Though I have a friend who may stomp on me for admitting this, I have to own up to never being much of a Wizard of Oz kid. When I was small, I certainly watched the 1939 classic on several occasions, but L. Frank Baum's elaborate world was a fantasy that paled in comparison, for me, to the Victorian weirdness of Wonderland, or, for that matter, Neverland. All of this is my lead in to saying, essentially, that there wasn't much chance of Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful insulting any delicate sensibilities of my own. Where I loathed Tim Burton's over-decorated, Narnia-style mess Alice in Wonderland, I found myself surprisingly willing to suspend my disbelief and take in the scenery of the all too similar Oz. As walks down the yellow brick road go, it's certainly not terrible. And, though the film is certainly lacking a bit of logic, a bit of magic, and all interest in 'realism', I have to say: I have no problem accepting it as a contribution to that loosely oriented series.
Baum published eighteen volumes of Oz tales, and since then innumerable authors have penned stories collected from the far reaches of this so-called marvelous land. Though the characters continue and the terrain is repeatedly tread, I've always considered the Oz mythos to be one quite open to interpretation and experimentation. It seems only natural that Disney should arrive on the scene; and for now they've wisely chosen to leave Dorothy alone. This Oz follows the titular wizard decades prior to the events of the 1939 film. Opening with a standard 4:3 ratio in referential black and white, we meet Oscar (James Franco), a sideshow magician in a traveling circus. Oscar is quite the ladies' man - or tries to be - and as he tries to escape a cross section of messy situations, he takes off in a hot air balloon only to get sucked straight into a tornado. As we know, this is a form of transport that can lead over the rainbow, and, of course, minutes later Oscar is fully immersed in a full-on, CG fantasy land straight off a Lisa Frank folder.
That said, though I liked it well enough as a pretty bauble, as a raw fantasy, there are certainly a few issues. Specifically? The characters are phenomenally shallow. Perhaps this is a silly thing to comment on given that, well, The Wizard of Oz itself didn't have too much in the way of super-stellar characterization. Our troupe in that first go was made up of a girl who just wanted to go home, and three other characters summed up largely through single adjectives. Now, though, we've reached a point where we expect a touch more psychological depth from the characters who populate our fantasies, and there's something a bit too cheekily vapid about these witches and wizards.