Sam Raimi is a brave filmmaker. He’s going down a yellow brick road that leads you to The Wiz or something much worse. It can lead you to Return to Oz. Re-examining classic material such as The Wizard of Oz, even for prequel reasons will surely be met with disdain. Sam Raimi will have to use his brains and courage, then hope the audience has a heart for his new film Oz: The Great and Powerful starring James Franco.

Oz: The Great and Powerful begins with the sideshow magician performing in the dust bowl of Kansas. After breaking a few hearts and burning some bridges in the process, Oz is forced to escape the circus in his hot air balloon. Wouldn’t you know it, a tornado blows the balloon with the con-man magician to the merry-old-land of Oz. Oz meets three witches who all speak of a prophecy that will restore order to the Emerald City. Not being familiar with the literary works, I enjoyed this fresh story that didn’t try to hard to connect the film to the 1939 classic. Sure there are some nods which cater to my nostalgic feelings, but that’s okay. That’s what the idea of a prequel is. To show you a new story that connects the familiar, but is different from the original source.

Sam Raimi also brings some edge to Oz: The Great and Powerful that reminded me of his past days working in horror films. Imagine The Wizard of Oz with a twist of Evil Dead. I’m not saying there is munchkin blood spilled over the yellow brick road, but the film does have a dark tone at times. One improvement are the flying monkeys. I actually thought the winged monkeys from the original were freaky, but Raimi goes all out this time around. The monkeys are now ferocious flying Baboons which are scary henchman for the Wicked Witch. Speaking of the Wicked Witch, she really gets to show off the damage she can do with her powers. This is an example of how the special effects of today improved on the characters from the original. The Baboons and the Wicked Witch are much more sinister and violent than they were the first time around.

Oz: The Great and Powerful was enjoyable, but I couldn’t help thinking it was lacking that certain something that makes a film special. James Franco is serviceable as the man behind the curtain, but I couldn’t help but wonder about the charisma Robert Downey Jr. could have brought to the role of Oz, if he hadn’t decided to leave the project. Franco’s performance wasn’t weak, but it wasn’t special either. Also the musical aspect this time around was all but eliminated. So I hope you’re not planning on a sing-a-long experience because it’s not happening. The movie does run a tad too long in my opinion. I would have cut twenty minutes off the running time.

The real star for me was Michelle Williams as the familiar Glinda. Williams brings charm and beauty to the role of the Good Witch. Williams acting adds more substance to the character than just floating bubbles and magic wands. What is also cool is we get to see Glinda show off her powers against her enemies. The Good Witch can thrown down apparently. Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz are also great, but I don’t want to spoil too much about their characters.

When people ask me what’s the best movie of all time, I never hesitate. It’s The Wizard of Oz. The production still holds up as a masterpiece over seventy years later. Yearly viewings will be passed down as tradition from generation to generation, just as our parents did for us as children. So do yourself a favor. Leave any expectations that this film will match The Wizard of Oz at the door. The truth is Oz: The Great and Powerful can’t even hold a candle to 1939 classic, but it’s still a very entertaining film experience. Oz: The Great and Powerful gives you a fresh take on the classic story with sprinkles of nostalgia from The Wizard of Oz lore. I will recommend this film to anyone who chooses not judge Oz: The Great and Powerful based only on your predetermined feelings you may have towards the prequel. I’m feeling generous today so I’m willing to dish out that extra half potato and give Oz: The Great and Powerful 3 out of 4 potatoes.

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