Edelstein on "Oz": The not-so-great

A scene from "Oz the Great and Powerful," Sam Raimi's prequel to "The Wizard of Oz." Walt Disney Pictures

(CBS News) This weekend there's a brand-new movie out that has our David Edelstein thinking of a Hollywood classic:


Oz the Great and Powerful. Say it out loud with me: "Oz the Great and Powerful!"

I bet you're smiling! Those words conjure up so much: Judy Garland in pigtails, Ray Bolger pointing at his straw head, Bert Lahr's juddery fisticuffs. I can't go into much more, for legal reasons.

See, all of the "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum are in the public domain, meaning they're free for anyone to adapt. But Warner Brothers owns the rights to the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz" and is a tad sensitive -- by which I mean, rarin' to sue ya' -- when it comes to using its images in connection with Disney's "Oz the Great and Powerful." (I love saying that.)

The good part is that the new movie isn't a desecration of "The Wizard of Oz." Disney didn't have the legal rights to desecrate it.

The bad part is . . . the movie.

OK, it's not bad. It's just poky. And joyless. And it could have used songs like that other picture.

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But there's actually a great premise: the journey from Kansas to Oz of the wizard himself, played by James Franco as a traveling-carnival magician who works most diligently to trick women into bed.

Mila Kunis and James Franco in "Oz the Great and Powerful."
Walt Disney Pictures
The obvious comparison isn't to "Oz," but Mark Twain's prankish "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." Which is fine!

The problem is, Franco is weirdly lackadaisical, as well as the least convincing actor talking to sidekicks to be computer-generated later I've ever seen.

Or maybe it's a sign of mental health given how annoying they are.

There is, however, a wowza trio of witches -- Mila Kunis as Theodora; Rachel Weisz as her sister, Evanora; and Michelle Williams as Glinda. Which one turns into the Wicked Witch of the West and why is quite an original idea: Hell hath no fury et cetera et cetera . . .

I won't spoil anything, but will say if you buy this version, it turns out all the bad stuff in "The Wizard of Oz" was because because because of the wonderful wizard's overactive sex drive.

Take that, Warner Brothers!


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