I could say that Sam Raimi’s OZ: The Great and Powerful puts the ‘Z’ in OZ because of how sluggish and boring it is, but that wouldn’t make for much of a review.
Instead, OZ: The Great and Powerful can be compared to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, another big budget fairy tale that shares the same strengths and weaknesses as OZ.
Like Tim Burton’s hit, Raimi’s family film is far more interesting before it steps into the surreal fantasy land of OZ. Audiences are shown through old fashioned, black-and-white fairgrounds where we’re introduced to Oscar Diggs, played by James Franco. He’s ruthless but charming and rude yet funny. Moviegoers are yanked in two different directions, but this wrestle is what makes Diggs a compelling character.
At the carnival, he works as a magician. He uses several tricks of the trade to entertain patrons and uses other tricks to fool the hearts of attractive assistants. He has a rough relationship with Frank, a stage hand played by Zach Braff, and a romance with an alluring lady named Annie, played by Michelle Williams. These encounters and dialogues between these carnival folk are the types we’d like to know more of, but their appearances are fleeting. Even the carnival setting is comforting, but doesn’t stay for long.
A storm hits, and Oscar is carried away in a hot air balloon to the magical world of OZ. Black-and-white turns to colour and the 4:3 fullscreen look transforms into a 2:35:1 widescreen presentation. This is a neat and clever modern day nod to the colour change that shocked and awed people in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.
After some other character introductions and talky exposition, Oscar meets up with a flying monkey named Finley (voiced fittingly by Braff) and a cute, china doll (voiced by Joey King who we see earlier as a young magic show viewer at the aforementioned carnival) and they set off on a quest to seek the Wicked WItch, destroy her wand, and rid of the evil that lurks in OZ.
OZ may be a pretty sight – especially as we take in the well executed 3D effects – but Raimi’s film hits the same bumps Burton met in Wonderland. OZ: The Great and Powerful relies too heavily on its costuming, its innovative make-up, and flashy special effects, and expects all three of those qualities to send the film through to its finish line.
Moviegoers can marvel at the shiny, pretty things, but it’s not enough to forgive the movie for it’s draggy story. That allure Diggs had at the carnival starts to disappear as the character turns into a clichéd hero seeking a rather typical objective. Even Diggs’ cutesy sidekicks and other comic relief he meets up with look and feel ordinary in a film that’s supposed to be brimming with originality.
OZ: The Great and Powerful has a witty conclusion ending in climactic, loud and flashy action – which is a feast for the eyes and ears. But before the satisfying wrap-up and as each talky piece of exposition rolled along with uninteresting back-and-forths to boot, I remember sitting in my seat and fidgeting as quietly as possible. I was keeping myself subtlety and slightly active because I was afraid that if I had stopped, Raimi’s movie would’ve put me to sleep. Looking back on the viewing, maybe I should’ve fallen asleep. Maybe I would’ve been whisked away to a land far more fascinating and lively than cinema #13.