A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
“Oz the Great and Powerful”
Traversing the Yellow Brick Road is a tricky balancing act that director Sam Raimi mostly pulls off in captivating style with “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
Enchantingly spun off 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” one of the most beloved movies in cinema history, and the L. Frank Baum books that inspired it, the “Spider-Man” helmer’s origin story stars his frequent collaborator James Franco as Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a philandering illusionist for a two-bit traveling circus. He may live in the black-and-white land of Kansas in 1905, but Oz has no desire to become just another good Kansas farmer: He wants to be great and powerful.
When his hot-air balloon is sucked into a fierce tornado, the flimflamming magician is magically transported to the truly magical, Technicolor-bright land of Oz. with its huge musical flowers, little razor-toothed fairies and beautifully beguiling witches. The first denizen he meets is the naïve spell-caster Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes Oz has come to fulfill a prophecy about a great wizard with the same name as the land who is destined to reign as king, once he frees the realm from the oppressive rule of a wicked witch.
Theodora immediately falls in love with Oz, who follows her to the Emerald City in the hopes of making his great and powerful dreams come true. But Theodora’s older sister, the skeptical royal adviser Evanora (Rachel Weisz), suspects Oz is a fraud and quickly sends him to overthrow the tyrannical witch.
Along the way, Oz manages to rescue a jesting winged monkey (voice of Zach Braff) and a resilient little China Girl (voice of Joey King). But when he encounters the supposedly sinister witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), she is actually the good one, which means Evanora is the evil enchantress who killed the previous king, Glinda’s father.
The mythology gets a bit hazy and the story drags too long, but “Oz the Great and Powerful” is packed with indelible visual magic, including Evanora’s terrifying flying baboons, Glinda’s giant bubbles and Theodora’s transformation into a green-faced harpy, which Kunis turns into a worthy predecessor to Margaret Hamilton’s scenery-gobbling crone.
Bonus material: The Blu-ray comes with six making-of featurettes, a blooper reel and Disney’s often engaging but frequently frustrating Second Screen Experience, which viewers can access with their second-generation iPad. Narrated by Braff’s Finley, the experience includes an interactive map of Oz, additional behind-the-scenes featurettes, silly little magic tricks and Mariah Carey’s “Almost Home” music video. It’s all interesting enough but begs the continuing question about Second Screen: Why not just put all this extra stuff on the disc and skip the multipart setup?