Dave's Rating:

3.5

Fairy tale film crisis averted.

Right, I know, the trailer is barf. They're selling it to people who loved Alice in Wonderland and bought it on Blu-ray, hoping against all post-Alice evidence that lightning will strike twice in Overblown War-Themed Fantasyland. So set that aside if you can.

You'll also have to set aside your annoyance at the parent company's obvious endgame of merch and theme park rides. If they could make money off whatever trending baby names result from this thing they'd do that, too.

But mostly you'll have to set aside whatever fatigue you've earned after being assaulted by effects-and-green-screen-heavy movie products. Most of them are giant boxes of nothing, terrible blasts of empty-hearted, digital cartooning.

You're right to be wary, obviously, it's just that this time around you don't have to be. Sam Raimi may have traded in the wilder elements of his personality to helm this giant family film spectacle, but what he gives you in return is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz that comes closer to being worthy of the association than any other movie attempt at expanding that beloved fantasy universe.

Yeah, a prequel. Okay, set that fear aside, too. It's the story of how Oz the man (short for Oscar) became the smoke-and-mirrors wizard of Oz the land and it nods many times in the direction of the classic 1939 musical -- you can experience references for yourself without any advance clues from me -- minus too much shouting and jokey intrusion. James Franco, as the sepia-toned, Kansas flim-flam man, crash lands in Oz's eye-popping CGI world, meets a handful of good, bad and eventually badder witches (Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis) a talking monkey in a bellboy costume (Zach Braff) and a broken porcelain doll (Joey King). And much like Dorothy's eventual journey, the future wizard has to find the brains, the heart and "da noive" to rescue the land from evil forces.

Raimi's not afraid to go big here, taking pages directly from the most old-fashioned of Disney sentimentality textbooks, nor is he concerned about frightening the littlest audience members with one witch's eventual transformation into a terrifying green monstress and some hideously scary flying monkeys (if you, as a very small child, weren't equally freaked out by Margaret Hamilton then you're a liar). His Oz isn't a hard, sophisticated place for wisecracking adults, it's a land of clever, inventive goodness and heartsick, sad-eyed dolls, grumpy munchkins and con artists learning how to use their dubious skill sets to turn wrongs to right, relying on cliches here, yet trading in warm-hearted joy much more frequently. I'll take it over a disco-dancing Johnny Depp in a Mad Hatter costume any day. It's not a perfect place, but it's closer to home than we've been given in a while.

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