This prequel to The Wizard of Oz often references the 1939 movie, but not closely enough to run afoul of MGM’s copyright. It begins in a black and white Kansas where James Franco (not the best casting choice) is working as a mediocre stage magician traveling with a small circus. In his spare time he romances women by giving them a music box that was a gift from his war-hero grandmother, who apparently supplied him with crates of them.
When the circus strongman suspects Franco of romancing his wife, Franco flees in a balloon that of course flies into a tornado, carrying him away to the wide screen and color of Oz.
His arrival cheers the citizens of that land, who hope he will prove to be the prophesied wizard come to save them from a wicked witch and become their king, a job Franco is delighted to learn includes full access to the treasury. The catch is that he can’t be king until he has managed to deal with a wicked witch. In fact, there are three witches about — Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams — though they’re not all wicked.
Franco is assisted by a winged monkey (a different sort from the scary flying baboons who work for the wicked witch) and a doll-size girl made of delicate fine china, the latter from the china country Dorothy visits in L Frank Baum’s first Oz novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
The film is clearly aimed at children and lacks much depth, but despite that, and despite James Franco’s uneven performance, I ended up rather liking the film, especially for the witches and the delicate but brave china girl. It was directed by Sam Raimi (who also directed the three Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire), who as usual brings some humor, originality, and eccentricity.