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Oz the Great and Powerful

A delightful film that raises, rather than replaces, the original Wizard of Oz.
By Tom Glasson
March 08, 2013
By Tom Glasson
March 08, 2013

Director Sam Raimi is no stranger to reboots. His 1981 horror flick The Evil Dead just received the reboot treatment this year, and last year's reboot of the Spiderman franchise (The Amazing Spiderman) marked a mere decade since Raimi's own version of story came out. It's no surprise, then, that Raimi was the one tapped to direct Oz the Great and Powerful — a prequel to 1939's beloved Wizard of Oz. Nor is it a shock that he's now supposedly attached to direct a remake of 1982's Poltergeist.

Basically if you want something done right, again, then Sam's your man.

And he'd need to be, since tackling The Wizard of Oz — a film often ranked in the 10 best of all time — has traditionally been a fool's errand fraught with difficulties. Just consider 1978's The Wiz, an African American version starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow (...if he only had a nose...). Then came Disney's terrifying attempt at a sequel, Return to Oz, in 1985. The opening scenes alone, depicting a frenzied Dorothy, strapped to a gurney and receiving electroshock therapy in a crumbling mental asylum, somehow failed to charm the hearts and minds of families in quite the same way as its predecessor — a task not helped by later scenes featuring masked murderous gangs with wheels for hands or a queen who froze people and wore their heads. You know, a children's movie.

Finally in 2003, the Tony- and Grammy-winning musical Wicked opened on Broadway and has since become the 12th longest-running show in its history. Of all the reinterpretations, it's Wicked that fits most comfortably with the original, and so its story (the explanation of why the wicked witch became wicked) was the logical choice for Raimi's prequel, along with the 'how and why' of the Wizard becoming their great but mysterious leader.

That man, Oscar Diggs (or 'Oz'), is played by James Franco, and his story begins as a lying, cheating carnival con man in Kansas. In a delightful homage to the 1939 version, Raimi also begins his film in black and white, and just like the original, that device makes Oscar's subsequent arrival into the fantastically colourful world of Oz all the more spectacular. Once there, he meets three beguiling but feuding witches named Theodora (Mila Kunis), Glinda (Michelle Williams), and Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Each claims the other is the 'wicked one' and begs him to save the land and its people by killing their rival.

Oz the Great and Powerful isn't a film whose enjoyment is predicated upon knowledge of the original; however, its frequent tips of the hat definitely add an extra layer of enjoyment to the experience. And just like the original, Oz's journey along the yellow brick road leads to several chance encounters with some wonderfully creative, tender and amusing companions, including a small china doll and a wisecracking flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff). Being Disney, it's obviously very much a children's movie, but one whose respectful treatment of the original still offers adults a chance to enhance, rather than replace, one cherished Wizard of Oz story with another.

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