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

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Local

Transit changes for Labor Day weekend

The MTA is adding additional service Friday for New Yorkers getting out of the city for the long weekend. On Friday, Aug. 29, 27 additional…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

Television

'Full House' might be relaunched with some of…

A new "Full House" might be in the works.

Movies

Review: 'The Congress' is a crazy, unwieldy sci-fi…

Robin Wright is the center of gravity in "The Congress," which turns from a live-action Hollywood satire into an animated spectacular on a downer future.

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…

Home

Labor Day essentials

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or barbecuing in the park here are some must-haves for your end-of-summer bash.