As I watched Oz the Great and Powerful, I came to a stunning conclusion: Sam Raimi's intentions are always met. What I mean by this is that when he wants you to laugh, you will laugh. When he wants you to scare you, you will feel fear. When he wants to build tension, you will be on the edge of your seat. If Raimi wants his audience to feel anything at all, the result is typically met. Sure, his films as a whole don't always hit the mark, but if you take each scene and analyze the action and the result, there is a high rate of success.
This movie covers a wide range of emotions. Seeing as Raimi got his start in low-budget horror movies, there should be no surprise that when something is supposed to be frightening, it may make you jump. Although the movie is kid friendly, I would say that younger kids might be disturbed from the dark imagery. You will likely feel nostalgic during the opening scenes in Kansas which is presented in old fashioned black and white.
The Ruby Slippers were not included in this story due to the fact that this is produced by Disney, and the studio that produced the famous 1939 story owns certain properties that were not from the L. Frank Braun original story. They did, however, make an effort to subtly remind you of the film's roots. There is a scene with a lion which is on the pounce against one of Oz's new companions. In this moment, Oz utilizes a magic trick to "scare" the lion. Later on in the movie, scarecrows are used as a diversion. The Tin Man did not get any mention.
If I had to pick one flaw with the movie, I would have to say that the lead character has less depth than most of the supporting characters. Oz is played by none other than James Franco, who last worked with Sam Raimi playing Harry Osbourne. Oz's actions came across as forced, and did not really represent the figure they want him to be. This could be a result of Franco's acting. He is very likeable, and when he does things that would paint him unfavorably, you get a sense of falseness to it. Franco is a very capable actor, and has tackled roles of duality in the past, but in this instance I never got a sense that there was a risk that this character could let anyone down.
The three witches are definitely scene stealers, most specifically Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis. Kunis' character came across as believable. She has that intensity that the role needed. She projected the neediness and naivety that would push a good person down a wicked path. Williams' time on screen gives you the same sense that the 1939 Good Witch of the North did -- that everything was going to be okay. In the direst situation, her maternal disposition gave comfort and support.
Visually, this movie is beautiful. Everything came across as real and organic. It can truly make you believe a little talking porcelain doll could be real, and the chemistry between Franco and a CGI Monkey voiced by Zach Braff was unquestionable.
The story itself was easy to follow for younger audiences, but layered enough for older audiences. If you watch it and have a sense that something just isn't working, it is the fact that most movies these days -- even based in fantasy -- are positioned to be as realistic as possible. If they tweaked the story ever so slightly that it was to be its own vehicle, it just would not work, but in the context of what The Wizard of Oz laid out, it works well.
Oz the Great and Powerful is definitely worth a watch. The marriage of Raimi's aptitude for style and pace with a story as timeless as the subject matter at hand works very well. Wonderland, Neverland, and The Land of Oz: these childhood imagination destinations will captivate audiences long after anyone reading this is gone.