I'm a long time member of the International Wizard of Oz Fan Club, I've read the 40 Oz books considered part of the official canon, and I think MGM's Oz is the greatest film ever made. Needless to say I'm not a casual fan with little knowledge of the history of the Oz universe.
I wanted this film to be great, but I went in with no expectations. It's hard to make an Oz film, because you first have to deal with the comparisons, and that never turns out well.
In my review I tried to get away without any comparisons and I almost succeeded. Read on and you'll see where I failed.
Oz the Great a Powerful is a beautiful film, full of vibrant color and massive landscapes, but in some cases that's almost a detriment. When Oscar first lands in Oz the colors are overwhelming. It's like the filmmakers tried too hard to contrast Oz with the bleak, black and white world Oscar had just departed. You need the contrast, but what you see on the screen is so eye-popping it's on the border of nauseating. Thankfully, as the film progresses the colors tone down a few notches and you no longer feel like running back to the car for sunglasses.
My next major complaint with this film is Oscar's journey to Oz. Like Garland's Dorothy, Oscar first lands in Oz via a tornado. For the most part this is well done, at least until Oscar reaches his destination, then we are treated to a roller coaster of a raft ride down a river more suited to an Indiana Jones film. Had I edited this film that's the first thing I cut. You don't need it, just the appearance in this colorful world is enough, but it also goes against they key element of the entire film. Oscar is an ordinary man with no special powers. Surviving the tornado was one thing, but having him survive a trip down a roaring river, and a drop over a waterfall, makes Oscar look anything but ordinary.
Fortunately, Franco's Oscar shows little superhuman abilities after this and he quickly reverts to the cheat and con man central to the plot of the film. I've read some complaints that Franco appeared too timid in this film. I think the reviewers don't understand the wizard. He is cowardly, timid, and weak. Yes, he overcomes this, but it is an important point that the character starts out as very flawed, and Franco does a great job with this.
Oscar's companions on his journey are a flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff and a china doll voiced by Joey king. Both characters work well for the most part, but I found myself constantly annoyed by the jokes from Braff's character. Typically nothing more than one liners tossed out for a cheap laugh, I found them more groan inducing than actually funny. The fact that they often got an enthusiastic response from the audience is a reflection more of the dumbing down of American film than the quality of the material. Joey King is perfectly sweet as the China Doll, and of all the characters in this film I think Baum would have been pleased most with her portrayal, a perfect mix of fragility, innocence, and courage.
One of the primary complaints in other reviews of the film are the witches, Glinda, Evanora, and Theodora, played by Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis. I actually liked the witches, Glinda in particular. I thought Michelle Williams portrayed just the right amount of charm, beauty, intelligence, and courage. Wiesz also does well as the conniving one, though Oz historians will note that Evanora is most well known as the wearer of the ruby (actually silver) slippers trapped beneath Dorothy's house.
Mila Kunis looks frightening here, but she's not frightening at all in the film
My big complaint, and here comes that comparison, is with Mila Kunis. Though she was fine as Theodora, once she transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West she is completely unbelievable. Whereas Margaret Hamilton is one of the greatest screen villains of all time, what we get in this film is a cute Mila Kunis in green makeup. Not threatening in the least. That's what concerns me about a sequel. Unless Disney skips ahead, and they may, the next logical film is Dorothy's arrival in Oz. Sorry Mila, but there is no way you can carry that film. They either need to recast, or do another story entirely.
Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy the film. I think it fits well in Baum's universe, and if I cut could about three minutes, change a dozen lines of dialogue, and replace Mila Kunis, you'd have a great film that truly lives up to the name.
'til they recast Mila as the Patchwork Girl in the next film