From Disney comes the Sam Raimi-helmed, 3D-fantastical adventure “Oz The Great and Powerful,” which imagines the origins of the beloved wizard character first brought to life in author L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” As a cinematic prequel to the book, “Oz The Great and Powerful” explores the backstory of the wizard, offering audiences both a unique and amazing moviegoing experience.
“Oz The Great and Powerful” boasts a stellar cast that includes Academy Award® nominee James Franco (“127 Hours”) as Oscar Diggs, the predestined Wizard; Golden Globe® nominee Mila Kunis (“Black Swan”) as the tormented young witch Theodora; Academy Award® winner Rachel Weisz (“The Constant Gardener”) as Theodora’s older sister, Evanora, the witch who rules over the Emerald City; and three-time Oscar®-nominated actress Michelle Williams (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Blue Valentine,” “My Week with Marilyn”) as Glinda, the Good Witch.
The cast also includes Primetime Emmy® and Golden Globe® nominee Zach Braff (“Scrubs,” “Garden State”), who plays Franco’s circus assistant, while also lending his vocal talents to one of the CGI creatures in the story—Finley, the winged monkey who accompanies the magician on his journey through Oz, serving as his sounding board and the magician’s conscience; and 13-year-old actress Joey King (“Ramona and Beezus”), who plays a girl in a wheelchair at the circus and voices another CGI character in the story, China Girl, the porcelain child who also joins the future Wizard on his fateful excursion through Oz.
The film was produced by industry veteran Joe Roth (“Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Alice in onderland”), along with a quartet of executive producers—Grant Curtis (Raimi’s longtime colleague who has produced or co-produced the director’s last five projects), Roth associate Palak Patel (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), another longtime Raimi associate, Josh Donen (“The Quick and the Dead”) and Philip Steuer (“The Chronicles of Narnia” series).
Mitchell Kapner (“The Whole Nine Yards”) is credited with the screen story for “Oz The Great and Powerful” and both Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole,” “Robots”) wrote the screenplay.
“This is a story of how the wizard came to be the wizard; of how a smalltime carnival magician—a faker, a charlatan—came to a fantastic world and was just the thing that they needed to save the day. It’s the tale of how an average man who was selfish became a great wizard who is selfless.” —Sam Raimi, director
Frank Baum, who wrote 14 novels between 1900-1920, all set in the Land of Oz he so vividly created, never fully portrayed the wizard character’s background in any of his books. Producer Joe Roth found that fact fascinating. “I love origin stories and I liked the idea of how the wizard came to be,” says Roth. “So, going back to Baum’s books to research and imagine his beginnings seemed like a great idea.”
“L. Frank Baum wrote a series of adventures with multiple characters in Oz,” states Raimi’s longtime producing partner, Grant Curtis. “I think the beauty of what Mitchell Kapner originally did, along with producer Joe Roth and executive producer Palak Patel, was that they took some of the adventures throughout these books and brought them together into one concise story that depicts how Oz became the great wizard.”
Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay- Abaire’s imaginative screenplay follows Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, who is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. There, Oscar thinks he’s hit the jackpot—fame and fortune are his for the taking—that is until he meets three witches, Theodora, Evanora and Glinda, who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting.
Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use, along with some ingenuity—and even a bit of wizardry—Oscar transforms himself not only into the great wizard but into a better man as well.
“It begins with a circus con artist who gets caught up in a tornado in a hot-air balloon and lands in this magical Land of Oz,” screenwriter Mitchell Kapner elaborates about the original story inspired by the works of author L. Frank Baum. “Because his name is Oz, his arrival coincides with a prophecy that states that a new and great leader is forthcoming. Because the Wicked Witch has taken over the land, the people look to this stranger as this great Wizard. They bow down to this mere mortal when they see his name on the side of his balloon.
“This is a guy, bluffing his way through life because he doesn’t have real magic powers like these witches do, who can become their leader and get Emerald City back from the Wicked Witch,” the screenwriter resumes about the story. “I liked the dynamic that people expected him to be this powerful wizard, which he knows he’s not. Yet, he can claim this throne, and essentially be the King, if he convinces enough people. Along the way, he realizes it’s not just about him. He has to do it to save these people.”
“What I love most about this character of Oz is that he is such a dastardly heel,” says co-screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire about the film’s unlikely hero. “But, he also craves something greater, both from his life and for himself as a person. He wants to do great things, and, in the beginning, it’s only about money and power and riches. By the end of the story, he finds out it’s actually about finding love and friendship. It’s a very human story.”
Before Lindsay-Abaire joined the project, Roth sought a director to bring Kapner’s story to life before the cameras. In choosing the acclaimed Sam Raimi, no stranger to Hollywood’s arena of epic film works (the “Spider-Man” trilogy), the veteran producer and former studio executive found what he felt was the best of a small fraternity of seasoned filmmakers who could bring the necessary scope to Kapner’s script.
“In tackling the Oz story, I could think of no better director than Sam Raimi,” says the filmmaker. “Sam is one of our leading directors who has great heart as well as visual artistry. Everything makes him the right director, frankly. He’s worked on films of this size and scope. He’s worked in a world of special effects and live action combined. And more than anything, he has the heart and the sensibility of the story.”
When Raimi read the script for “Oz The Great and Powerful,” he “fell in love with it.” He says, “I thought it was engaging and that it had a great, flawed main character. His adventure was fun and, eventually, his character’s transformation gave it an uplifting quality that I really enjoyed.”
The cast assembled for “Oz The Great and Powerful” was very pleased to have Raimi at the helm. “Like Baum in his books, Sam brought an incredible passion and imagination and wit and humanity to this project,” raves actress Rachel Weisz (Evanora) about her director. “And, this beautiful ability to tell a story that has an innocence and clarity that children can relate to. But, also a little bit naughty and witty, so that grown-ups will find it funny. He’s got incredible energy and is a really wonderful storyteller.”
“Sam, as most people that know his work would agree, has a great imagination,” echoes actor James Franco, who marks his fourth project with the well-regarded director and plays the film’s title character. “I’ve worked with Sam more than with any other director, and I’d say one of the main things that Sam really brings to the table is his fantastic talent with effects and pacing and telling an exciting movie story through cutting-edge imagery and technology.
“But, he also cares just as much about the characters and the story,” the actor goes on to say. “He’s the perfect person to bring this world alive with all the new technology that’s out there. And, knowing Sam, he’ll bring ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ to life in all its fantastical splendor, while making it a great character piece.”
Franco, who read all 14 of Baum’s books during his grade school years, offers his take on the film, saying, “In some ways, the story in our film is a metaphor and an analogy to what we all do as filmmakers. Oz is a magician. He puts on shows. In the Land of Oz, he creates illusions for different reasons. And that’s basically what a movie is; it’s creating an illusion. It’s creating an imaginary world for an audience.”
Summing up, actress Mila Kunis, who plays the witch Theodora, observes, “This film explains how all the characters became who they are and explains their origins so you understand them a little more. It brings a little more sincerity and truth to all the characters. And, while being funny and endearing, it very much stays true to the original concepts that L. Frank Baum created.”