Oz the Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi‘s first Disney film, is oddly two-faced. Here we have a director who made his name with low budget horror, who became a household name when he infused the superhero genre with his do-it-yourself, energetic visual style. And then there’s Oz, a massive film that gives Raimi the most toys he’s ever had to play with, but also the commitment to make a movie that’s fun for all ages. The result is a Sam Raimi movie wrapped up tightly in a Disney package. And the Raimi elements are willing themselves out.

There’s not a frame of Oz The Great and Powerful that doesn’t bear Raimi’s mark. The production design, the camera moves, the pulpy performances, everything screams his name. I mean, the movie is basically Army of Darkness, right? (Normal guy lands in magical land, is forced to go on quest to save that land.) But just when you see that kinetic, signature style starting to unleash, the story forces the film back into its Disney shell to play to the masses. We’re left with a film that’s entertaining, a little scarier than you’d expect, but extremely inconsistent.

Much like the 1939 Wizard of Oz, Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful starts in black and white and transitions to color. That’s the first of many tributes this film will pay to the ’39 masterpiece and the way the screenplay, by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, can do that while also telling a canonized prequel is one of this film’s many charms.

James Franco stars as Oz, a traveling circus magician whisked away in a tornado to the land of Oz. There, he meets three witches, Gilnda, Evanora and Theodora played by Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis. They explain a prophecy about a wizard named Oz who would come and save the land from the Wicked Witch.

Franco’s performance is very much like the film itself. At times it’s elevated to something wonderful, but most of the time it’s very straightforward. As for the three actresses, each has a blast with their role, particularly Weisz, but even their fun gets slightly bogged down by hokey dialogue.

The best bits of the film are when Sam Raimi is playing with his $200 million budget like he’s making another Evil Dead movie. There are first person sequences, crazy vines jumping out at the viewer, impossible digital camera moves sweeping across vast lands. These things will bring a huge smile to the face not only of Raimi fans, but most movie fans.

Then the film will dodge into some long exposition, a crazy song, or a character introduction that feels slightly out of place and the momentum Raimi was building slows down. Over and over, the highs and the lows come. Thankfully the lows are never that low and the highs are pretty fantastic. It all builds up to both an exciting and surprising climax that beautifully balances the history of the franchise while also adding to it. Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful never quite fires on all cylinders, but it hums along at a speed that’s steady enough you’ll be happy you took the ride.

/Film rating: 7 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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