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Oz the Great and Powerful (3D)


Stars: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Bruce Campbell, Timothy Patrick Quill

Director: Sam Raimi

The Disney Studio's on thin ice here. Trying to make a prequel to an imperishable movie classic proves a tricky butterfly to pin down.

To the film's credit, it's made in much the same style, starting in small-screen black-and-white, as Oz (Franco), a carnival magician (working at the Baum Bros circus) flees from his detractors in a balloon that gets caught in a 'twister' and lands him in widescreen-and-colour Oz.

Here he meets Theodora (Kunis), a witch in tight black leather trousers and red felt hat, whom he charms and seduces on the spot. She believes him to be the wizard who will save the land, and takes him to the Emerald City (not much green there) where he meets her sister Evanora (Weisz), secretly the worst witch of all.

Oz sets out on a journey to break the alleged far-distant wicked witch's power - until she turns out to be good witch Glinda (Williams) - but along the way, alas, accumulates not talented performers dressed up as Ozites, but a tiny china doll (King) and a talking monkey (Braff). Wouldn't you rather see Adam Sandler as the Tin Man, Seth Rogen as the Cowardly Lion and Johnny Depp as the Scarecrow?

It is at least a moot point, but no matter, special effects are the king here, with the flying monkeys replaced by flying killer baboons - and the hand of an ex-horror film director evident in scenes that are too intense for very young children.

There are some nice touches: Williams in her black-and-white character is the girl who grows up to be Dorothy Gale's mother, and the field of poppies from the original is put to good use. Things get exciting in the last 20 minutes or so, but it's a long time coming; the film's about half an hour too long and much more uncertainly paced than the 1939 classic.

Still, Franco is first-rate as the con-man wizard and Kunis, whose dialogue is at first difficult to hear, enjoys herself immensely as a cackling fiend after Weisz has turned her into the Wicked Witch of the West. It's an Oz film after all, and devotees will doubtless be glad to lick the crumbs from its plate.

David Quinlan

USA 2013. UK Distributor: Walt Disney. Colour by deluxe.
130 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 02 Mar 2013