By: Holley Sinn
There might not be anything more daunting for an actor than taking on a role that was written with a different actor in mind. James Franco was not Disney's first choice to play "Oz" in the studio's 3D, live-action release of "Oz the Great and Powerful", also starring Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis. In fact...Franco was not Disney's second..or third choice. The role was originally written specifically for Robert Downey Jr. who, consequently, turned it down. So did Brad Pitt. And Johnny Depp. Still, even with all of those "nos", it's unclear why director Sam Raimi and the Disney studios decided to go with Franco...but they did...and it's not good.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" stars James Franco as a smarmy, con-man and small-time magician who gets transported to Oz by way of hot air balloon and tornado after a particularily jarring show in rural Kansas. Upon arrival, Oscar, or Oz, meets and seduces (in a very PG sense) a witch named Theodora, played by Mila Kunis. Theodora is certain that Oz has arrived in..well...Oz...to save the country from the tyranny of "the wicked witch" and to restore peace to the people. She takes him on a journey to the Emerald City, and along the way, the great "wizard" acquires a flying monkey foresworn to serve Oz after the magician saves him from a lion.
Upon arrival in the Emerald City, Oz is charged with a mission to retrieve the wicked witch's magic wand in order to claim the throne from it's protector Evanora, Theodora's sister, played by Rachel Weisz. However, the wizard's mission leads him into the arms of Glinda the Good, played by Michelle Williams, who convinces Oz that the evil force in the kingdom may be the one he just left behind, and the only course of action could be an uprising and a change of heart.
The story of "Oz the Great and Powerful" is a prequel to the story of Dorothy Gale and is fairly clever albeit pretty long. However, some primary casting issues diminish the flash and dazzle of the colorful concept and the almost psychadelic effects. James Franco delivering Robert Downey Jr.'s lines is less than exciting if not fully deflating, and Mila Kunis is delightful for the first half of the film but a complete disaster from the midpoint on. There is a lot to like about this film, but just not enough to counter Franco's weird, grinning wizard who doesn't seem to have much of a personality at all until the last 15 minutes.
"Oz the Great and Powerful" IS rated PG, so at least there's that, but with "Wreck it Ralph" being released on Blu-ray, my personal recommendation is to simply rent or buy that for the family - it was my favorite animated film of 2012.
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