Oscar, known as Oz, is an illusionist in a small traveling carnival. He’s great at being a huckster, but not so good at people skills, as evidenced by his need to climb into a hot air balloon and fly away before the Strongman beats him for dallying with his wife. Naturally, a tornado arrives (it’s Kansas-why did you not expect a tornado when it starts storming in Kansas??), and Oz gets swept away to a strange land. There he meets the pretty witch Theodora, who insists he’s the wizard that will save them from the “wicked witch”. Discovering there’s a big reward for going along, he agrees to “save them”, and winds up getting caught in a magic feud where no one is quite what they seem.
This is a good prequel to the Wizard of Oz. We see why the Wizard is “the man behind the curtain”. He is good at using illusion and subterfuge. We also find out why the Wicked Witch is, in fact, wicked, and get even smaller in-jokes, such as why the cowardly lion is cowardly. (It’s called conditioning, although it was the fastest conditioning experiment ever.) Another example is that Oz’s love interest from the beginning is going to marry a “John Gale”, indicating she will eventually be Dorothy’s mother.
The land of Oz is made even brighter than before, thanks to CGI, but it is not the effects that make this movie so good. A lot of Oz’s character development comes from understand that to be great does not mean one cannot be good; and from learning both from his mistakes and about his own capacity for good.
Like the original, a lot of the characters from the “real world” show up in Oz as other characters. Oz’s initial love interest arrives as his love interest in the land of Oz; a little girl shows up as a china doll, and his assistant becomes a monkey. It’s a great nod to the original film, while using some elements of the book as well.
The humor is light and done well (my particular favorite is “sorry I mooed”), and the movie itself, while not the original, does a good job of capturing the spirit of the original. It’s definitely a fun movie, and one perfectly appropriate for the kids as well.