Film Review: ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ a safe but sprightly return

Rachel Weisz does some zapping in "Oz the Great and Powerful" Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace, SMPSP
Rachel Weisz does some zapping in “Oz the Great and Powerful”
Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace, SMPSP

Though actually set closer to the turn of the (last) century, the classic-movie-nerd opening of “Oz the Great and Powerful” recreates the look of 1939: the box-shaped frame, the artificial sets, the mannered acting. It’s the era of not the first “Wizard of Oz” film — several were made prior, including a 1925 feature with Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man — but the most beloved, and director Sam Raimi makes sure to get everything right. His only mistake is James Franco, cast as the 30-something Oscar Diggs, aka the actual Wizard of Oz — because when you think of the 1930s, you obviously think of mumbling stoners.

Perhaps realizing this is a classier gig than hosting the Oscars, the amusingly miscast Franco tries hard. Robert Downey Jr. was originally slated to lead this, Disney’s second attempt to piggyback off a mega-classic. (The 1985 film “Return to Oz” tanked, on account of it being as awesomely scary and demented as L. Frank Baum’s books.) But Downey Jr. would have only done Downey Jr., whereas Franco lends an unpolished, excitable and unique presence to a script that’s overly safe and which has clearly been exec-noted to death.

The plot uses little directly from Baum’s 14 “Oz” books, hitting us with yet another origin story: Franco’s Diggs is a magician/conman whisked away by a twister (original!) to the magical land of loud colors and anthropomorphized animals. There, he befriends a flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and a porcelain china doll (Joey King), while running afoul of the younger (and hotter) versions of the three witches: nice Glinda (Michelle Williams), drolly evil Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and her sister, the gullible and sweet Theodora (Mila Kunis).

Raimi dutifully plods through the thin plot while encouraging his actors and effects team to spice things up. Weisz is reliably arch, and the director of three “Evil Dead” movies uses the third dimension to have beasts and pointy objects leaping in our faces. His most lasting effect on this product is more reserved and loving: His is a movie about the relationship between science and magic, producing the most trenchant mainstream picture on the subject since Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige.” And though the overall effect is lightly likable, at least it’s not cluttered, narratively or visually, like another Joe Roth production with a Danny Elfman score: Tim Burton’s grotesque violation of “Alice in Wonderland.” (3 out of 5 Globes)



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Local

Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…

Local

Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.

Movies

Review: Bickering family dramedy 'This is Where I…

A talented cast sits Shiva in the bickering family dramedy "This is Where I Leave You," although it's more sap than yuks.

Movies

Review: Desert-walking movie 'Tracks' would be better as…

Mia Wasikowska walks 1700 miles across Australia's deserts in "Tracks," in a story that defies triumph-of-the-spirit cliches but gets some of them anyway.

NFL

J.J. Watt poses unique challenges to struggling Giants…

Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is the leader of a surprising Texans (2-0) team that has already matched last season’s win total.

NFL

Eric Decker 'unlikely to play' against Bears: Source

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's status for Monday night’s game against the Bears is in doubt after he missed practice again Wednesday.

NFL

Preston Parker, not Odell Beckham, will replace Jerrel…

Tom Coughlin noted the next man up will be unheralded veteran Preston Parker.

NFL

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…