HOLLYWOOD—All movies tell stories, some movies tell epic stories.  “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a masterful piece of cinema crafted by director Sam Raimi which chronicles the tale of Oz before he became the famed wizard.  Note: this is not a prequel to the original “Wizard of Oz,” it’s a prequel to the original novel of the tale.  This flick stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz.

The story follows Oscar Diggs (Franco), a magician from Kansas that finds himself in the fantastical world of Oz thanks to a vicious tornado while trapped inside a hot air balloon. Franco is a magician with a secret: he’s a con artist.  In the town of Oz, Oscar discovers that he is meant for greatness, greatness on a scale that frightens him.

It is his encounter with Glinda (Williams), The Good Witch that propels Oscar to discover that he may be capable of fulfilling the prophecy of saving Oz from the Wicked Witch. Williams is indeed perfect casting for the role of Glinda, as her presence is a bit wound up with everything that most of us would consider good in a person.  For every good witch there has to be a bad one.  Evanora (Weisz) has a bit of duality to her.  She comes across wicked at times, but her true intentions are not revealed at the beginning of the picture.

As the movie moves forward, we learn more about Evanora and her conflicted younger sister Theodora (Kunis).  Kunis exudes naivety to her character that is not quite sure who to trust in Oz.  The audience would suspect her older, wiser sister would lead her on the right path, as would her chance encounters with Oscar who Theodora appears smitten by. Be careful though, when upset Theodora does indeed allow her inner rage to take over.

As a spectator the fascinating aspect of “Oz the Great and Powerful” is its ability to really immerse the audience to a place where one could only imagine.  The 3D element is a must-see for the picture as it only heightens the visual effects, the vibrant colors and aesthetics inside of the world of Oz.  It’s debatable whether this is a picture for all ages, while its rated PG there are some moments that I would say would frighten little children.

The evil flying monkeys whose fangs pop out at the screen will scare children, as well as the Wicked Witch who makes it her goal to create havoc.  It reminded me a bit of “A Christmas Carol” starring Jim Carrey, I just recall my 3 year-old nephew seeing the first 10 minutes of that picture and being terrified.  I would say children 6 and older would appreciate the film a lot more.

The characters the audience meet in Oz are one of a kind, including Finly (voice of Zach Braff), the flying monkey who befriends Oscar and becomes his BFF. There is also theChinadoll (voice of Joey King) that at times broke my heart in the picture.  She’s so pint-sized, yet brings a lot of life and charm to the character.

The picture is indeed a costly project for Disney with a budget of more than $200 million.  It was directed by Raimi who tackled the first three installments in the “Spiderman” franchise.  The movie was shot in Michigan at a state of the art film studio in Pontiac.  Raimi pays careful attention to the visual backdrop and production layout of the movie which is a huge factor in the fantasy driven tale.  Without that CGI that movie would be a bit flat, as my opinion it lingers a bit longer than what it should, a little over 2 hours.

The performances from the actors in the picture are not stellar, but they do make the best of the characters that are presented to them, one key issue could be dialogue that at times comes across forced to the viewer, particular the adults, the children in the theater will care less. While “Oz the Great and Powerful” is no masterpiece compared to the classic with such iconic characters as Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion, it’s visually a stunning picture unlike anything seen on the screen in the past four to five years.  Children will be engrossed with the picture, as will the adults who can share memories on that classic tale from the early 1900s.

By LaDale Anderson