‘Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’ is For Kids Only

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CHICAGO – The so-called “Legend of Oz” will cease to be legendary if they keep producing lame re-engineerings of the 1939 classic “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Close on the heels of last year’s dud, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” comes the dully-rendered “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.”

The screenplay – by Adam Balsam and Randi Barnes – is strictly boilerplate, with no consideration for creating something different for the Dorothy and Oz story, just an odd updating of the Kansas atmosphere and a rather depressing disaster area in the town after the first tornado. The voice-casting of TV actress Lea Michele (“Glee”) as Dorothy is a sure sign of a way to lower the budget, and although some of the elements are interesting (the voice of Patrick Stewart as a talking piece of wood), overall the film will work as a glazed-eye babysitter for the kids, while adults can find time for introspective meditation on their lost youth.

The film supposedly takes place after the 1939 adventure, but the setting of Dorothy Gale (voice of Michele) is a more modern Kansas. The area has been devastated by the tornado that took Dorothy to Oz, and a housing assessor (Martin Short) is busy condemning property. Meanwhile back in Oz, the Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd) is desperately trying to signal Dorothy to help them with another dilemma.

Legends of Oz
The Band is Back Together in ‘Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’
Photo credit: Clarius Entertainment

It seems that The Jester (Short, again) has taken all the leaders of Oz captive by using the magic broomstick of the recently defeated Wicked Witch of the West. This includes Glinda the Good Witch (Bernadette Peters), and eventually the Scarecrow, Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and Cowardly Lion (James Belushi). Dorothy and Toto ride back to Oz on a magic rainbow (groovy trip) and begin the rescue with some new friends, including an owl name Wiser (Oliver Platt).

It’s hard to imagine a 98-minute film replicating the characters and situations of Oz would have soft spots in the story, but there is no effort made on rejuvenating the concept, and scant detail to a unique animation design. This becomes uninteresting almost immediately, and the wrecked town might give the kiddie audience nightmares. MShort sweats hard in his villainous roles, but even that crosses the line to desperation.

That is not to say the film is a complete washout, it’s just very spotty. Besides the rainbow ride, some of the songs are okay – “Work With Me” was the most memorable, and had some creative animation – and there are other animated sequences that evoke a magic mushroom kind of weirdness (remember the poppy fields from the 1939 film?), but these are too few between the “help us Dorothy” meandering of the troops.

The unfamiliar characters are part of the Oz universe, as written by L. Frank Baum (the movie itself is based on a Land of Oz book by Roger S. Baum, L. Frank’s great grandson), and they fail and succeed according to their presence in this film. Wiser the Owl is irritating, virtually in every scene he is in. The China Doll Princess – also depicted in last year’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” – is pretty funny. She’s looking for a boyfriend, and falls for soldierly Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), a variation on the Great Royal Marshmallow in the Oz books.

Legends of Oz
Stay Puffed: Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and Dorothy (Lea Michele) in ‘Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’
Photo credit:Clarius Entertainment

The voiceover work is fairly innocuous, with Bernadette Peters standing out as Glinda, only because her line readings were so odd (she…hesitates…between…words). The rest of the familiar cast vacillate between doing wacky voice variations (Kelsey Grammar) or their own voices, which makes Stewart hilarious as a piece of wood that becomes a ship, because he sounds exactly like his cartoon persona Avery Bullock on “American Dad.” It’s almost like it’s a tripped-out episode of that cartoon, with his Head of the CIA character trapped inside a tree in a government body switching experiment gone wrong.

It’s one thing to have rights to the Oz franchise, and another to pay proper homage to it by using it creatively. This is a cynical animated effort designed for easy marketing and a quick box office, and a hopeful sequel if the first one takes off. Take heed to pay no attention to the bean counters behind the curtain.

“Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” opens everywhere on May 9th, in 3D and regular screenings. See local listings for 3D theaters and show times. Featuring the voices of Lea Michele, Kelsey Grammer, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Bernadette Peters, James Belushi, Hugh Dancy, Oliver Platt and Patrick Stewart. Screenplay by Adam Balsam and Randi Barnes. Directed by Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre. Rated “PG

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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