.
oz james franco mila kunis

Oz the Great and Powerful

James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz

Directed by Sam Raimi
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 2
Community: star rating
5 2 0
13
March 7, 2013

Quick: who played the title role in 1939's The Wizard of Oz? The answer is Frank Morgan, who stepped in when W.C. Fields couldn't make a deal. I bring this up because James Franco, who plays a younger version of the wizard in the overscaled, underwhelming prequel, Oz the Great and Powerful, is also standing in a shadow. Robert Downey Jr. was the original choice. Would Downey have been a better pick for the charismatic con artist than the more introspective Franco? You be the judge.

My feeling is that Franco does just fine – against daunting odds. The Wizard of Oz is a certified classic, a generation-spanning favorite. Mess with it at your peril. And Franco's Oz vehicle, pimped out in 3D and every computer trick in New Hollywood's digital playbook, is a mess indeed. There's no Judy Garland songs, no Scarecrow, no Tin Man, no Cowardly Lion. There's also no simplicity, no magic, no truth.

Amazingly, it starts out like a winner. The mesmerizing prologue, shot in black-and-white and presented on a boxy screen, evokes the Kansas prairie of the first film. But instead of Dorothy on the farm singing "Over the Rainbow," we get circus magician Oscar Diggs (Franco) fooling audiences with cheap tricks and fleeing jealous husbands whose wives he's tricked into his bed. Director Sam Raimi, of the Spider-Man trilogy, works visual wonders as he eases into the story. As does Franco, who shows us a man of his time (1905), a charlatan secretly obsessed with true-life wizards Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison. It's only when a tornado sweeps Oscar, in a hot-air balloon, into the Emerald City that the film bloats into a candy-colored widescreen extravaganza that leaves character at the mercy of fancy FX.

Franco is basically playing the Dorothy role, a stranger in a strange land. Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and a luminous Michelle Williams portray the witches he meets along the way as he pretends to be the wizard the citizens of Oz crave. It's cute overload as he befriends a miniature china doll (voiced by Joey King) and a flying monkey (Zach Braff). In mining the novel by L. Frank Baum for fresh material, screenwriters Mitchell Kapner (The Whole Nine Yards) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) miss the essential elements of charm and subversive wit. Instead, this 3D exhibition of a movie takes its cue from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and keeps throwing things at us, relentlessly, from the bared fangs of airborne baboons to a witch on a broomstick. Audiences may lap it up (the Oz-themed stage musical Wicked is a global smash). Near the end, as limitless technology teaches the wizard about his own human limitations, Franco hits grace notes that let us see glimmers of how great and powerful this uneven Oz might have been.

13
prev
Movie Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Party Rock Anthem”

    LMFAO | 2011

    This electro-pop uncle-nephew duo burst onto the scene with 2009’s "Shots," a song about getting totally obliterated. Two years afterward, they were still shamelessly getting wild but now insisting that everyone else join them in the fun. "I wanted a song for when we walked into a party, so I thought, 'Party rock in the house tonight/Everybody just have a good time,'" Redfoo (a.k.a. Stefan Gordy, son of Motown founder Berry Gordy) told Rolling Stone about the lyrics to "Party Rock Anthem." "The 'just' was key. I made it a command to focus people on what to do now that we’re here together."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com