Into a world of magic

Last updated 05:00 10/03/2013

Off to see the Wizard: Oz The Great and Powerful is more than a straight prequel to the Wizard of Oz.

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Sam Raimi probably set out to produce an ambitious, cutting-edge prequel to the Wizard of Oz, but instead Oz: The Great and Powerful offers something of a return to classic Disney storytelling values, and that's no bad thing.

There's already plenty of negative online chatter about Raimi's arguably excessive use of CGI animation and other fripperies, but you should ignore that and look at how Oz does the basics, and does them well.

The usual pitfalls are sidestepped - the humour is subtle and doesn't distract from the plotting, there are no belaboured life lessons, it's well-paced and tells a genuine story. Six decades on from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, and compared to the underwhelming rash of fairytale re-imaginings (there were two "modernisations" of Sleeping Beauty in 2012), Oz stands up rather well.

It will, of course, be harshly marked against the original, and there's still a lot of love for Judy Garland, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, but it actually took my 11-year-old until the final scenes to realise that this served as a prequel to all of that.

That's another tick for Oz and Raimi, for being sensible and respectful enough to downplay the link as much as possible, and to stand alone as a tale.

It begins with Kansas carnival magician Oscar Diggs being seized by a twister, deposited in Oz, and hailed as the nation's saviour against an evil witch, but things swiftly become much more complicated when Oscar realises there's more than one witch.

The casting is solid, with the three female leads - Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams - as the trio of witches, all uniformly good.

James Franco hams it up shamelessly, but effectively in the title role, and Zach Braff does well as Franco's winged monkey companion.

And I didn't mind the CGI, because it was smartly used, not least to conjure up the evil force's flying baboons, which will terrify younger viewers, but offered the appropriate amount of menace in the inevitable good versus evil battle. It gives nothing away to tell you that, in keeping with tradition, Oscar undergoes the usual transformation from shiftless charlatan to doughty moralist, but the manner of his transition is cleverly done, and everything culminates in a stunning finale.

Oz: The Great and Powerful (PG) 130 mins

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