"Wow! They did it!"
That was my reaction to watching OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.
The "they" in that sentence being: Disney, James Franco and most namely, Sam Raimi.
They made an oustanding individual film. As well as revived a great, but sometimes disregarded (thanks Chris), dormant franchise. Two monumentally difficult (and risky) tasks to accomplish.
With his performance, James Franco silences all his leftover critics (like me) from his horrible turn hosting the Academy Awards in 2011. Franco turns in a modern, smart and funny performance as Oscar Diggs, the would-be Wizard of Oz. The character is a womanizing, not-actually-wizardy at all, con-artist/carnival magician at the crossroads of his life. He shows glimpses of being good at heart, but we are not assured of it. Over the course of the film we are constantly delighted by his simple, but witty dialogue and reactions to the wild and wacky events transpiring on-screen. He feels real and we really get a feel for him. Eventually, both Franco and Oscar win us over.
The in-flux Oscar lands in the Land of Oz and is thrown into an on-going, power struggle that has ruined it and the once-great Emerald City. He is quickly befriended by a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis), who does not gives us her requisite "Good or Wicked and Directional" title. Just like everyone in this film, she has yet to become the lasting and final version of herself.
Theodora and her sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) are basically keeping the leaderless, unhappy Emerald City running after the death of their father, a great, real wizard. A wicked witch has run roughshod over the Oz and they think Oscar is the wizard from a prophecy who can save them. The plot is very familiar, but Sam Raimi's superb direction saves and elevates this film.
Rami's film is not THE WIZARD OF OZ, it is not a musical.
The original has multiple, treasured songs. This has half of one.
He took a lot of chances in his film and they almost all pay off.
We do not get musical numbers, but we do receive tons of homages to the original:
It starts with a funny, but serious black/white (and box screen) sequence in Kansas. It sets up the film and ends with a beautiful, 3-D, color reveal that was super impressive on a large screen.
There are funny/needy/helpful side characters (some pulling double duty from Kansas), hot-air balloons, wicked witches, flying monkeys, poppy fields, scarecrows, munchkins, etc.
All of these things get to play around in refreshingly light spaces.
Raimi stayed away from the dark, heavy-handed scenery and retelling that films like the new, bitter ALICE IN WONDERLAND strive to show off. It was definitely to our mutual benefit.
The film gets better as it goes along and we get a very satisfying battle for Oz.
It ends right where Disney wants: ripe for the next chapter.
We want to see more of everybody in this film and you can bet they will give it to us.
It did something most reboots/prequels/sequels, cannot:
It carved out it's own identity, while staying true to many facets of the original.
We get snappy dialogue, great cinematography and stunning use of 3-D.
Most importantly, we get to revisit a world everyone (except Chris) loves.
Everything takes place in a very fresh, fun way with many enjoyable characters.
As for the lack of music in Oz: they didn't have much to sing about.
Being terrorized by witches and their minions will do that.