"Oz the Great and Powerful": The Trickster Learns Real Magic

At this point, MGM's 1939 The Wizard of Oz is so inextricably tangled up with L. Frank Baum's novels that any new adaptation of his work inevitably references the motifs, characterizations, and music of Victor Fleming's film. And so Sam Raimi's very good Oz the Great and Powerful is likely to be the only production of 2013 to feature little people clad in satin pantaloons. Raimi packs in his typical mix of kinetic energy and cornball sentiment relating the arrival in Oz of Oscar Diggs (James Franco) — carnival magician, con-man, and trickster. His abrupt plunge into the Technicolor land of bejeweled cities is the prophesied coming of the Wizard of Oz, who will save the people from the evil witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West. Oscar, a shameless liar and showman, is the only man in Oz who does not believe he's actually the wizard. Enjoined by Glinda (Michelle Williams) to help the oppressed and very silly people of Oz, he travels the yellow brick road befriending a flying monkey (Zach Braff) and a doll named China Girl (Joey King). Mila Kunis, perhaps the least likely actress to follow up Margaret Hamilton's terrifying embodiment of the WWotW, nonetheless delivers an oversized and perfectly hammy performance against a lush visual landscape marred only by Raimi's sweeping, impossible "magic camera" shots that zoom for miles across poppy fields and forests, making million-dollar CG renders look totally fake, like they cost a buck-fifty.

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