‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated March 11th, 2013 at 3:24 pm,

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

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)

TAGS: the great and powerful oz, the wizard of oz

67 Comments

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  1. As I said on the boards of Aint’ It Cool, I saw some good reviews and some weak reviews. I made plans to go see it with a friend and his friend this weekends, so I’ll decide for myself then and post my impression to my blog.

  2. @ Brian

    Don’t bother, wait for the rental.

  3. I’d much prefer a dark Oz film, so it stayed closer to the books. I still loved the musical Oz, but after watching the grittier Return to Oz I’m a bit disappointed they’ve avoid that route.

  4. The story reminded me of alice in wonderland and John carter. a person from another world shows up and is supposed to be the saviour of sum prophecy they have

  5. Yet another excellent review by Mr. Kendrick. Sam Raimi is one of my favorite directors, and, with all the comparisons I’ve been hearing about to Army of Darkness (which is my all time favorite movie), I’m so excited to be seeing this movie tomorrow night. This review just reinforces my excitement and expectations for this film. Thanks, Ben!

  6. Wow, the critic reviews have been mixed to negative. Glad to hear Screenrant thinks otherwise!

    Sounds great that the CGI and the characters are all well done. I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a while, glad to here it doesn’t dissapoint :)

    • Actually, the reviews for the film has been mixed to positive.

      • I don’t know where you’ve been looking at critic reviews, but in most places critics are giving it quite mediocre reviews…3,2, and even 1 star….

  7. Went and saw it around 6:30 opening night.

    Pretty much my entire theater applauded the film, even the people who had stuck with “The Wizard of Oz” since the very beginning. I loved the movie, thought it was a great mixture of both Baum’s books and the reminiscent qualities of the original film. Heck, my own family was pleasantly surprised and is eager to see whats next for this new Oz franchise.

    Well worth my money, glad this didn’t let me down :D

    • @ACW 007 – We went on Sunday afternoon. Our theater applauded as well. I’ve never been privy to that sort of reaction to a movie. It was nice.

  8. This movie was absolutely terrible. It was a awkward romance with good visuals and a terrible script. James Franco lowered his acting standards to be in this movie…..

  9. i enjoyed mr kendrick’s review and felt it mirrored my own movie going experience.

    i loved the movie. thought franco’s take on Oz was spot on. this was shot as if the characters were real ie no smooth 1940s acting. franco played oz as a real live carny hukster of 1905 thru the eyes of 21st century realism & self doubt. i thought the witches were great and all of the support characters. the little girl who had a couple roles was phenomenal. williams was very good. she is the Glinda good witch for the 21st century. she had a heart just like the older version but she was a younger character.

    the professional movie critics who gave negative reviews of the movie completely missed the mark. in a sense, any perceived acting weaknesses only goes to show that if these characters were real they would not speak and as perfectly as movie critics want them to.

    i did not expect to be so drawn in and care about the characters, but it pleasantly surprised me. the visuls were also very enticing & pleasing.

    last time i was in a movie that alot of the audience clapped was avengers last year. the audience really really enjoyed this movie. they were quiet when you needed to pay attention and laughing at all of the right moments.

    • My problem with franco is he gives terrible stoned eyes and horid smiles throughout the film. Everytime i bought his performance he did something to ruin it

      • sad to hear that. but many other folks thought otherwise. franco was playing to character, a cheesy hukster who knows he is not a very good man…but others see a great potential in him, including the viewing public.

        which is how this film was viewed this weekend but the public. not a great movie but very earnest very good movie that was worth the time & money. also the domestic & worldwide gross so far, will hopefully endear it for a sequel…

  10. I had high hopes for OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL and visually the film is impressive, but it’s the plot that is disappointing; it’s just not that interesting and at 130 minutes the movie drags. This is really surprising coming from director Sam Raimi and the Disney company. Doesn’t anyone in Hollywood view their films before releasing them? How about the use of storyboards? Forget about 3-D. It is just a gimmick to get an extra $2.50 from the audience. All 3-D does is dull the picture and gives you mostly depth. If you want to see real 3-D you have to go to the Disney Parks that use it the way it was meant to be with images jumping off the screen right at you.

  11. This movie tells it’s true story in black and white were a magician struggles with self doubts has high ambitions and is not a good person and knows it. he treats his assistant poorly and calls him a monkey and tells him he isn’t his friend, gives music boxes to two girl friends and tells his real love that he is not the person she thinks he is,a girl who can’t walk wants him to heal her and he can’t and when he gets chased by the strong man he ends up in oz . The girls he gave the music boxes to are the witches, the porcelain doll was the crippled girl the flying monkey was his assistant whom he originally calls a monkey and the good witch is his true love who believed in him from the beginning , watch the movie again.

  12. I’m with the other reviewers. The movie felt unfinished, the WWotW “change/backstory” thin at best, and Disney’s forcing of the PG rating showed loud and clear. Sequel or no, a film needs to feel even minorly complete. This one didn’t. I did not like it a lot.

    Looked nice and felt like a decent attempt, but not the best acting or editing, or even a thrill on any level.

  13. One thing…the monkey’s name is Finley, not Frank. Frank is Zach Braff and although he voices Finley the names are different.
    I thought the movie was great and alot better than I was expecting. Some scenes are very emotional, especially with China and her village. I thought the origin story of the WWotW was fine…she was humiliated and played a fool by someone she loved…and manipulated by these feelings by another. She was always “wicked”…she just needed some prodding :)

  14. When Downey Jr. was attached I was extremely excited to see this, when he dropped out and was replaced by Franco, my interest all but disappeared. It’s not that Franco is a bad actor, but he needs the right roles to succeed, and this doesn’t seem like a good fit. RDJ seemed perfect and I just cant seem to reconcile his not being in the film…

  15. Its definetly worth seeing, no doubt. Franco, Finley and China girl are great. The biggest issue is the script. While there are many good things going for it the script cleary needed a couple of more rewrites before filming. Theres some real greatness here but it should have been a a classic, as is its good with many flaws.

  16. I saw it last night and although the visuals were outstanding the script/plot seemed more like a B movie. The whole thing felt unfinished and the film just dragged at some points. This was just a bad role for Franco. I think he’s a great actor in comedies but this movie just didn’t fit him. He didn’t sell me the role and therefore I felt like the movie just didn’t fit together. Bad use of my money

  17. A true fan of The Wizard of Oz. I knew from the first mention of Oz The Great and Powerful, that only Disney could do it justice. I enjoyed the movie immensely and recommended it to all my friends and family. I hope they make sequels and maybe with some Disney magic turn it into a ride at the Magic Kingdoms. As I looked forward to this soon to be classic coming out in the theaters, I too can not wait to purchase it when it comes out on Blu-Ray DVD.

  18. I enjoyed the movie but ultimately the wicked witch was dissapointing, could have been much more, I expected something darker from raimi

    • I agree the visuals were excellent,but IMO the movie should’ve been a little darker with a PG-13 rating,but the battle of the OZ witches was pretty cool.

      • You thought a movie based on a children’s novel should have been darker and rated PG-13? Hell let’s just make an R rated Power Rangers film..

  19. Wow!! Me and the kids LOVED this movie. I don’t get why the critics are being so “critical” of it. It had a steady pace and was well acted by all. Raimi’s fingerprints were all over it too. I love the fast facial zoom ins he does. Yet there was a definite sense that it was a Disney movie.

    Mila Kunis was my favorite as Theadora. I was really skeptical that she could pull it off. But in the end, she OWNED the part.

    I am not a fan of 3D at all. I can’t stand it. But this was the first movie that really did an amazing job with it. From the snow seeming to come right out of the screen to the spears that almost got me in the face. Yes, we all jumped.

    I can’t say enough good things about this movie. My 6 year old twins got really scared at the end during a particularly tense sequence, but other than that, it was not too over the top for them.

    If you haven’t seen this yet, do so soon. This is really a treat for anyone who likes/loves the Wizard of Oz.

  20. I believe they could use…. and pretty much do…the exact same background music in most of these action trailers nowadays. Might be better off to use that extra effort to actually make the movie more dramatic, instead of psychologically tricking people into thinking it is. This music is NOT playing during these scenes in the actual movie. Thank God for the mute button.

  21. My daughter is almost five and absolutely adores the Wizard of Oz. Can I take her to see this or would it be too scary?

  22. My daughter is almost five and absolutly adores the Wizard of Oz. Can I take her to see this or would it be too scary?

    • There are a few jump scares that caught me a little off guard, but aside from that it should perfectly fine knowing that you’re with her :)

    • The enemy flying monkeys are pretty scary thanks to their visuals and the intense sounds the movie plays when they show up.

  23. I have two daughters, one is 8 and the other is 4. My 8 year old is going to eat this up when she sees it, but my 4 year old might be frightened by some elements, particularly the flying baboons…so I’m probably going to take the older one and do something more age appropriate with my younger…

  24. @thedave and @Colby Black – I took my 3 year old daughter for her birthday (she turns 4 this week). She loved it. The flying monkey army and the trip into China-town scared her a bit, but she just clenched my hand and pulled me closer to her. Kids like to be scared (think about babies and peek-a-boo, that’s the scariest thing ever for a baby yet they love it). Now, I’m not taking my daughter to any horror movies, but this film is designed as a great family film with mildly scary imagery at times. But, as a parent, you have to know what your own kid can handle.

    To me, this was a film that “kids” of all ages will enjoy. We went as a family outing. My daughter, her grandma, my wife, and I all enjoyed it. If you are looking for an Oscar winning portrayal from any of these actors, you went to the wrong film. But if you’re looking for a visual spectacle about a fantasy land with comedy weaved with action and adventure…and witches. This is a great film.

    • Thanks for the info guys. We’re off to see the wizard.

  25. @Ben Kendrick – My apologies but as a former film reviewer for my college newspaper, I have to ask. What is your criteria for ratings? Do you rate higher for better use of 3D (I don’t watch 3D…eye strain and nausea, you know)? I ask because you also gave Men in Black 3 the same star rating (3 1/2) and I felt that movie’s story was inferior to Oz. Of course, if you bumped Oz up to 4…you’d hear an outcry from Hobbit fans (not me, but you know you’d hear it). I’m curious to know how you come about this particular rating. I’m sure I’ll know more when the podcast is released.

    Great review BTW.

  26. Ben hits on the one thing that I think people are having the hardest time with; this “spiritual predecessor” and “prequel” which is the same problem that made Prometheus so divisive.

    Still even though Raimi didn’t connect all the dots there was still much of this aside from the plot that didn’t work starting with the miscasting of pretty much all the lead characters, the overabundance of CG/3D and, while I love his work, Danny Elfman was the wrong choice to score the film. Glad you dug it but even though I was ok with this loose lead-in to the 1939 film, I was mostly disappointed with the presentation and the hollowness of this whole Skittles-fueled mess.

  27. The wicked witch was sooo bad! Just had me cringing at her lines, not even close to the development needed for her backstory. Her choices felt illogical and rushed. Really silly and ugly looking too, not scary. This character was ruined and that’s half the movie gone for me.

    • Yes so true, was the only reason I was so keen to see this movie, the green witch had me terrified as a kid but this modern version was a let down, maybe kunis wasn’t up to it and really her make up should have been a whole lot scarier! The witch at the end is what kunis should have looked like

  28. It was fantastic. I’ve seen it twice and will see it a few more times.

  29. This could be a good one

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