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Oz the Great and Powerful/Rated PG for storm violence, an out of control muscle man and scary witches, one of which is witch green

After Warner Brothers’ Jack the Giant Slayer laid an egg on its opening weekend, Disney Pictures was probably a little worried about the fate another new version of an old story, namely Oz the Great and Powerful; with Disney studio heads possibly looking at the same fate which no doubt befell the Warner Brothers execs Monday morning after the JTGS premiere. Namely, trying to make very large mortgage and Maserati payments with their $1,200 a month unemployment checks, instead of from WB’s multi-million dollar accounts. It won’t be easy.

Disney had close to $300 million in the Oz budget, and are breathing a sigh of relief because the film took in over $80 million in domestic gross the opening weekend and $150 million worldwide.

Another Oz film will be on the way. A Jack the Giant Slayer sequel will have to wait till after production wraps on John Carter II.

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The main reason for the Disney Oz success is the eternal popularity of the original film, The Wizard of Oz – which, it’s estimated, has been seen by more people worldwide than any other movie in history. Oz is how it all got started.

James Franco plays Oscar Diggs, aka The Wizard, who’s performing in a small, traveling circus with less than stellar results. While being chased by the circus strongman he escapes, but barely, by balloon.

Just like in the original Frank L. Baum story, he ends up being transported by tornado to the Land of Oz. He befriends a lady in red and a monkey with wings wearing a bellhop costume. Since he goes by the professional moniker of The Wizard, people think this is the guy who can save the land from destruction by the evil forces threatening Oz.

Although he is just a magician, Diggs takes the job because it pays regularly, plus he gets to live in a castle and becomes automatic owner of the entire treasury.

Unfortunately there are strings attached. It’s the strings that make the story fun – that and the stunning and expensive special effects. (I don’t even want to talk about China Doll because that gives away too much. China Doll is not a character left over from Miss Saigon.)

While a little too long at two hours and 10 minutes, the story moves fast enough that a nap is not in order. The characters are great fun – especially the above-mentioned China Doll and the winged and costumed monkey, Findley. The witches are outlandishly delightful, played by Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz. Glinda, the good witch, is played by a sickeningly sweet Michelle Williams.

Besides the special effects, which look great in 3-D and completely in focus, a stand-out is the fully symphonic score by Danny Elfman. DE has become what Bernard Herrmann was to films in the 50’s and 60’s when he was the master of suspense and fantasy. BH’s films include Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest. His fantasy films for the period include The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts.

DE is living up to a reputation he began way back with Batman in 1989. His use of orchestra and chorus to create magic, wonder, and horror is almost unmatched among today’s film composers.

While not perfect, Oz is well worth a viewing on the big screen. While possibly scary for those under eight, you will probably take them anyway. If Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch in the original Judy Garland classic didn’t scare the kids, this probably won’t either. I first saw the Wizard of Oz at around age six when it was re-released to theaters. Hamilton scared the doo wop out of me. Hide Toto, hide.

Rated 3.4 out of 4.0 feet tall, which was the limit for any actor wanting to be a Munchkin.

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