Over 70 years after The Wizard of Oz was first released, a prequel to that film has finally been made to show us of what Oz was like before Dorothy was ever born; to tell us how The Wizard first arrived and got into power, to inform us of what he was really like, and perhaps most importantly, to enlighten us to how the Wicked Witch became so wicked in the first place. And...it's okay.
Perhaps it is just because I am remembering through nostalgia-tinted glasses, but this film does not at all live up to the films that came before it -- either the classic 1939 film with Judy Garland, or the incredibly creepy 1985 sequel Return to Oz with Fairuza Balk.
In the first film, we had a great, strong story about the power of friendship and the hidden depths within all of us that we can discover if we try. In the second, it was a much darker growing up story, with an underlying message about responsibility and forgiving yourself for your mistakes (or, according to some fan theories, it was the cunningly disguised fantasies of a mentally ill teenage girl). Both of them were children's films, but they didn't talk down to the audience and had something for adults as well (especially Return to Oz).
Oz: The Great and Powerful, however, is definitely a children's film. James Franco plays a self-absorbed, womanising carnival magician named Oscar who ends up in Oz because he's running away from someone's angry husband and is taken to be the wizard who will save the land from the wicked witch. He's not the most likable of characters; the first thing he does when he arrives in Oz is seduce the first woman he sees - but that, predictably, comes back to bite him firmly in the behind.
The theme of the film centres around him becoming a better person and achieving "goodness", which I suppose he does in the end, but it's a strange goodness that involves tricking an entire city. Then again, that's probably the point - he doesn't finish his development as a character until the end of the Wizard of Oz, when he finally tells the truth about himself.
I don't think the most interesting story in the film is Oscar's. I think it's the battle for power and the future of Oz between the three witches - Glinda (Michelle Williams), Theodora (Mila Kunis), and Evanora (Rachel Weisz). I think it would have been far better to have them as the principal characters, though I understand why Oscar is. In fairness, the film does pay due attention to them; notably, it is Glinda and Evanora who are in the final decisive battle, not Oscar.
But after all, this is a PG-rated film and it is aimed at kids; despite it being directed by Sam Raimi, it's not as dark or epic as the trailer makes it out to be. It's just a shame to think of everything that could have been done with it and wasn't.
If you want to see it to re-live your childhood memories, don't bother; the flying monkeys aren't worth the wait. But if you can divorce this film from your expectations, go for it, especially if you have kids. 6/10
You can watch the trailer here: