Sam Raimi, 130 mins (PG)
Film review: Oz the Great and Powerful - You thought the Wizard should be left alone? Step this way …
Saturday 09 March 2013
So, how did Oz gets its Wizard? This question has never exercised me for more than a nanosecond, but as redundant as Oz the Great and Powerful might seem, this Disney prequel turns out to be something of a classic: a family friendly fantasy which delivers as an affectionate prologue to The Wizard of Oz, that works just as well as a spectacular, neatly structured stand-alone adventure. It's directed by Sam Raimi, who once again brings irresistible enthusiasm to cartoonish genre entertainment, but it could also pass for the best Tim Burton film in a long time, and the best Terry Gilliam film in even longer.
It opens (in black-and-white, of course) in Kansas in 1905, where a second-rate fairground magician (James Franco) is as intent on fooling local beauties as he is on fooling his meagre audiences. Soon, his hot-air balloon is whisked by a cyclone to the story-book world of Oz, a Technicolor wonderland which, along with the alien planet in Avatar, is one of the few settings to justify the use of CGI and 3D. After Franco crash-lands, a good witch (Mila Kunis) mistakes him for the sorcerer who has been prophesied to save Oz from her wicked cousin (Michelle Williams). But maybe, just maybe, it's her sister (Rachel Weisz) who's really the wicked one. She does have an English accent, after all.
I'm not sure whether Franco has the stature to carry a whole film on his shoulders, but there's no doubt that he nails the screenplay's well-judged humour. Unlike half of today's children's films, Oz the Great and Powerful is funny enough to appeal to accompanying adults without undermining the sincerity of its emotions or the excitement of its action sequences. And unlike the other half of today's children's films, it's content to be bright and cheery rather than trendily grim. It's one prequel that deserves a sequel.
Robot & Frank (Jake Schreier, 89 mins, 13A ****) stars Frank Langella as a retired jewel thief who now lives in leafy seclusion in upstate New York, sometime in the "near future". Concerned by his ailing memory, his son (James Marsden) buys him an android valet/nurse (voiced by a deadpan Peter Sarsgaard). At first, Frank isn't happy with his cyber-babysitter, but when he discovers that the robot's programming doesn't preclude it breaking the law, he decides that a return to the burglary business might give him just the mental and physical work-out he needs.
It won't set any pulses racing, but Robot & Frank develops into a touching yet unsentimental buddy movie, with a humdinger of a twist and some sly satirical digs at yuppie hipsters. And how nice to see a sci-fi film that doesn't require armies of computer-generated monsters, just one boxy, white plastic Jeeves.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling