At the Movies

What Critics Are Saying About ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’

The critics are not very high on The Wizard of Oz prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful, starring James Franco.

Disney’s fantasy-adventure film Oz: The Great and Powerful, director Sam Raimi’s (Spider-Man) highly anticipated prequel to The Wizard of Oz, opens in theaters nationwide this weekend.

And there’s quite a lot riding on it.

The 3D film cost a reported $215 million to produce, along with an additional $100 million in marketing costs, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It marks the last blockbuster film that former Walt Disney Pictures Chairman Rich Ross green-lighted before he was ousted last year, following the box office bombs Mars Needs Moms and John Carter.

Oz tells the story of Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco), a low-rent circus magician and grifter who is magically transported from Kansas to the magical Land of Oz. The denizens of Oz believe him to be the prophesized Wizard of Oz, but three witches—Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams)—are dubious of this claim. Oscar must eventually find it in himself to become the great man that the creatures of Oz wish him to be, and save them from the evil Wicked Witch.

So what are the critics saying?

Empire magazine wrote, “long-term Oz watchers will be enchanted and enthralled. There’s even a musical number, albeit an abbreviated one. Mila Kunis gets a gold star for excellence in bewitchery and Sam Raimi can settle securely behind the curtain as a mature master of illusion.”

The majority of major critics, however, weren't very kind to the film.

Rolling Stone: “Franco's Oz vehicle, pimped out in 3D and every computer trick in New Hollywood's digital playbook, is a mess indeed. There's no Judy Garland songs, no Scarecrow, no Tin Man, no Cowardly Lion. There's also no simplicity, no magic, no truth.”

The Wall Street Journal: “…a relentlessly energetic, effects-laden fantasy, directed by Sam Raimi, about the origins of the wizard in "The Wizard of Oz." He's played by James Franco, who finds some fun—though not a lot—in a pedestrian story that follows a potholed path through the enchantment-free zones of a 3-D theme park. (The finale features a fireworks display straight out of Disneyland.)”

New York Daily News [0 Stars]: “Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder the cast is unable to lift this lead balloon of a movie. Franco’s slick self-awareness — which is reaching its expiration date — does perfectly represent the film’s superficial tone. (The less said about Zach Braff as a monkey sidekick, the better.) But it’s depressing to watch three excellent actresses diminished so thoroughly. There are innumerable disappointments in Raimi’s return to a land we all love. But the most outrageous is the brazen claim that it’s based on Baum’s open-hearted books. Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors. There is nothing here that is great, or powerful. Worst of all, there’s nothing here that even feels like Oz.”

The Hollywood Reporter: “Oz the Wimpy and Weak would be more like it.”

And the most brutal critique came courtesy of The New York Times's Manohla Dargis, who claimed the film demonstrated “exhausted formulas, gender stereotypes, general idiocy and a mind-set that values special effects over storytelling.”

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“The bigger bummer, though, is that the studio that has enchanted generations with Tinker Bell and at least a few plucky princesses has backed a movie that has such backward ideas about female characters that it makes the 1939 Wizard of Oz look like a suffragist classic,” wrote Dargis. “A little sisterly outrage would have been appropriate because, among other offenses, the filmmakers have thrown over Dorothy — one of the greatest heroines in children’s literature and Hollywood cinema — for prequel about a two-bit magician and Lothario with female troubles. In Baum’s first book and in the 1939 film the witches are powerful forces for good and wickedness in the Land of Oz. In Oz the Great and Powerful, a witch not only falls for the man Oz, she also turns green from envy when he cozies up to a pretty blonde. (Yeah, the baddie is a brunette.)”

Regardless of the reviews, Oz: The Great and Powerful is expected to cast a spell over the movie box office, with a projecting opening weekend domestic take of over $90 million, according to Box Office Mojo. And a sequel is already under way as well, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

If a shiny new prequel isn’t your thing, you can also hold out for the 3D re-release of the original 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, which will come out later this year in celebration of the 90th anniversary of movie studio Warner Bros., who owns the rights to the original.