For starters, Oz The Great and Powerful isn’t a remake of The Wizard of Oz — it's a prequel, so to speak. This film, based on L. Frank Baum’s beloved fantasy books and directed by Sam Raimi, illuminates the plight of the man behind the curtain. The central character then is Oz, not Dorothy. Played by James Franco, the “wizard” starts off as a charlatan circus magician named Oscar Diggs whose hot air balloon gets hurled away from its circus perch in Kansas and into the Land of Oz (cue tornado!). The film follows his journey from silver-tongued trickster to a far more benevolent being, and it ends just shy of Dorothy’s confrontation with the Wicked Witch of the West.
It’s the flying baboons you have to watch out for. Yep, this film has both. And, may we say, yay! It simply wouldn't be fitting without some version of iconic characters. The bellhop-attire-bedecked monkey in this adaptation — voiced by hilarious Scrubs actor Zach Braff — actually accompanies Oz on his journey. The furry little fella’s name is Finley, and although he initially thinks poorly of Oz, he ultimately becomes a truly loyal friend and helps the wizard become a better man. Ferocious winged baboons, alternatively, play the wicked witch’s cronies and are scary enough to curtail zoo memberships. These fierce beasts are much larger (and much uglier) than the smirking blue-faced creatures from the original.
The entire premise of the 1939 Wizard of Oz film is built on Dorothy’s house crushing the Wicked Witch of the East — thereby incurring the wrath of the Wicked Witch of the West. In Oz the Great and Powerful, all three witches are alive and well. Glinda the Good Witch is played by Michelle Williams, who presides over a peaceful kingdom. The ill-fated Wicked Witch of the East, Evanora, is played by a spectacularly devious Rachel Weisz, who does her best to corrupt Mila Kunis as naïve witch Theodora — who you likely know better as Dorothy’s nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West. Additionally, each witch boasts special abilities: Evanora creates lightning, Glinda commands water and Theodora fashions fireballs.
Gone are the days of Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow. Not even Toto makes a cameo in this movie. Instead, Oz shares his adventure with Finley the flying monkey (see above) and a completely novel character, China Girl. Voiced by child actress Joey King — you might remember her as cutie-pie Ramona Quimby alongside Selena Gomez in Ramona and Beezus — China Girl hails from the village of China Town which, no, is not a borough in NYC where you order Peking duck and score cheap handbags. China Girl’s village, rather, is constructed entirely of the delicate stuff dishes are made of. After it is destroyed, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Oz and Finley, and the three become this film's yellow-brick buddies.
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