This Wizard of Oz prequel follows a conman magician from Kansas who goes by the name of Oz, portrayed by James Franco. When Oz boards a hot air balloon and is sucked into a tornado, he finds himself in the wonderful world of Oz itself, where due to his magic tricks and conman persona, he is mistaken as the Wizard of prophecy who will defeat the Wicked Witch and free Oz. Thus starts the journey of this film, so on and so forth.
To be perfectly honest, there is a lot to love here, but there is just as much that just irked me at times. I loved Michelle Williams as Glinda, but I found that James Franco was trying too hard at times to try and realize the Wizard of Oz that was in the script. Franco seemed to find that overacting was the way to try and sell the illusion of Oz's conman ways, but he still overacts when Oz has revealed he isn't a wizard and has become a good man. There isn't any real warmth or authenticity that Franco exudes in the role that makes me like Oz, or believe that he's changed, which is why the film so often missteps. Not to mention, the film never takes time to slow down and let the story breathe to take in the wonder that is the land of Oz, like the 1939 musical did, and neither does it allow the characters much time to become more than two-dimensional beings. This is the biggest drawback of Oz the Great and Powerful, because you never really get the sense that the land of Oz is a living breathing place that isn't just a bunch of computer wizardry, making the film often feel as fake as Oz's magic tricks. However, Oz the Great and Powerful is not a terrible movie.
While the movie never truly takes much time to develop the characters, the plot is rock solid and tells a simple enough story that will definitely entertain children, that is if they haven't already burst into tears at how scary Sam Raimi has made the flying monkeys this time about. It's definitely noticeable that this is a Sam Raimi film. Like he did in his Spider-Man movies, he uses many of his horror movie visual tricks to make the Wicked Witch, as well as her flying minions, genuinely terrifying, which is fine for me as an adult, but perhaps it's too much for children, so do heed caution before you take a small child to this movie. Moving on from the well-done scares, the movie also features a very likable supporting cast, with actor Zach Braff stealing almost each scene his CGI flying monkey, Finley, is in. Then, there's the black-and-white Kansas set-up at the very beginning, where we meet Oz and learn about who he is. This set-up takes nearly the first thirty minutes, but it's the strongest and most sincere thirty minutes of the entire movie.
While I don't think Oz the Great and Powerful is by any means an instant classic, it will delight it's targeted fanbase, which is children. The movie, while too simple for an adult like me looking for a little more character and grandeur to the tale, is very funny, and its heart is always in the right place, teaching that one can make themselves whatever they wish to be. However, I do strongly advise parents seeing this movie first without their kids and then deciding whether or not their kid is old enough for it.
I give Oz the Great and Powerful a D-!