Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013) is a horse of a horrible color

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Motion Pictures
Oscar Diggs isn't a very good man. A showman in a traveling circus he swindles hopeful patrons with magic acts, rates his helper (Zach Braff) as less than second best, and uses a faux story about "his" grandmother's music box to capture the heart of any female that catches his fancy. Lucky for him a twister is in town (especially since he's running away from one of those ladies' irate husbands) and escapes into a hot air balloon. Like the tornado that sweeps Dorothy Gale out of Kansas, Oscar crash lands into the beautiful ethereal land of Oz.

 Played by James Franco, Diggs makes a male protagonist you can root for. Despite the creepy smiles he flashes throughout the film, Franco carries an underlining of charm and scheme. It's acceptable to see why magic brings all the witches to his yard. Better yet he balances the dry wit with the quest of being in a new world with strange, quirky characters.

Before Diggs has a chance to settle the dust beneath his feet, three witches have their eye on him to save their land. Two of them, Theodora (Mila Kunis) and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), are the first to hit up Diggs for his so-called magic. Tempted by the witches' bewitching interest in him, Diggs goes along with the assumption he is the great wizard they've been waiting for. Mysticism of a wicked witch destroying the land of Oz is made aware to Diggs. When Diggs is promised riches beyond his wildest dreams to cure their economic plight, it doesn't matter to him who she is. He has his eyes set on reclaiming gold.

As excited as I was to see Weisz and Kunis as wicked witches, they didn't bring exactly what I had in mind to the table. Kunis' Theodora to me seemed to be as bland as a brick wall the second we meet her. There wasn't subtlety behind her trying to hide her powers as a witch; just plain one-note acting. What Kunis is lacking, Weisz makes up for. Her Evanora is the witch behind the castle scheming to use her sisters' powers. Though some of her mannerisms were a little strange upon first seeing them, Weisz creates a female villain that is a little kooky and fun to find untrustworthy.

Setting out on his mission across Oz, Diggs teams up with two fabulous buddies, Finley the talking monkey and China Girl. My favorite scenes of the film happened between this golden trio. The chemistry between Franco and his CGIed companions made an enjoyable camaraderie. It's actually the first meeting with China Girl that Diggs faces the real devastation sweeping this magical land, and begins to take an active interest in helping those who are truly suffering and set his own ego aside.

The three of them go after Glinda The Good Witch from the North (Michelle Williams), who Evanora and Theodora made out to be the destructor of Oz. The bubble and fog wielding Good Witch from the North befriends Diggs with the utmost innocent sincerity and reveals to him the detriment of the wicked witch has caused her people.

Diggs is forced to question himself and not leave those who are in need behind so he can escape for his life or riches. With Glinda, he is challenged to pull tricks out of his hat he wasn't prepared for. And a good ol fashion magical fight is put by the Wicked Witch(es). If you managed to hide away from her real identity as I had, the big reveal was something you eventually saw coming: Theodora. Despite her dry acting in the first half of the film, Kunis' transformation into the Wicked Witch isn't wasted. When she dons the green face and black hat, I finally felt that Kunis was making good out of her performance. And even, perhaps because of the surround sound of the film, scared me out of my pants a little.

Pieces of Oz: The Great and Powerful aren't entirely perfect. Unnecessary close-ups make some scenes just plain awkward. Composer Danny Elfman never seemed to end his work on the Edward Scissorhands or Nightmare Before Christmas soundtracks as both scores squeezed into Oz. And some scenes between the characters forces the hilarity a little. On a whole, however, Raimi made up for its script and direction issues with the film's clever *hint hints* towards The Wizard of Oz (1939), wicked casting choices, and special effects. DEFINITELY, it's special effects.

From the beginning of Oz: The Great and Powerful and its animated opening credits, the movie is an imaginative ride. The castle at the end of the yellow brick road sparkles off the screen. Oz wasn't just emerald green, but glistening, wondrous, majestic emerald green. The costumes, meadows, the Dark Forest and Munchkinland weren't just blues, yellows, oranges, reds, or violets. Each color was filled with vibrant shades that exploded off the screen.

What I really wanted from Oz was an adventure; just a time to go to the movies and not watch something with an agenda of a villain vs superhero, heavy-handed drama or slapstick comedy. Sometimes there needs to be a place in big budget entertainment other than science fiction or futuristic fantasies. While Oz had its little icky spots and ultimately strives to be a great movie, I can settle saying that it was just okay.

Rating: ★

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