It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 70 years since the release of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard Of Oz.
Decades on, the 1939 film remains one of the most successful Hollywood hits, and those iconic scenes of a young Judy Garland gazing skyward in her blue gingham dress, singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, still appear on TV every year.
Inspired by the stories of L Frank Baum, The Wizard Of Oz is the stuff of so many childhoods and, aside from the opening of the musical Wicked on Broadway and in the West End, has remained untouched until now.
Spider-Man director Sam Raimi has reinvented the magical land in full 3D glory for his prequel film, Oz The Great And Powerful, starring James Franco, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis. But don’t worry – the famous yellow brick road and the stunning Emerald City haven’t undergone spectacular changes.
“The 1939 film is beloved by many people, myself included. One of the things I knew that they’d be able to improve on with this film was the rendering of Oz and create a spectacular world that is fully engaging and seamless,” says Franco, who plays the wizard.
Unlike the previous film, this re-imagining follows Oscar Diggs, a small-time circus magician with questionable ethics as he is transported away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz.
When he encounters three witches – Theodora (Kunis), Evanora (Weisz) and Glinda (Williams) – he has to try to save his new home and its inhabitants before evil takes over.
“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,” explains Kunis.
Braff adds: “We’re not trying to remake that treasured classic. Everyone loves the world of Oz, but with the cool technology of 2013.”
Here’s a look at the main characters, and why walking the yellow brick road appealed to the stars...
Oscar Diggs is ‘part goofball, part conman, part seducer, part vaudeville guy, all of which appealed to me’, says Franco. “In some ways, he touches on many aspects of Americana, while being a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable,” says Franco.
The actor says he brished up on his magic skills for the role.
“I came out two weeks early to work with the great Las Vegas magician Lance Burton. I learned dove tricks and fire tricks as well as pulling things out of hats and making things levitate,” he says.
“I just always wanted to walk down the yellow brick road and this was my chance,” says Franco. “I loved the book as a child – it was one of the first books I read for pleasure - so it felt like I was acting in a world that had been part of my childhood.”
Glinda, the Good Witch, is played by Michelle Williams.
“She’s the younger version of Glinda that we all know from the books. I think of my Glinda as a witch at the beginning of developing those powers,” says Williams.
While Raimi adds: “It’s in Glinda that Oz is finally able to consummate the love story that his limited character couldn’t back in Kansas. In Oz, he grows into a greater man, a man who values others as much as himself and only then does he become worthy of Glinda’s love.”