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It turns out the Wizard of Oz, the bloke behind the curtain who serves more as an agony uncle than any sort of Gandalf type amazingness, started out as a sleazy travelling circus magician.

His wayward journey is the focus of this prequel.We meet Oscar, Oz for short (Franco), the not so great with a holey second-hand suit, as he chats up a wide-eyed farm girl to be his audience plant – but his sidekick Frank (Braff) keeps thwarting his wooing efforts.

When the show goes awry – a girl in a wheelchair asks to be cured – and a strongman finds out Oz has been dipping his wand in his lady friend, he does the bolt in a hot-air balloon.

But not before he reunites with the closest thing selfish Oz has to a love of his life, Annie (who looks a lot like Glinda the good witch, Williams).

If this sounds waffling and far-fetched, that’s ‘cos it is. It takes too long to get to the land of Oz, which we find isn’t so merry as it’s being terrorised by a wicked witch.

They’ve been waiting for a wizard.Just like the remastered version of the 1939 Judy Garland classic, director Sam Raimi starts in mono and goes to colour when we get to yellow brick road territory.

The witches – Theodora (Kunis) and her sister Evanora (Weisz), who start good but are evil, and later Glinda – pick up the speed and deliver the stand-out performances (Franco has the range of Tin Man, pre-oil can).

The 3D element is distracting, but worth it for the final showdown between the sisters and their creepy flying baboons (the little girl behind me said they were “really funny”) and the Glinda/Oz alliance.

Good for: A fantastical Emerald City showdown for big and little kids … once you get there.

Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff | PG | 130mins | Out March 8


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