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Even though there seems to be sequels to popular movies released more often than original ones, they are still considered a risky undertaking.  Release too many and the audience will eventually turn away (think of Friday the 13th).  Release one with too many similar themes and people will complain (The Hangover).  Wait too long and the audience could lose interest. Prequels fall in the same category.

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So, with that in mind, imagine Hollywood creating a prequel to THE most beloved movie of all time nearly 75 years after the original came out. And focus on a character that barely registered in the original just to give him a back story  Well, Hollywood has done just that, and the result is… much better than expected.

James Franco takes over the roll of the title character, and we witness his journey from carnival con man, in Kansas, to Oz, where he becomes leader. He has his usual cocky attitude, as he does in most of his roles, but the performance is still good.  The actresses playing the witches comes off far worse.  Mila Kunis, usually reliable, is awful. Rachel Weisz‘ performance borders on campy. Michelle Williams, as Glinda, fares best but is given little to do other than look gorgeous.

The real star of the movie, though, is the breathtaking visual effects. In my opinion, the effects are some of the best ever committed to film. The “China Girl” character is easily the best thing about the whole movie. I never thought I’d say it, but I’d pay good money to watch a movie starring this computer generated doll.

The 1939 Wizard of Oz is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Chances are, if you haven’t seen it yourself, everyone you know has. It has held up remarkably well over the years, and will continue to be considered a classic. Obviously, the new version won’t hold the test of time in quite the same way, but it can still be enjoyed by the whole family again and again.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

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