‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ nails the fantasy, but lacks the heart

James Franco and Michelle Williams in ‘Oz the Great and Powerful.’ Rated PG, 130 min. Walt Disney Pictures, 2013.

As Disney’s re-imagined prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” the new “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a fun slice of fantasy flashback. As a stand-alone family film for young viewers unfamiliar with the 1939 classic, it works hard, but does not quite feel like a complete adventure.

Director Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”) starts the film in sepia-toned Kansas, before a devious magician (James Franco) is transported to the colorful, dream-like Oz. There, he meets all manner of bizarre creatures, and three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams). The power struggles and magic spells pile up, as the magician learns lessons about ethics, loyalty and friendship.

The adventure has its magical moments, and it’s all well-meaning, but Franco’s laidback, oddball acting style makes it occasionally seem like he just doesn’t care. That’s too bad, because the visuals sparkle, and the leading ladies give it their all.

There are lots of clever winks and nods to the 1939 film, and the China Girl is a stand-out bit of animation. The long running time could be shortened by excising about 15 minutes of scattered footage that exists solely to show off the bright – yet overdone – 3-D graphics.

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