'Oz the Great and Powerful' takes a gamble with a beloved story

'Oz the Great and Powerful' stars James Franco as the famous Wizard and Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams as a trio of familiar witches.

Joel Ryan/Invision/AP
'Oz the Great and Powerful' stars James Franco as the famous wizard.

Kansas resident Dorothy Gale may be the main character in L. Frank Baum’s story, but the title of his novel and the now-classic 1939 movie is, after all, “The Wizard of Oz.”

And now with their new movie, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” Disney is putting the focus back on the mysterious con man whom Dorothy and her unusual friends visit to see if he can make their dreams come true.

When Dorothy’s dog Toto reveals that the frightening wizard is only a “man behind the curtain” (originally played by Frank Morgan), he tells them that he’s an old Kansas man himself and that he was performing with his balloon one day when a gale swept him into the land of Oz. (To Dorothy’s query if he was frightened, Morgan deadpans, “You are talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom and chuckled at catastrophe! I was petrified.”) According to the Wizard, when he arrived, he was hailed as a magician and anointed with his current title. But was that really what happened? How does he actually know Glinda? What exactly went down in the land of Oz before Dorothy arrived?

“Great and Powerful,” helmed by original “Spiderman” director Sam Raimi, aims to answer a few of these questions. The movie stars James Franco as the titular Wizard, who crashes in the land of Oz and meets three witches, Glinda (Michelle Williams), Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz). We know the part that Glinda plays in later events, but judging from the trailers, either Theodora or Evanora becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. Is the other the Wicked Witch of the East whose death is inadvertently caused by Dorothy? 

Which witch becomes the cackling green lady embodied in the original “Wizard” by Margaret Hamilton? The movie’s cast and crew aren’t telling.

(Spoilers for the movie follow…)

However, some of the trailers seem to set up Evanora for the big bad, showing Weisz summoning flying monkeys to do her bidding. But now others are saying that was a false trail and Theodora eventually becomes the water-phobic villain, with some leaked images indeed showing Weisz standing next to a shorter woman in green makeup – presumably Theodora. 

It’s always dangerous to take on beloved stories, but the Broadway musical “Wicked,” which opened in 2003 and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, has shown that expanding on this story can be done if the new take is creative enough. The musical is still running on Broadway today.

Raimi said he was originally hesitant to do the film but that the new story won him over.

“The original is my favorite film of all time,” the director told Entertainment Weekly. “I didn't want it sullied. I didn't want to be involved in a production that might trade off the goodwill of that film, so I didn't even want to read the script at first. Luckily I did. And then I realized that it wasn't at all what I thought.”

Will “Great and Powerful” be a worthy successor to the classic original? Well, now we’ll know – the movie opens today.

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