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Review: ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’

Sam Raimi Adapts Baum’s Classic Book

Welcome to the re-imagined, re-colorized, yet not totally legally, Land of Oz! Follow the grey cement road to Disney's prequel in San Diego theaters March 8.

Disney-Oz hybrid memorabilia, ready to stock shelves in time for the much hyped film release.

The story isn't very unique or original, but Disney isn't in the business of originality (cough Star Wars VII cough). They're in the business of tapping into established markets and giving the masses what they want, with that uniquely powerful Disney touch. And with Oz, they have done just that. The film feels not-so-eerily similar to the Disney cash cow from 2010, "Alice In Wonderland."

In accordance with Disney blockbuster film form, and my "Alice" comparison, most of "Oz" is cracked out on CGI. Two main characters are completely computerized -- Oz's monkey butler (voiced by Zach Braff), and the China Girl (voiced by Joey King)

Both are surprisingly useful characters. At times they deserve a few eye rolls (actually, that's just throughout the film), but these light-hearted additions save unimpressive scenes as the story starts rolling along. And true to original "Oz" form, they have corresponding characters in Kansas.

So, what happens in and around the CGI? Oz (played by the mildly charming James Franco) is a small-time magician in early 20th century Kansas. He is as much of a "player" as small-town magicians can be, with the help of his hard working assistant Frank (the aforementioned Zach Braff). After a brief goodbye to the soon-to-be-wed good girl Annie, the Kansan version of Glinda the Good Witch (played by porcelain faced Michelle Williams), he is whisked away by a tornado with nothing but his stovepipe hat and bag of magic tricks.

Much like the original "Wizard of Oz" film, after transporting through the worm hole-like tornado, we are drowned in a sea of vibrant color. In addition to the colorized effect, the screen expands from a boxy 4x3 in boring "Kansas screen" to widescreen in Oz. The first shot in Oz expands from narrow grayness to widescreen, encompassing rainbow brilliance. It's like a breath of fresh mountain air for the eyes.

Oz finds his way through a "Wonderland"-like array of creatures and plant life to stumble upon ethnically ambiguous, raven-haired Theodora ("sexiest woman alive," Mila Kunis). Believing him to be the great wizard that local legend foretells, she leads Oz back to the Emerald Palace. In doing so, they make an instant romantic connection. (Most of the film's developments are instant.) At the palace, Oz meets Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Evanora simultaneously sends Oz off on a mission to capture Glinda's source of power (her wand) and turns her sister Theodora against him, transitioning her into the green Wicked Witch with the bite of an apple.

Kunis as the new, improved and super leathery, Wicked Witch of the West.

See what I mean about Disney film originality? I mean, an apple? Come on.

Oz and his cohorts, the monkey and China Girl, find Glinda, learn of her goodness, and visit the land of munchkins and kind-hearted folks. Yes, this is the same place where Dorothy's house drops.

In time efficient fashion, we learn of Evanora and Theodora's true evil tendencies. They are plotting to destroy the beautiful land Glinda and her simpletons call home. So, with his sneaky magician tendencies and the help of townsman tinkerers, Oz orchestrates a rouse to rid the land of the evil witches without killing them. Because nobody is allowed to kill for some reason.

And with surprising ease, the prequel falls into its place. We see how and why The Great and Powerful Oz is what he is. We understand the wish granting, gift giving origins of Emerald City's great wizard. I think another goal of the film is to show how those with great power, like the witches and wizard, should accept vulnerability and maintain humility in trying times -- but that might be an overanalyzation of a theme not intended by the writers.

With "Oz" legal rights and the immensely unsubtle story writing aside, the movie is all around fun and worth a watch. Largely, because it is so brilliantly colorful and aesthetically pleasing. (I would be very interested to see "Oz's" movie barcode.)

Companion viewing:

"The Wizard of Oz"

Ranting about fun, trippy colors reminds me of the "Space Odyssey" color sequence. Click here and have fun.

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