Strap yourselves in dudes and dudettes, this is a pure popcorn flick! The storyline had the potential to be big. It’s already made a few transitions since L Baum wrote his novel about a wicked Witch but the story gained gravitas with the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and the recent theatrical adaptation ‘Wicked’. It’s a story with a lot of ‘meat’ as it were. Quirky characters, a lush fantasy world, a manic, unrelenting evil both comedic and horrifying (the flying monkeys have always been a bit ‘Planet of the Apes’ for me). The elements of the story mean that it can be rendered something jovial and jokey, or something darker and far more sinister depending on the interpreters slant.
This adaptation goes for the lighter aspects of the story. Part of what makes this film lackluster is the cast, none of whom I personally dislike as actors, but many of whom I don’t feel ‘fit’ their roles entirely. Some films elevate B ranked stars into superstardom…Heath Ledger really gravitated a level with his performance as the Joker, when previously he was just a pretty love interest in ‘10 things I hate about you’, but none of the stars seem to fill out the gravitas of their roles.
James Franco is Oz. For me, Franco is a fine actor and he certainly adds a buffoonery and a roguishness to Oz’s character. The whole concept of Oz is the double identity: someone perceived as powerful and magnificent who is secretly nothing more than a showman of questionable morals. Franco is very good at personifying the magician, but not so much the terror and power evoked by Oz as a deterrent to the witches. He does have good stage presence and a saucy wink though.
Zach Braff is Frank, Oz’s assistant who also features in Oz as a monkey in debt to the wizard for saving his life. Zach’s unique voice and sense of comedic timing evoke laughs and his animated form is eye poppingly magnified in terms of its colour and grandeur (as is the entire movie...the graphics are equisite, particularly the little China girl looking a little like Toy Story's Bo Peep only cuter).
Then there are the witches. Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and and Michelle Williams have been crowned with the three pivotal roles on which the events of the film hinge. Weisz offers her bountiful presence, that powerful authorative voice, regal Shakespearean manner and story book look to play the despicable Evanora and Michelle Williams, with her delicate, baby faced beauty, is Gilda, exiled and accused of poisoning her father, waiting for the prophesised wizard to come and return her to her palace and people. The most interesting of the three, beyond Evanora’s one dimensional ambition and thirst for rule and Gilda’s glowing goodness is Mila’s character Theodora…the fairy tale princess who appears cookie cutter. She’s beautiful, innocent and falls in love, but her prince (the Wizard) deceives her and plunges her into a wicked transformation into a hideous engorgement of her former self, consumed by bitterness, hatred and victimhood. No doubt Mila was chosen for that distinguished voice which fans will be familiar with, husky and full of cackle. She is terribly unconvincing as the goody two shoes but comes a little more into her own as the witch. Nonetheless, I couldn’t lose myself in her character. She undergoes the transformation and does a lot of impressive screaming, but she's not quite big enough to fit the broomstick.
Bill Cobbs, Joey King (you might recall her as the ‘child from the pit’ in the Dark Knight Rises) , Tony Cox, Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi also make brief appearances.
Directed by Sam Raimi, this feels nothing like his work. It feels like a more recent Burton film (think Alice). It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s perfectly enjoyable, heartwarming and watchable, with familiar much loved characters and the potential of magic and redemption, but it’s still a popcorn flick, and if you can enjoy it as that you won’t be disappointed!