2013 Certificate: pg


We're off to see the wonderful Wizard of Oz in director Sam Raimi's prequel to the cherished 1939 classic. James Franco is the man behind the curtain here, a sideshow magician whisked away to the Land of Oz via a tornado and shown what real magic is by the witchy triumvirate of Mila Kunis, Rachel Wiesz and Michelle Williams. A family-friendly Good vs Evil plot is wrapped up in gorgeous, CGI-popping visuals that make this a genuine wonder to behold.


  • Sam Raimi


  • James Franco

  • Mila Kunis

  • Rachel Weisz

  • Michelle Williams

  • Zach Braff


The Terry Gilliam-esque opening credits claim this is based on the works of L Frank Baum...but this is best viewed as an origins story to the classic 1939 movie.

It's also one which, ironically in this age of bleak blockbusters, distances itself from the darkness of the 1985 sequel, Return to Oz.

Director Sam Raimi makes the link with the original clear from the beginning, opening in black and white and Academy ratio (that old square TV shape) for a pre-Oz sequence introducing James Franco's Oscar Diggs.

A travelling circus illusionist and conman, Diggs is a showman who yearns for the glory of Harry Houdini or inventor Thomas Edison, but must content himself with schmoozing one wide-eyed assistant after another and fending off audiences who see behind the curtain of his magic.

Franco keeps Diggs just the right side of dislikeable throughout, particularly when he is whisked by hot air balloon through a spectacular tornado to the widescreen, day-glo colour of Oz, and must use his huckster smarts in the face of magic both light and dark.

Raimi and his scriptwriters stick to the formula, so there is a yellow-bricked quest to kill a wicked witch, but with numerous twists and turns not everything is at it appears.

Diggs is joined on his journey by a friendly flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and a feisty, fragile china doll (Joey King), and while cheeky asides are made to a cowardly lion and scarecrows, the winged baboons are as nightmarish as a PG certificate will allow.

Hubble-bubble is served up by Weisz's charming yet sinister witch who sees Oz as her land to rule and Michelle Williams gives a suitably angelic turn as her counterpart. Most interesting is Mila Kunis' tormented witch, a woman so emotional her tears literally sear into her cheeks, even if the actress seems a little too hip and modern for the fairytale world of Oz.

Raimi pulls out the stops for a climax that pitches the good folk of Oz against the forces of evil in a series of set-pieces more inventive and less Lord-of-the-Rings-lite than Tim Burton managed in Alice in Wonderland.

The finale in particular, which puts the Wizard into Oz, is a clever and inventive spin on the power of magic and illusion over tyranny and might.

If Raimi's Oz falls down, it's surprisingly with the Wicked Witch of the West, who appears via a surprising route.

Remarkably for a director whose Green Goblin was essentially a male Wicked Witch and who then brought the same ghoulishness to the hag in Drag Me To Hell, Raimi fails to inject the real thing with all-important menace. The green meanie here seems to have already been doused with the bucket of water, she's so wet.

This leaves the film without a Voldemort for these post-Potter times, and while there remains much to enjoy, here's hoping Raimi is let off the hook for more trademark wildness next time around.

Rob Daniel