New Release: Oz, the Great and Powerful

There is a lot of pressure on anything hoping to reinvent a franchise or capture the magic of a classic film or character and Oz, the Great and Powerful was attempting to do both.  And sadly, failed miserably on many fronts.  Our story starts in sepia tones in 1905 Kansas on the dusty plains where a circus has come to town featuring Oz (James Franco), a magician/con man.  We see that his act is barely holding together (he's seduced too many farmer's daughters) and there just isn't money to be had, let alone enough to share with his assistant (Zach Braff).  To escape one of the men he's wronged, Oz jumps in his hot-air balloon and is swept away by a Tornado to the land of Oz.  He sees improbable flowers, gorgeous mountain tops, beautiful bugs and birds.  Then he meets Theodora, a gorgeous young woman.  This first 25 minutes of wonder and set up work.  There's an originality to it, a glimpse of the whimsy of the original Wizard of Oz.  From here it's mostly downhill.

Theodora (Mila Kunis) is convinced Oz is the wizard who fulfills a prophesy that will save the land of Oz and make our con man king and very wealthy.  She falls for him, and intends to be his queen (much to his chagrin).  However, Oz still has the same smarmy nature - he hasn't been altered by the magic around him yet.  He does confess to a young monkey, Finlay (voiced by Braff) who becomes his servant that he might not be a wizard.  Then we get to the Emerald City and meet Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who wants the Wizard to fulfill the prophesy and kill the "wicked witch", and so off he heads in order to get the money.  Before he meets Glinda (Michelle Williams, who everyone knows is the Good Witch of the North), we get a new character, China Girl (Joey King) whose village was destroyed, and she goes along with our heroes.  Of course the first sisters are the wicked ones, and a plan is hatched to defeat them.

The story follows The Wizard of Oz almost exactly, including almost all the details (amassing partners, defeating the sleeping poppy field, etc.) and attempts to link us with all of the main ideas we see in the film we love - Margaret Hamilton's green cackly witch on a broom, the man behind the curtain version of the Wizard, even the cowardly lion.  Usually, I'm all for this kind of self-referential humor - I like being in the know.  But this is lazy, uninspired, and bogged down by some really, really terrible acting on Franco's part.  Gone is the wit and humor he had in 127 Hours where he held the screen alone for 90 minutes.  The writing and delivery of a smile and a dollop of charm just don't cut it when you want to be the king and actually energize the underdogs.  He just doesn't pull it off.  The ladies are okay - they have some terribly dialogue to work with, and Mila Kunis should never have agreed to attempt to be Margaret Hamilton - she isn't.  The not-so-subtle anti-feminist message is pretty overblown too - the women are witches who fight with each other and need a man to settle things.  I did not like this and do not recommend you see it.  Ever.

(the .5 is for the China Girl, and the costumes)

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