LOS ANGELES — Somewhere over the rainbow, Judy Garland may well be smiling at Disney's 3-D adventure, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” an original story built from L. Frank Baum's whimsical books.
The Sam Raimi-directed prequel explores the backstory of the much-loved wizard, years before Dorothy and her little dog, Toto, traveled down the yellow brick road.
In this film, James Franco plays Oscar Diggs, a magician with questionable ethics who is unexpectedly whirled away by a Kansas tornado to the enchanted Land of Oz. He thinks he's hit the jackpot until he meets three beautiful witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams).
The witches hope he is the answer to the land's prophecy: that a wizard will someday come and restore order. Drawn into the serious issues facing Oz and its people, Oscar slowly evolves not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a spectacular human being as well.
“This is a story of how the wizard came to be the wizard,” Raimi said during a press day for “Oz the Great and Powerful” in Los Angeles. “Of how a small-time carnival magician — a faker, a charlatan — came to a fantastic world and was just the thing that they needed to save the day. It's the tale of how an average man who was selfish became a great wizard who is selfless.”
Franco said he enjoyed taking on the role of Diggs, having read all 14 of Baum's books during grade school.
“The character was written in a certain way: part goofball, part con man, part seducer, part vaudeville guy, all of which appealed to me,” Franco said. “In some ways, he touches on many aspects of Americana, while being a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. A goofball and a dashing kind of guy, but a guy maybe not equipped in traditional ways to be a hero. He has unconventional ways of tackling his problems and fumbling through them.”
Another fun perk from playing a magician: Franco got to study tricks with renowned Las Vegas magician Lance Burton.
“It was pretty fun, and I could accomplish the tricks!” Franco said. “I learned dove tricks and fire tricks as well as pulling things out of hats and making things levitate.
“I learned quite a few pretty cool tricks that if I took them to parties, I probably would get a lot of attention. But I need a lot of help from Lance to pull them off. And he doesn't travel around with me, so it's just one of the skills that I've learned along the way, like sword fighting and flying a plane, that I just don't use so much after the movie.”