Hollywood has grappled with this dilemma for decades. It’s the unanswerable question, the cinematic sphinx. How do you make a sequel/prequel/remake/reboot/re-imagining of a classic? Do Rick and Ilsa meet again? Do the von Trapps form a folk singing group in the Alps? Is tomorrow another day? They tried with The Sting and failed. They tried with Love Story and failed. They tried (many times) with The Wizard of Oz with less-than-overwhelming success. This time—for the most part—they got it right.
This story, which the promoters are calling ‘L. Frank Baum-inspired’ is the precursor to The Wizard of Oz and tells the story of how the wizard (James Franco), a Kansas magician and huckster makes his way to the enchanted land. Once there, he happens upon several witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams) and a land of people looking for an inspired leader. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them…You get the idea.
This movie does so much right, it’s hard to fault it. It’s a lovely tip of the cap to the original: It starts in black and white and changes to color, and several characters play dual roles. It also delightfully lays the groundwork for the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. If the film lacks magic, it’s only because the bar is set so high. I really enjoyed it. And while Baum did not write this particular story, he did write nine other novels about the land of Oz. So get ready. This one is a 7.