★★★★☆This week, The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi brings L. Frank Baum's magical world back to life for a whole new generation with Oz The Great and Powerful (2013). Starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Zach Braff, this new 3D fantasy from Disney is, in the words of Raimi, his "love poem" to 1939's The Wizard of Oz. Long before the good citizens of the Emerald City had ever heard of Dorothy, two-bit Kansas circus conman Oscar Diggs (Franco) finds himself transported to the kingdom of Oz by a freak tornado, and into the middle of a power struggle between three witches, Glinda (Williams), Theodora (Kunis) and Evanora (Weisz).
When people consider MGM's original classic, it's arguably the stars of the iconic fantasy epic which they remember best. Though countless technical artists left their mark on the film, it's Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton are those who spring to mind most readily. With Oz The Great and Powerful, however, the tables have been well and truly turned. The unspoken presence of director Raimi permeates every aspect of the film, and the influence of his largely fantasy-based repertoire is clearly felt in his latest production, with a heady concoction of cartoonish fantasy and knowing references to the 1930s classic, leavened with an undercurrent of subtle horror.
The cast, though second to Raimi's majestic touch, are suitably convincing, with Franco, Weisz, Williams and Kunis giving it their all as the various magical rulers, whilst Braff injects the obligatory comic relief in Finley. However, as Raimi is quoted as saying, it is the land of Oz in the end which is the film's real star, just as it was in Baum's books. Against all the odds, Oz The Great and Powerful emanates a timeless magic which should hopefully entertain audience just as Judy Garland and her ruby slippers continue to do.