Is seems that the universal conveyance from our world to Oz is your basic tornado. Dorothy utilized it back in the 1939 film, "The Wizard of Oz," and that's how Oz the Great is carried to the outskirts of the Emerald City in 2013's "Oz the Great and Powerful."
James Franco stars as Oscar Diggs, a lightweight carnival conjurer who, along with performing his garden variety magic, makes it a habit to single out beautiful women to be his assistants, a practice that gets him on the wrong side of the show's strongman, motivating our dubious hero to abandon all and make a hasty retreat in a handy hot air balloon.
One little problem presents itself. The balloon is headed straight into a twister.
To this point in the story, everything in the film is presented in black and white with the old-school, square-screen format. But when the balloon emerges into a strange and ethereal land, the screen subtly widens and colors appear. It's a wonderful effect and a nice homage to the 1939 classic. I might add that I am not a fan of 3-D, but here, it is utilized to good purpose.
Diggs is obviously puzzled by his surroundings. He eventually meets a gorgeous woman who identifies herself as Theodora. Mila Kunis is perfect in this role as she leads the new visitor to the Emerald City, all while explaining the conflicts afoot and the threat to her beloved land. Oh, by the way, she also informs Oscar that she is a witch, one of three in the neighborhood.
The odyssey that takes them to the city also introduces us to Finley, a delightfully dedicated flying monkey — given voice by Zach Braff — who, along with Theodora, sees Diggs as the fulfillment of prophecy regarding a wizard who will come from the sky and save the kingdom. I won't enumerate their adventures along the way, but suffice it to say there are little tidbits you'll want to pay attention to that fleetingly introduce beloved, future storylines and characters.
When the entourage arrives at the Emerald City, Oscar is introduced to Evanora, another witch and older sister of Theodora. This is where the plot thickens as the elder witch describes the plight of the kingdom and lays all blame at the doorstep of yet another of her kind, Glinda, played wonderfully by Michelle Williams. One starts pondering, where does the evil lie?
Soon, it becomes apparent to Diggs that Glinda and the downtrodden tinkers, farmers and munchkins who populate the land are the true victims, and the alliance forged is delightful.
There isn't a weak performance in this film. Everyone hits their marks and does so beautifully including, Bill Cobbs as the master tinker. He's perfect. The special effects are utilized with discretion and don't overwhelm a compelling tale and the characters we come to embrace.
"Oz: The Great and Powerful" is a must-see with two little caveats, both mostly concerns for younger moviegoers. First, the movie is 120 minutes long and you begin to feel it. Second, there are some scary scenes, especially the "evil" flying monkeys. Having said that, I'm giving the film 3 ½ stars.
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