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The Boston Globe

Movies

Movie review

‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ never finds its groove

It’s worth reflecting, for a moment, on what makes 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” not just a great movie but an iconic experience and pop touchstone. It got mixed reviews in 1939, but my generation discovered the film on TV after family gatherings, when the grown-ups were sleeping off the tryptophan, and it has since rolled out across VHS and DVD as a childhood rite of passage. There are those catchy songs, of course, and a villainess that perches on the edge of nightmare. The winged monkeys go over that edge — they’re Hieronymus Bosch for kiddies. But it’s Dorothy who makes “Wizard” stick, or, rather, the profound emotional yearning for a home beyond the rainbow conveyed by the young Judy Garland, who herself had lost her bearings in the Oz of MGM. “The Wizard of Oz” works because we can feel it.

Which is precisely what’s missing from “Oz the Great and Powerful”: that sense of emotional journey. The new film comes at us with all the 21st-century bells and whistles — computer-generated effects, 3-D visuals — and the absurdly talented Sam Raimi (the “Evil Dead” and “Spider-Man” trilogies) behind the camera. An unofficial prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” it has a sly but gracious reverence for the fantasy world created by L. Frank Baum, and it gets as close to the 1939 movie as lawyers for current copyright holder Warner Bros. will allow. Even the colors glow with the hyperreal tones of classic three-strip Technicolor.

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