CATEGORIES Movie NewsThis weekend, Disney adds a blockbuster prequel to the magical world of Oz adventure with "Oz the Great and Powerful." Sam Raimi directs James Franco as the titular Oz, exploring how he became a giant, smoke-billowing head. Before he was the man behind the curtain that you were advised to pay no attention to, he was a two-bit carnival magician, conning audiences out of their money, and women out of their hearts. But then a mysterious tornado whisked him away to the Emerald City and into the middle of a battle between Glinda the Good-Witch (played by Michelle Williams) and the Wicked Witches of the East and West (played Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis).
The movie has some big ruby slippers to fill (but you won't see them in the film), so how does it play out? Moviefone breaks down the ten things you need to know about "Oz the Great and Powerful." (SPOILERS AHEAD)
1. The Visuals Blow Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' Out of the Water "Alice" had the fortune of being the first movie to cash in on "Avatar's" 3D wonder -- and it was also the first movie to expose audiences to some unnecessary 3D tricks. Thankfully, "Oz" pops! with bright, colorful landscapes. The camera takes you on an impressive virtual tour of Oz, whether it's from the vantage point of a hot air balloon or the point of view of one of Glinda's magic, flying bubbles. You dip and soar like you're on an amusement park ride and the lush rainbow colors of the mountains, flowers, and enchanted sprites gives you plenty of eye candy to snack on. And although no movie needs to be in 3D, this one pulls it off right.
2. There Are Problems With the Story The prologue in which we meet Oz, set in black-and-white Kansas (pre-tornado), is a nice introduction to the character and his motivations. But once he crash-lands in the fantasy-land bearing his name, the movie's logic gets a bit muddled. Vague references to "a prophecy" justify every unearned plot twist. Characters (literally) wave their hands and solve problems with spells, but, for some reason, not every problem can be solved with magic because that's not what the prophecy foretold.
And, unfortunately, "Oz" suffers from the same problem that every prequel has: you know how it's going to end, and you sit through some lengthy scenes in order to get to a conclusion you knew was coming. Yes, sometimes it's about the journey and not the destination, but this journey adds up to a two-plus hour running time.
3. James Franco Is James Franco Audiences have a very mixed opinion of Franco, and this movie won't change anyone's mind. He doesn't so much "play a character" as he does act like himself. His persona can vary between funny and suave to aloof and obnoxious. He was the third person to take on the role after Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp passed, and you can't help but think that either one of those actors could have elevated the material through sheer force of charisma.
4. Mila Kunis's Wicked Witch Sounds a Little Like "Angry Meg Griffin" One of the movie's driving plots is how the beautiful Mila Kunis is transformed into the cackling, green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West. Unfortunately, the movie fails her; when she's not delivering awkward exposition, she becomes something of an afterthought. Kunis looks looks slightly bored throughout the movie. And when it's time for her to accept her destiny and become one of the cinema's most terrifying villains... it sounds distractingly close to her "Family Guy" counterpart, Meg.
5. Michelle Williams & Rachel Weisz Really Are Two of the Best Actors Alive You don't appreciate the skill of these Oscars-pedigreed thespians until you watch them transform questionable dialogue into something genuine. Weisz looks like she's having more fun than anyone with her conniving villain's vampiness. And Williams elevates Glinda into an honest-to-goodness fairy godmother. They're both having fun, and they're fun to watch.
6. The Witches and Flying Baboons Are Wicked Scary This film introduces an important distinction: flying monkeys are good, but flying baboons are very, very evil. With leathery flapping bat-wings and ear-piercing shrills, the Witches' henchmen are legit movie monsters. And the movie likes to play coy with the wicked sisters' true forms. But if you're familiar with Raimi's "Evil Dead" trilogy and the physical appearance of the demons from the Necronomicon, you might be better prepared than some people in the audience.
7. Zach Braff's Talking Monkey Is Pretty Adorable, Actually There are a few grating conversations between the quick-witted Oz and Finley, his hapless flying-monkey assistant (voiced by the "Scrubs" star), that feel like a watered-down version of the Shrek/Donkey dynamic. But for the most part, their repartee gets a laugh. And even though he's made up of a collection of computer-generated pixels, Fin manages to be pretty adorable. When he goes non-verbal, he'll remind you of Abu from "Aladdin." And that's a good thing.
8. Sam Raimi Is an Odd Fit That Never Quite Matches There are a handful of moments where the "Spider-Man" director's visual trademarks are evident (like demented camera angles that tilt ever so diagonally), but those moments are few and far between. Outside of the arachnid superhero movies, Raimi has always gravitated to smaller-scale, more off-beat projects. The more expensive and merchandise-driven his movies get, the less recognizable they feel. "Oz" has more in common with "Spider-Man 3" than "Spider-Man 2."
(But there is one fantastic silver-lining: if you know your Sam Raimi filmography, you can expect a very groovy cameo.)
9. Your Kids Are Not Guaranteed to Like This It's easy to see why children will be compelled to see "Oz": cute, talking animals, on-screen magic, and beautiful and powerful heroines. But between the movie's longer running time and Raimi's eccentric scares, you'll run the risk of either your kids losing interest and/or scaring your littler ones.
Related: "Oz" Family Film Guide
10. It Falls Under the Weight of the MGM Classic In spite of the impressive candy-colored landscapes seen in wide shots, too many scenes take place in front of green screens, which makes the production somehow feel hollow and artificial. This is a dramatic difference from the iconic 1939 Judy Garland film, which still boasts one of the most awe-inspiring and lavish set productions ever. Additionally, there are certain timeless elements from that movie that proved too expensive for Disney to reference, some of which feel strangely absent.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" opens March 8.