‘Oz’ as dry as drought stricken Kansas wheat

Oz the Great and Powerful movie poster.
Oz the Great and Powerful movie poster.

If you must see “Oz the Great and Powerful” just don’t expect a movie as good as the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz.” And whatever you do, don’t dare attempt comparisons between the two … because the current film, even on its own merits is less than satisfying, but in comparison is a total failure.

There are a few good scenes, late in the film, but most of it is a big bore. And as much as I may like James Franco (“Spider-Man”; “Milk”; “127 Hours”) he is miscast as Oz, a shyster carny working in Kansas in 1905. Franco makes him fairly likable, but not at all believable. The acting is not bad, especially by Rachel Weisz (“The Bourne Legacy”) as Evanora, the most evil of the witches. They do the best they can with the material.

Loosely based on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” one of the 13 books in L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” series, this could be considered as a prequel to the 1939 classic film since they share characters and other elements, but there’s no beloved Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow or Toto. It does start in black and white and a twister is the mode of transport to Oz just like the ’39 MGM film.

Some actors have duel parts. Zach Braff (“Scrubs”) is Oz’s beleaguered assistant at the carnival in Kansas and also a bell hoped-costumed monkey in Oz. He’s cute so kids will like him, even if he gets little to do. While Joey King (“Ramona and Beezus”) plays a girl in a wheelchair and a broken, orphaned China Girl. Kids will like her too. If they can stay awake children might like a lot of this, but I sure didn’t.

I blame screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire for a repetitive and boring script and director Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”; “Spider-Man”) for poor pacing and an over-reliance on computer animation. The film looks too cartoonish, especially when compared to the CGI laden “Jack the Giant Slayer.”

Sisters Evanora and Theodora (Mila Kunis) use Oz in an attempt to destroy Glinda (Michelle Williams, who also plays a former sweetheart of Oz’s back in Kansas.) Oz discovers Glinda is the good witch and she tries to convince him to become the Wizard the Kingdom of Oz and the Emerald City needs. We all know what he becomes so there are few surprises in store. Although some might be surprised how the Wicked Witch of the West transforms into the green skinned cackler who screams “Never!” with great gusto.

If you want to see more of the world of “Oz” beyond the ’39 film see “Wicked” the Broadway smash from a few years ago next time it comes around. It’s much more entertaining than “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Bill Cobb is the Master Tinker and Tony Cox is Knuck, the trumpet playing munchkin. The arrival of the munchkins was a relief. I perked about a bit and thought, “finally!” The tricks used to fool the witches are kind of fun, but too little too late. The 3D is just okay, but kids will like the spears and flying baboons headed right for them. Yawn.

Sally M. Hill may be reached at smhill@hcnonline.com.