Like most prequels, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL doesn't feel completely necessary as a film, but it's an enjoyable ride as far as big-budget, family entertainment goes. The pleasantly surprising thing is that enough of Sam Raimi shines through to make it fun for fans of the EVIL DEAD director.
OZ is most impressive on a visual level, full of dazzling, colorful images that bring the magical world to new life after 75 years. It's nice to see Raimi let his imagination run free on a shiny new canvas with a lot of creative creature and production design throughout. Though there is a lot of CGI and greenscreen at work, the movie does boast its fair share of impressive sets and practical effects. What is created in the computer works pretty well, from Zach Braff's friendly flying monkey to living doll China Girl.
Even though there are certain crucial aspects missing due to legal rights (the ruby slippers for one), OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is definitely a prequel to the 1939 film. There's tons of references and imagery from the original (love the nods to the cowardly lion, tin man and scarecrow) and it even follows the same basic formula and pacing—from the opening tornado to the gift-bestowing ending. It's a bit predictable, but it's a film definitely aimed at the younger generation so it makes sense. However there's enough for older audiences besides nostalgia, like Raimi's patented sense of humor and visual gags. Even the plot is essentially a child-friendly version of ARMY OF DARKNESS.
Surprisingly, the only weak links in the film are with the cast. Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz both embrace their roles as the good and evil witches successfully, but Mila Kunis is just unfortunately miscast as [SPOILER] the eventual wicked witch. She's fine as the well-meaning Theodora, but once she gets the green screen her forced cackle and evil demeanor just flat out don't work to an almost embarrassing degree. (And the witchy makeup also doesn't suit her.) James Franco is also fine as the title character, but playing a fun but flawed, sometimes unlikable character seems better suited to the originally cast Robert Downey Jr. I know Franco came in at the last minute when Tony Stark bailed, but the script probably could've used a polish to play itself more to the actor's strengths.
Walt Disney and the Road to Oz (10:13): This feature recounts Disney's (the studio and the man) fascination with Frank L. Baum's work and failed attempts to make an Oz musical adaptation and a television show. It only took 70 years!
My Journey in Oz (21:43): James Franco directs and narrates this behind-the-scenes doc, interviewing Raimi and the cast and investigating the various special effects. A fun personal take on the typical BTS featurette.
China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief (5:26): A quick look at how they brought the porcelain doll to life, from various puppetry and visual effects.
Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz (11:02): Get a tour of the set and see how the film's visual elements were created, from the sets to the costumes.
Mila's Metamorphosis (7:45): Learn how Raimi turned the gorgeous actress in to a wicked witch via some serious prosthetics.
Mr. Elfman's Musical Concoctions (7:13): A look at Danny Elfman's contributions to the film's score and his relationship with Sam Raimi. (The two had a nasty falling out during SPIDER-MAN 2.)
Bloopers (5:06): Your standard gag reel with Franco and the rest of the cast having fun on set.
A DVD and Digital Copy of the movie are also included.
While I don't think OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL will have the same everlasting impact the original WIZARD OF OZ did, it's still fun entertainment for kids and older Raimi fans combined.
Extra Tidbit: Raimi's famous lucky charm Oldsmobile still makes its requisite cameo in this film—parts of the engine were used in the wizard's machine.