March 13, 2013 -- There are a lot of similarities between this film and the well-known 1939 family film “The Wizard of Oz.” Like that old movie, this one is based on books by the same author. It starts off in black and white and changes to color when the story moves from Kansas to the land of Oz.
Like that classic family film, the new film has an Emerald City, the yellow brick road, scarecrows, lions, flying monkeys, good and evil witches, Munchkins, and a carnival magician pretending to be a wizard. It even has actors playing similar characters in both Kansas and Oz, like the original. There is also a message. This time it is not “There is no place like home.” It is more like “If we believe in ourselves and work together, with courage, we can do anything.” Nice message, that.
The story starts in Kansas, with Oscar Diggs (played by James Franco of “127 Hours”) nicknamed Oz, a magician in a travelling circus. Oz is a good magician making a marginal living, but he dreams of much bigger things. He tells his old girlfriend, Annie (Michelle Williams of “My Week With Marilyn”) that she should forget about him. She wants a good man, but Oz doesn't want to be a good man, he wants to be a great man. Later, Oz barely escapes the wrath of the circus strongman after fooling around with his wife. He escapes in a balloon which in turn is captured by a tornado. After vowing to change his shady ways if he survives this peril, he ends up in the Land of Oz.
Upon landing in this strange land, Oz is heralded as the Wizard of Oz, fulfilling an old prophecy. The prophecy says that Oz will deliver the people from the ravages of an evil witch. Prophecies like this are a plot device as old as storytelling itself. It gives the story structure, but it also gives away the rest of the story, which serves the prophecy. In this movie, however, there are a lot of plot twists that keep things from being too predictable.
Oz is a flawed man, to be sure. He is more of a flim-flam man than a wizard. The question becomes, is there greatness within him? Does he have enough courage to be the leader that the people of Oz need in their time of peril? He might not have real magic, like the witches of Oz, but his skills as a magician and as a con man might be just what the people of Oz need. He secretly conspires with a master tinker (Bill Combs of “Get Low”) to devise his “greatest trick yet.” And it is a doozy.
Franco does a nice job as Oz, while Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King and Tony Cox all give solid supporting performances. Braff (“Garden State”) plays an assistant magician in Kansas and provides the voice for a very funny flying monkey in Oz. Joey King (“Crazy, Stupid Love”) provides the voice for an animated doll in Oz, as well as playing a girl in the audience of a magic show in Kansas. Kunis, Weisz, Williams and the others all play central characters in the events taking place in Oz. As one would expect the special effects are exceptional in the big budget film. The 3D process also works very well. This film rates a B.
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