Did anyone really want Hollywood to revisit The Wizard of Oz? It takes nerve to make a prequel to the most beloved movie ever made, especially when the original came out 74 years ago. But the central problem with Oz the Great and Powerful is not sheer audacity, but something even more common: Though the film's digital special effects are lush and captivating, both the story and its execution follow familiar formulas to the letter. The result plays like blockbuster-by-corporate-committee, Disney style. The kids will love it, but grown-ups may yearn for the days when Disney made movies that appealed on multiple levels. It wasn't long ago.
Oz the Great and Powerful provides an origin story for the Wizard (James Franco), which is something few would have requested for the original movie's least interesting character. The prequel follows the basic structure of The Wizard of Oz — black-and-white introduction, transitional tornado, everyone learning to be thankful for what they've got — but without the memorable stuff like great songs or Judy Garland. Though Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis perform admirably in their roles as sibling witches at war, it's not enough to overcome the emptiness of the story. Here's hoping a prequel to It's a Wonderful Life won't come next. —KEN KORMAN.