Not long after, Oscar must make a hasty escape from the carnival and ends up in a hot-air balloon that gets caught in a tornado. Oscar finds himself in Oz, which is a full-color and widescreen change from life in Kansas.
The first person Oscar meets is Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch who believes Oscar is the wizard whom prophecy says was destined to save Oz from the Wicked Witch. Theodora and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), living in the Emerald City, tell Oscar that to fulfill the prophecy, he must kill the Wicked Witch by destroying her wand. Oscar, motivated by the gold that comes with the Wizard title, sets out on this mission but soon discovers he's been tricked and that the witch with the wand is Glinda the Good (played by Williams).
The script by Mitchell Kapner ("The Whole Nine Yards") and David Lindsay-Abaire ("Rabbit Hole," "Rise of the Guardians") allows Raimi to reimagine the familiar Oz icons, including the flying monkeys and the Yellow Brick Road, as well as other elements from L. Frank Baum's books that Judy Garland never saw. The most fascinating of these is China Girl, a gorgeously rendered porcelain child (voiced by Joey King) who becomes Oscar's traveling companion.
But Raimi is more concerned with 3-D trickery (including some monkey close-ups that may scare the youngest viewers) and planting recognizable images and characters primarily the reveal of the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West than in creating a rousing story that stands up in its own right. Of course, Raimi being Raimi, he also makes room for a funny Bruce Campbell cameo.
The other problem with "Oz the Great and Powerful" is the question of who is a good witch or a bad witch if you're using "good" and "bad" to rate the acting talent. Williams is delightful as Glinda, able to slip effortlessly from blissful innocence to maternal shrewdness in a blink of an eye. Weisz is deliciously evil as the scheming Evanora. Kunis, unfortunately, doesn't have the emotional range needed to portray Theodora's many moods, around which the entire story pivots.
Between Kunis' miscasting and Raimi's heavy hand, "Oz the Great and Powerful" is ultimately robbed of its emotional power and its chance at cinematic greatness.
'Oz the Great and Powerful'
Visual effects dominate in this in-your-face 3-D return trip down the Yellow Brick Road.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, March 8.
Rating • PG for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.
Running time • 130 minutes.