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‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ review: Not your grandmother’s version of Oz

James Franco as Oz in a scene from "Oz the Great and Powerful." Courtesy of Disney

James Franco as Oz in a scene from “Oz the Great and Powerful.” Courtesy of Disney

It might be hard to believe, but Tim Burton had nothing to do with this movie.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is a sort-of-prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” story we have all come to know. Yet it is somewhat its own entity, not lining up completely with the L. Frank Baum books or the beloved movie from the ‘30s — no ruby-red slippers to be found here. Though there are some slight nods toward the MGM produced classic.

This one introduces us to the Wizard before he becomes the Wizard. Oz (played by James Franco) is a con man and a magician who is part of a traveling circus in Kansas. Much like Dorothy Gale, Oz finds himself swept away by a twister and dropped off in the Land of Oz.

The Land of Oz looks a little bit different in this film, though, than it did for Dorothy over 70 years before — as it should. This is likely how Victor Fleming would have liked his Oz to look like. It just was not possible at the time.

It is a little much at times, particularly when Oz first arrives in Oz (confusing, I know) and in some scenes in the Dark Forest. These are the moments where Oz begins to take on more of Wonderland vibe — hence the previous Tim Burton comment.

However, there is good work done with all the CG. Without it, the two best characters in the movie would not exist — China Girl (Joey King) and Finley the monkey (Zach Braff).

These characters work for entirely different reasons. The scenes with Finley are some of the funniest in the movie. It is a shame when he disappears for no real reason toward the middle of the film. He could have added some laughs the film needed at that point.

China Girl, on the other hand, delivers powerful emotion to the story. Her introduction tries to pull at the audience’s collective heartstrings and does it superbly well. Even though we only hear her voice, King’s performance is that of someone beyond her years. We will definitely be seeing more from her in the future.

Of course, this is a “Wizard of Oz” story, so there are witches, three to be exact. Mila Kunis plays Theodora, Rachel Weisz is Evanora and Michelle Williams plays Glinda. Weisz and Williams deliver solid performances throughout, but Kunis feels like a bit of a miscast. Parts of the character she pulls off well enough, but there are some moments later in the film where she is just missing that certain extra something necessary to sell the role.

There is more miscasting found in the title role. Franco is a fine actor, but he simply is not right for this part. The role really calls for a sharp, sarcastic style of delivery that Franco does not seem to possess. A better choice would have been Robert Downey Jr., the filmmakers’ first pick, or perhaps if they wanted to stay with a younger star, possibly Ryan Reynolds.

The worst aspect of this film though is its pacing. It clocks in at 130 minutes, but it feels so much longer. There is a huge payoff during the climax of the film that makes it all seem worth it, but this could have been a solid 30 minutes shorter. It takes a while for the story to build up any speed and then once it does, it frequently taps on the brakes.

Overall, though, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is not a bad time at the movies. If for nothing other than a solid ending, this is worth a look.

“Oz the Great and Powerful,” a Disney release, is rated PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language. Running time: 130 minutes. B-

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