. But, this new ‘version’ is riddled with it. I agree that keeping them forever young would’ve been a good idea for the 39 version. But, upon reflection, that would mean this version of the wizard would also live forever. So, at this point, I am happy they didn’t keep that. Lol. Disney may have been FORBIDDEN to use any aspect of the original movie, but that film was what cemented the public love of the story. So, back to my original point… ‘IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE RIGHTS TO DO IT RIGHT, DON’T DO IT AT ALL.’ Period.

  6. I was able to get over the acting, though it could’ve been much better. But my one big complaint. What disappointed me the most. There definitely should’ve been more Bruce Campbell in it!!!

  7. “But there was far too much green screen cartoonishness, childish dialoge and humor, and awkward character development.”

    From a comic book fan to a wizard of oz fan…that is exactly how I feel about the x-men and wolverine movies that already were.

  8. “And then all will realize that their childhood has been hijacked (and destroyed) by people who truly must have been ‘Over the rainbow’ to think this was going to be pulled off without angering the true OZ believers. Yes, there are a few out there who would defend this movie to the death. But, then there are a few who would jump off of a cliff just because Glinda and the Monkey did it. Disney, please stay away from the rest of my childhood. If you don’t, I’ll hold my breath until I turn purple.”

    @Sole Fish…Where you mentioned Disney, if it is ok with you I would like to replace the word Disney with Fox Studios, in regards to their handling of the x-men and fantastic four characters.

    • Yes, you may… lol …

  9. Mila Kunis is horribly miscast as the Wicked Witch. Just awful, seriously, give her a Razzie Quick.
    Good work by Michelle Williams though. she portrayed a younger version of Billie Burkes character Glinda, absolutely perfectly. How James Franco gets lead roles, ill never know.

  10. I enjoyed the movie. The scenes between Williams and Franco were great. I really liked the dialogue between Finley and Oz. Kunis wasn’t very good though. Other than her performance I thought it was a pretty entertaining movie.

  11. Not a bad film. Thought they could have done more with the monkey character. All in all 6/10.

    • 6 out of 10 is not bad? Lol! For anything connected to OZ, anything under a 9 is a disgrace. I give it a 2. Sad attempt at nostalgia. Boring and bland.

  12. Very nice cinematography and Mile really seems to enjoy her role but that’s where Paris ends. Franco poorly miscast here, his character lacks magic and appeal and the wardrobe is just distracting, I spent the whole movie wanting to move the strand of hair off Glindas face and straighten her crown

  13. Franco happens to be one of my favourite actors; he’s usually remarkably good at capturing his characters – but then again, he tends to do more soulful interpretations. I was really looking forward to this movie, partly for Oz being an amazing story to build up on and partly for finally getting to see Franco in a more action-acting kind of way. However, I’m so terribly disappointed. Franco and Kunis are both embarrassingly bad in their roles, there is no time taken to actually build their characters and their relationship but instead the so very important beginning is cut short in order to make room for some of the most obvious green screen scenes I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. I can somewhat role with Kunis’ over-the-top acting but Franco really only does well in the end scene – where instead Kunis ruins it by not at all grasping her character. Williams delivers a good performance seeing to what she had to work with, whilst Weisz – usually always brilliant – is just straight up flat and with no grounds for her character. Although, the flying monkey and the porcelain doll are amazing. They are. So at least they did something good…

  14. I did not like the story. I though it was very unoriginal just another wisp of the story of oz that does not fit. Why is it that when I first saw oz in the beginning, I thought that the image fit oz perfectly and the actress choice was excellent. However I believe their should be a completely different story-line. Why not follow the story line from wicked it fits more to me than her eating an apple and turning green. I mean come on that is snow white not oz.
    I was just really disappointed once the story took hold over everything and just suffocated the movie like a parasitic vine kills a mighty tree.

    • Because the movie rights for Wicked are owned by Paramount and this was made by Disney and based on the original turn of the century Baum novels (whose movie rights are public domain). Hence locations like Dainty China Country being added to the story and the Lion being an actual Lion instead of a guy in an anthropomorphic suit.