Oz the Great and Powerful, which is in theaters now, is a modern prequel to the original Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum. The original book, published in 1900, was the first of what turned out to be nearly 20 books Baum wrote about Oz. The events in this movie are modern inventions that attempt to explain how The Wizard arrived in Oz before Dorothy. The characters are taken from the original book although several were not in the 1939 movie (also based on the 1900 original), such as the delightful China Girl. The story is plausible enough that even hardcore fans of the series shouldn’t have any problems with this modern take.
The movie’s trailers were thrilling and made the film a must see for us. Sadly, the movie is extremely disappointing. The movie’s pacing is horrible: early scenes in Kansas (a black and white homage to the 1939 movie) and arrival in Oz are too long, and the camera lingers over the—admittedly stunning—graphics far too much. All of us were bored before the movie was half over.
But the poor pacing is minor compared to the stiff and unappealing performances by the cast. James Franco as Oz is especially wooden and unappetizing. Unlike the oft-quoted 1939 movie which was filled with memorable and wonderful characters, this version is remarkable for having almost none. For a movie based on a book for children, this is astonishing. Even the Munchkins are forgettable.
While the human cast is woeful, the animated one is superb. The China Girl and the Flying Monkey, Finley, are wonderfully realized, and easily hold their own with the charmers from the 1939 version. Indeed, the China Girl might be one of the best animated characters of all time.
Final verdict: 6, not awful but extremely disappointing.