Oz the Great and Powerful suffers from the same condition that so many prequels do, in that it seems obsessed with explaining things that don’t require an explanation. How did the Wicked Witch turn green? Where did the Wizard get his cool projection image? Seriously, what’s the deal with munchkins? Well, now I know and, quite frankly, I really didn’t need to know.
Prequel films that focus on having a stand-alone story have the most success, and those who seek to give a so-that’s-how-it-happened explanation seem to bomb; largely because they force themselves in the shadow of the original. And if we’re talking about one of the greatest, most historically significant, films of all time – yeah, you probably don’t want to force your way into its story too much, because you just can’t compare. Much like the failed sequel Return to Oz (1985), this Sam Raimi product feels like little more than a cheap knockoff, with modern special effects thrown in to wow the kiddies.
The problem with Oz is that it has a major identity crisis, and seems unaware of how to capture the magic of the original. At times what’s on screen feels like a serious prequel, or perhaps an ode to the classic; yet there are other moments where this adventure feels like a parody. None of these approaches work on their own, and all of these takes work even less when combined together.
This inability to find its legs leaves the performances of the talented cast to feel flat and uneven. It has to be difficult to play a character when there’s no consistent tone to work with. Yes, there are moments where Franco really steals the show, but typically even he feels bland and distant.
In defense of Franco, he does spend most of his time interacting with CGI characters, which could explain why I never felt drawn into the adventure. Add in a huge budget and modern computer effects, and all that wonderful charm that comes from costumed characters is gone. It’s hard to relate to CGI characters, just as it’s more difficult to make computer-generated backgrounds come to life, especially when it’s the painted scenery that gave the original its unique appeal.