Another trip down the yellow brick road comes over seven decades after Judy Garland first blazed the trail and, unlike Return to Oz (1985), Spider-Man director Sam Raimi brilliantly recaptures that old magic. James Franco gives it a streetwise twist as the eponymous wizard who, here, starts out as a travelling grifter, but there's an innocence about him too that harks back to the original.
Just as it was for Dorothy, the story begins in Kansas, in black-and-white, with Oscar Diggs (aka Oz) plying his trade as a circus magician. He gets a kick out of pulling the wool over people's eyes and especially the ladies, though one in particular (Michelle Williams) appears to have a hold on him. Still, her grip isn't tight enough because she's a small-town girl and he dreams of greatness.
Of course Oz's destiny lies over the rainbow. In a spectacular tornado scene enhanced by flinch-making 3D effects, he's whisked away in a hot air balloon and plonked at the feet of a pretty witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis). Suddenly, the world comes alive in glorious Technicolor - Raimi evoking the storybook visuals of the 1939 classic - but Theodora is more spellbound by Oz than he is with her.
The banter is snappy and mischievous in the way it teases out their differing world views, echoing the 2007 Amy Adams vehicle Enchanted. Theodora is all sweetness and light until her wicked sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) identifies Oz as a threat and gives her a bite of a poisoned apple.
Apart from Oz, the object of her disaffection is Glinda, the good witch (Williams again), a dead ringer for his old sweetheart. She believes his visit to Oz is part of a prophecy that will see him take back the Emerald City from Evanora, partly because he's already trading on that story. He only fesses up to his wisecracking sidekick, "a monkey in a bellhop suit" (voiced by Zach Braff).
Oz is a fish out of water, bemused and occasionally downright irritated by the shiny happy people of Oz. Hilariously, he cuts the Munchkins off when they try to break into song, but Raimi never bows to fashionable cynicism - Glinda is there to keep Oz in check. She may float around in bubbles rather a lot, but she's no airhead and calls him up on being "weak, selfish and slightly egotistical".
But it's those flaws and his general gaucheness that make Oz such a winning hero. Franco may play it for laughs too self-consciously at times, but it's the sort of humour that kids and grown-ups can both delight in, and it doesn't spoil the magic because, behind the talk, his actions reveal the brains, heart and courage that he'll later bestow on a scarecrow, tin-man and cowardly lion.
A colourful journey full of wonderment and whimsy is nicely wrapped up in a grand magic show at the Emerald City where Oz faces off with Evanora and Theodora, projecting his cheesy expression through a cloud of smoke in a nudge-nudge reference to the original. Throughout, Raimi strikes just the right balance of dreamy nostalgia and sharp wit. You simply must go off to see the wizard.