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‘Oz’ OK, but it has some acting problems

By Christopher K. Conner

“Oz the Great and Powerful” tells the tale of how the Wizard of Oz, originally from Kansas, ended up saving the Land of Oz from the Wicked Witch, and came to live in the Emerald City. The story begins as Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is preparing a new assistant for his circus magic show. While effective at his craft of stage magic, Oscar (or Oz as he is known) craves the fame of Houdini and the importance of Thomas Edison. The traveling circus does little to give him either of these things, so he uses his skill to seduce women and dream of greatness.

Oz is so convincing in his performance that a little girl in the audience asks him to make her walk out of her wheelchair. The audience, not understanding that he is using tricks to fool them, chases him off the stage when he tries to explain that he can’t make the girl walk.

While Oscar hides out from the angry crowd in his wagon, an old friend of his, Annie (Michelle Williams) shows up. By the change in his demeanor, it is obvious that Annie is not one of his many conquests. Instead, he seems to have genuine feelings for her. Annie is there to tell Oscar that another man has offered to marry her, and to ask what she should do.

Interrupted by his stage hand and assistant, Frank (Zach Braff), who insists Oscar look out the window. Outside, the strong man has discovered that his wife has one of the music boxes Oscar uses as a prop in his seductions. Oscar flees the angry strongman, eventually climbing into the circus’ hot air balloon. As the rest of the circus performers flee, Oscar turns to see a tornado is pulling the balloon in.

After a harrowing ride through the heart of the tornado, Oscar and his balloon are sailing over a fantastic landscape until a sudden downdraft plunges the balloon basket into a raging river, and ultimately over a falls.

Having avoided death several times, Oscar is finally forced from his basket as it begins to sink into the quiet waters of a cove. From behind the foliage, Theodora (Mila Kunis) reveals herself. She has watched his arrival and believes that Oscar might be the wizard foretold by prophecy. Coincidentally, Oscar has landed in a land known as Oz.

Theodora warns Oz that his arrival has been seen by the Wicked Witch and her minions will come to destroy him. Together they run from the flying baboons that do the witch’s bidding. Theodora also reveals that she is, herself, a witch and she leads Oz to the Emerald City where her sister watches over the throne that Oz needs to claim to save Oz from the witch that poisoned her own father, the last king of Oz.

Along the way, Oz saves the life of a small flying monkey from a lion. Finley (voiced by Zach Braff) swears an oath to serve Oz for the rest of his life to repay the debt. Finding it hard to keep up the show of being a powerful wizard, Oz ensures that Finley is totally committed to his oath before confiding in the monkey that he isn’t a wizard of any sort, and that he will need Finley’s help to keep up the ruse. Finley, Oz and Theodora make their way to the yellow brick road where they meet up with an entourage dispatched from the Emerald City.

Once there, Oz meets Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Theodora’s sister rules Oz until the prophecy is fulfilled and a powerful wizard comes to claim the throne at which point she will return to being the king’s advisor. Evanora shows Oz the gold he will have if he manages to defeat the Wicked Witch. Initially reluctant to kill a lady, Oz eventually agrees.

Oz and Finley set out to find the witch and break her magic wand, which Evanora has told Oz is the only way to kill her. At a fork in the yellow brick road, the duo see smoke rising from a place called China Town. Finley convinces Oz that they have to go and see if they can help. Both the buildings and people of China Town were made of china, and every piece has been smashed. Investigating, they discover a single survivor: a little china girl whose legs are broken.

From her room in the Emerald City, Evanora is watching as Oz learns the truth from the Glinda (Michelle Williams) and convinces Theodora that Oz has betrayed them both by talking with Glinda. Theodora is crushed because she thought Oz would make her his queen. Evanora sends her flying baboons to tear Oz and Glinda apart, but they escape to Glinda’s stronghold.

The two sides are set for a final battle. Oz and Glinda on one side and Evanora and Theodora on the other. Oz, feeling the situation is hopeless, plans to escape and leave the people of Oz behind, but has a change of heart and starts working on a plan to save Oz from the sisters.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is full of fantastic imagery and exploits advances in technology to do things the makers of “The Wizard of Oz” could never have dreamed of. Still, the film preserves much of the appearance and texture of the 1939 Oz.

Where it falls down is inconsistent acting. Mila Kunis is probably the worst offender.  Her entire performance was as bad as any Disney tween sitcom.

I also have some doubts about James Franco. A lot of his expressions as Oz were overly creepy. As much as the audience is expected to be cheering for him, Oz doesn’t seem to be worthy of it.

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