It’s turn-of-the-20th-century Kansas, and Oz The Great and Powerful (James Franco), the Harry Houdini of middle America, is up to his usual tricks—sweet-talking ladies, bamboozling crowds. Like The Wizard of Oz circa 1939, director Sam Raimi begins this prequel to L. Frank Baum’s original novel in black and white, though notably in 3D.
Yet Raimi’s hero is no pure-hearted Dorothy: “I don’t want to be a good man,” Oz tells the love of his life, “I want to be a great man.” Thus he turns his back on the “church-going men” who raised him and the woman he loves to seek fame and fortune by hook or crook.
But when Oz makes a hasty get-away from some of the men he’s hoodwinked, a “hot-air” balloon lifts him smack into the eye of a tornado. The camera shakes, lines snap, and in break-neck cinematography, the viewer is taken on a roller-coaster ride. As Oz grips the rickety basket, he calls for help, presumably from God, and promises to change for the better.
Before that change is fully realized, though, he’ll have to do a lot more soul-searching. And he’ll get to float down to the Land of Oz and visually feast upon the computer-generated beauty of the Emerald City. Once there, he’ll meet a good witch—the embodiment of feminine strength and beauty—and her not-so-virtuous sisters, and he’ll meet a warm-hearted flying monkey named Finley (Zack Braff), as well as a beautifully rendered china doll (Joey King) who will pull at his heart strings and evoke quite a few belly laughs.
Still, with his hope of becoming king pushing Oz toward war with an evil witch, the movie (rated PG) may not be suitable for some young viewers. Screaming attack baboons, an occasional mild curse word, and several scenes of violence are the biggest bumps in this yellow brick road. For adults and older children, however, the razzle-dazzle of Oz the Great and Powerful will likely result in a satisfying trip over the rainbow.