A fantasy adventure, Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz (itself based on the 1900 children’s novel by L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).
Viewers will recall that the classic film featured the Wizard working his pretend wonders from his hiding place, and it contained the unforgettable line, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” The prequel steps back in time to reveal the Wizard’s origins as a magician in a circus sideshow. There, as Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco), he earns the ire of the strongman (due to Oscar’s attentions toward the strongman’s wife), and the magician flees in a convenient hot-air balloon. It is promptly caught in a tornado that deposits him in the Land of Oz.
Some believe the stranger to be the wizard prophesied to free the Emerald City from the Wicked Witch. Unfortunately, the winsome Oscar soon finds himself again the object of female interest, this time of two Wicked witches and one Good witch—a running adult theme that detracts somewhat from the innocence of the tale.
However, taking more than a page from Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (1889), Oz has Oscar use his illusionist ability to seemingly become a real wizard. Though he had been unable to heal a wheelchair-bound girl at the circus, he now uses some glue from his bag of tricks to repair the broken legs of China Girl (a living porcelain doll), in one of the movie’s most touching scenes. And his special effects knowledge allows him to work other seeming wonders and ultimately save the day.
Given the inherent theatricality of this approach, together with inspired computer animation and the behind-the-scenes contributions of the movie’s magic adviser—famed illusionist Lance Burton—Oz becomes a movie success. If it does not quite reach the pinnacle of the great 1939 classic, it is nevertheless a worthy companion to it.
Rating: Three wooden nickels (out of four)