Each time a classic is remade or adapted to modern day, there is a sense of dread. Having watched Judy Garland play Dorothy in the 1939 Wizard of Oz multiple times and ad-libbed 'Somewhere over the rainbow' along with her, I felt like a child revisiting memories at the prospect of watching Disney’s take on the legendary story. The film is a prequel taking us to the origins of Oz and his journey leading to the magical land.
Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a struggling magician who is literally sucked into the magical land of Oz where three witches Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) are fighting to claim the throne in their own rightful way.
After crash landing his hot air balloon, Diggs is mistaken to be the powerful wizard Oz who leads a prophecy of the previous king that he would free the people of the land from the clutches of the wicked witch. Along the way we are introduced to a talking monkey Finley (Zach Braff) and a porcelain China girl (Joey King) who accompany Diggs on this dreaded mission. Even though we are introduced to Theodora as the witch who seeks to protect her people, she soon changes her colors and seeks allegiance with the dark side. Despite the predictable end of good over bad, Raimi succeeds in grasping your attention with his colorful visuals and characters that draw your attention with ease.
The casting is perfect with all the lead actors, except for Kunis who seems a bit out of place playing the iconic character of the Wicked witch of the West. Franco feels at home playing the role of Diggs who loves to create his own truth and live in a make-believe world. Weisz and Williams are equally competent in their roles and seem to have fun in a Harry Potteresque wand duel towards the end. Despite the use of the now overdone 3D, Raimi manages to keep the effects subtle and easy on the eyes.
Most of the scenes have beautiful landscapes detailed with lush green meadows, waterfalls and magical creatures. Despite the legal hassles (original producers Warner Brothers refused to give Disney the license to use their creative decisions and embellishments) the makers do a good job of mixing the new with the old. However, fans of the original will be disappointed as they try to spot the classic moments. There are no ruby slippers, the yellow brick road looks a shade of mustard, the wicked witch isn’t as green as she should be and the munchkins look like a bunch of hill billys on a vacation.
But like the original, Raimi too keeps the beginning in black and white and brings in color once we reach Oz. Perhaps a tribute to the inspiration? Also I wonder why Mariah Carey's catchy theme song Almost Home isn't included in the film ?
Overlooking these short falls, Oz is quite an entertainer. Despite its morale boosting monologues and saccharine laced story line it manages to dazzle you with its visual imagery and charming plot.