I loved The Wizard of Oz film. The music. The colour. Judy Garland. The Wicked Witch of the West. It reminds me of childhood. The scenes where Dorothy leaves Kansas-signified in black and white- and steps out into the Technicolor world of Oz is one of my favourite cinematic moments ever.
So it’s fair to say that this prequel had a lot to live up to. Expectations are high all around and with a budget of 200 million dollars this film needs to entice the audience who holds The Wizard of Oz fiercely in their hearts.
The story revolves around a con man named Oscar (James Franco), who is a magician in a circus travelling through Kanas. While trying to escape from some people he has wronged he finds himself in a hot air balloon which-due to a tornado-takes him to Oz. There he is believed to be part of a prophecy he will be the powerful wizard who will rule the kingdom and defeat the evil witch. Can this selfish man become a hero? And which witch is the wicked witch?
At first Oscar is a difficult man to like, which is kind of the point. It does make it hard in the beginning to warm to the character or care about his journey in Oz. However Oscar (and Franco) soon won me round. This is in part due to Franco’s performance and the camaraderie he has with his new friends. He has good banter with flying monkey Finley (Zach Braff) and China Girl (Joey King).
As for the witches poor Mila Kunis is left with an underdeveloped role of Theodora. I didn’t buy her character’s transformation from naive but good hearted girl; to full on wickedness. She also isn’t scary like the original character was which is shame as Kunis is a capable actress and deserves more to work with. The other two witches Glinda (Michelle Williams) and Endora (Rachel Weisz) fare better. Weisz seems to relish the chance to go full on evil, while Williams manages to ground a character that is basically pure goodness personified. She comes across noble and brave without crossing over into bland or boring. She also has a nice, gentle chemistry with Franco.
There are some nice nods to the original film (such as having Kanas shot in black and white). It’s a treat for fans to spot the references without getting distracted from the plot. It may not be at the same level as the original film and (like most films these days) feels too long and drags in some scenes.
Rating 3/5-It may not be a classic but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable prequel. Which is more than I could have hoped for.