Film Review: ‘Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’

'Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return' Review:

This kid-friendly 3D toon musical offers another joyless trip down the yellow-brick road.

There are more credited producers than there are Munchkins in “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return,” a kid-friendly 3D toon musical that offers another joyless trip down the yellow-brick road after last year’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.” Certainly the hit success of that Disney live-action tentpole may explain why this independent venture is getting a wide release, despite its merely passable animation and a story that feels straight-to-video through and through. Banking on audience affection for MGM’s classic “The Wizard of Oz” (but remaining within acceptable legal boundaries, of course) while cooking up a comparatively feeble set of adventures for Dorothy, Toto and friends, this first theatrical outing for Clarius Entertainment will likely melt away at the box office before finding a small pot of ancillary gold at the end of the rainbow.

Since the publication of its beloved first installment in 1900, L. Frank Baum’s 14-book Oz cycle has spawned any number of authorized and unauthorized sequels, alternative legends and revisionist histories; these include 1989’s “Dorothy of Oz,” which was written by the author’s great-grandson, Roger Stanton Baum, and provides the rough outline for Randi Barnes and Adam Balsam’s screenplay. Visually and iconographically, however, it’s clear enough from the film’s pink-clad Glinda (voiced by Bernadette Peters, who sounds heavily sedated) and green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West (making a brief posthumous appearance) that “Legend of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” is leaning heavily on the 1939 Victor Fleming-directed original — a movie that looms so large in the American cultural imagination, it’s the reason why so many of these subpar knockoffs exist and also the reason why they shouldn’t.

There are key differences, to be sure: This Dorothy Gale sings not in the creamy tones of Judy Garland, but rather in the slick pop-diva register of “Glee’s” Lea Michele. Our heroine has also surrendered her ruby slippers for brown-and-blue cowgirl boots, a less flashy but more practical choice of footwear for her long journey back to the Emerald City, where the Scarecrow (voiced by Dan Aykroyd), the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and the no-longer-cowardly Lion (James Belushi) are in desperate need of her help: The Jester (Martin Short), the devious younger brother of the Wicked Witch of the West, has found a way to turn his sister’s broomstick into an all-powerful magic scepter, and is laying waste to Oz realm by realm, brick by yellow brick.

“Oh, Toto, this doesn’t look like the Oz I remember,” Dorothy murmurs at one point. Truer words were never spoken. With the Scarecrow strenuously trying to think his way out of the situation and the Tin Man and Lion basically reduced to bromantic bickering (“Sounds like somebody needs an oil change!”), it’s not long before the three companions have fallen into the Joker’s (er, Jester’s) clutches. Meanwhile, Dorothy and Toto make a new friend in Wiser (Oliver Platt), an oversized owl who can’t fly (didn’t we see this in “Rio”?), and slowly make their way to the Emerald City by way of some of Oz’s lesser-known, higher-rent districts, including Dainty China Country and Candy Country (didn’t we see this in “Wreck-It Ralph”?).

These two detours do allow for one of the picture’s few genuinely touching moments, in which the chivalrous Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), rather than searching for Sugar Woman, courts and woos the haughty China Princess (Megan Hilty, back in Oz again after her superb stage performance as Glinda in “Wicked”). And as this sort of hackneyed fantasy-land mashup goes, “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” at least looks more competent than a tonal and technical disaster like “Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil.” As overseen by directors Will Finn and Daniel St. Pierre, the visuals here may be scrappy and derivative, but they won’t leave your eyeballs screaming for mercy, and the 3D, while hardly essential to the experience, has been applied with a judicious hand.

Much of this is watchable; virtually none of it is memorable. The humdrum songs go in one ear and out the other. There are noisy battle scenes, lessons in friendship and teamwork, and enough second-rate puns and wisecracks to test the voice cast’s collective patience (although Short seems to be in his element). And in perhaps the most tiresome bit of borrowing from “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy’s quest here is mirrored by a lazy framing device set in Kansas, immediately following the cyclone disaster that blew her to Oz the first time. When Dorothy woke up the first time, it was a glorious cinematic testament to the power of dreams; when she does the same here, it’s a glum reminder that you really can’t go home again.

Film Review: 'Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return'

Reviewed at the Grove, Los Angeles, May 6, 2014. (In 2013 Annecy Animation Film Festival — competing.) MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production

(Animated) A Clarius Entertainment release and presentation with Carroll Brothers of a Summertime production in association with 120dB Films. Produced by Ryan Carroll, Roland Carroll, Bonne Radford. Executive producers, Neil L. Kaufman, Greg Centineo, Rene Torres, Stephen Hays, Peter Graham. Co-producers, Arish Fyzee, Kristin Dornig.

Crew

Directed by Will Finn, Daniel St. Pierre. Screenplay, Randi Barnes, Adam Balsam, based on the novel "Dorothy of Oz" by Roger Stanton Baum. (Fotokem color, 3D); editors, Dan Molina, Stan Webb; music, Toby Chu; songs, Bryan Adams, Tift Merritt, Jim Vallance, Jim Dooley, Mike Himelstein; music supervisor, Vicki Hiatt; production designer, St. Pierre; CG supervisor, Jouelle Baracho; art director, Seth Engstrom; supervising sound editors (Dolby Digital), John Joseph Thomas, Jeremy Peirson; re-recording mixers, David E. Fluhr, Jeremy Peirson; CG line producers, Aby John, Victoria Itow; animation director, Dougg Williams; casting, Matthew Jon Beck.

With

Voices: Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, Hugh Dancy, Megan Hilty, Oliver Platt, Patrick Stewart, Bernadette Peters, Martin Short.
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  1. Trudi says:

    C’mon, Grandma! You just cut and pasted your comment from screenrant.com (and who knows where else). And the whole “There will always be a rainbow when one needs it most” quote… At the end of that rainbow do you think there will be a pot of gold waiting for the thousands of people who invested in this clunker?

  2. 76 yr old Grandma says:

    Ok! First, the Wizard of Oz book by Frank Baum & Julie Garland in the Wizard of Oz film is classic & timeless ~ one that’s watched time & again by each generation. The Legends of Oz animated musical film is delightful and charming. It remains to be seen how the kids will react & whether the film stands the test of time. I say that because we [the writer and several of her grand-mother or older gal friends] attended an afternoon show & there were No children watching the film -only about 1 dozen attendees. The gals & I LOVED the animation & melodious musicality of the movie! It will catch on & there should be lots of children seeing it this weekend.

    The music by Bryan Adams, songwriter/composer, pinned for the film is Great — I think the kids will particularly like the song & animation of the Happy song, “Work with Me!” & of course, the journey through Candyland will be loved by the kids.
    The animation process & effects for the characters of Oz (i.e., Tin Man, monkeys) are amazing. I enjoyed listening to the talented singing voice of Lea Michele’s & she really got into the role of Dorothy’s character.

    This grownup Loved/enjoyed the wonderful stellar, talented voices of Megan Hilty & Hugh Dancy, both in their solo performances & as the ‘China Princess & Marshall Mallow’ singing their Beautiful duet song, ‘Even Then’.~ sigh :-)
    Martin Short really shines as the Jester don’t you think; & kudos go to the costume designing for the Jester — Patrick Stewart is also great & appealing to the little ones as Tugg the Tugboat!

    The gals thought the movie was very ‘cute’ & well suited for young children to see — lots of laughs & chuckles made in the journey through candyland — all of them will tell their kids to take their grandchildren to see it.

    Personally (& at my suggestion) we All agreed, over cups of Hot Tea, to give it an A+ on being a positive role model with high marks in educational values to be discussed w/the kids. Some of the values we talked about were: 1) the good Vs evil; the “work with me” attitude in helping one another, 2) a reiteration of helping those in need of a brain(education); of courage, & heart (scarecrow/lion/tin man) & 3) it connects the dots to people in Dorothy’s Kansas; e.g., the Jester & the appraiser abusing governmental powers, et al.

    One reservation perhaps could be for parents to be cautious about their young 3 to 4 YOs seeing the film ~ the mean flying monkeys battle in 3D might be too scary for them.

    Although the Top Box Office attendance stats were not as great as other films at this point (about $3.7M), I do think it will do Very Well, especially in DVD sales for home viewing.

    TOYS: I think the Jester, Toto, Tin Man & Marshall Mallow plush toys will do well; & I believe the Hotest item will be the fashion Singing Dorothy Doll w/cute cowboy boots, et al- especially since she sings the Happy song “Work with Me” from the movie. Like Dorothy, let’s think positive & remember, “There Will Always be a Rainbow when One Needs it Most”

    • Psycho says:

      Nobody will ever believe that a 76 year old “grandma” posted about the movie’s deplorable $3.7 million draw at the box office. And why would a random grandmother be interested in selling the idea of tie-in toy merchandise? Nice try though. You really had me going with the “cup of hot tea” thing, because we all know that’s what grandmas drink, right?

  3. KJ says:

    Have you not read the books??? Great movie for the age category of 3 to 9! Song and animation held the kids attention throughout the entire movie.

  4. Trudi says:

    It is just sad that after 10 years of collecting $100M from investors to make this movie that it is of such poor quality that the investors are unlikely to ever see any returns…but I doubt that was the end goal anyway.

  5. Tom says:

    Justin get a grip it’s a kids animated movie, my kids were at the LA premiere and loved it. Maybe you aren’t the right guy to review a family movie where parents can sit with their children and not have to hear four letter words or see people naked on the big screen!

  6. Steve Hane says:

    I don’t understand why you thought the framing device was lazy. There was a tornado, it caused damage, Dorothy as a young girl was confronted by a very adult reality, but she was able to leverage her earnestness and dedication to work to rebuild in spite of the damage in the face of a world that had given up. Then when she returns from her adventure in Oz she is empowered once again and challenges the authority that orders her and her aunt and uncle to give up their home. This is a powerful message for young people, and you missed it? Or just dismissed the value of storytelling as lazy. One might just as easily call your review lazy and thoughtless.

  7. LOL says:

    Many of the comments threaded here below this review be insider hacks, methinks. Justin Chang always speaks the truth, ignore the others.

    • Suki says:

      Nope….I’m not an insider hack, just a member of the general public. Justin Chang’s truth isn’t everybody’s truth and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If a movie is entertaining to my family, especially without feeling the need to resort to four-letter words, then it’s a 5 star movie in my book. We’ll be seeing it again tonight and I’m sure it will be just as entertaining as it was the first time.

  8. frank martino says:

    I actually saw a screening of the film and loved it. My children really loved it and that’s all that matters. This film was not made to compete with the classic Wizard of Oz and critics comparing them shows that some critics should leave the judging to the audience and their opinions to themselves. But then why have them employed? Exactly. Story, characters and music all get a 5 star rating and a must see this weekend.

  9. Suki says:

    My family and I went to a special screening of this movie and completely, 100%, disagree with this review. We watched Frozen a couple of days before seeing Legends of Oz and my daughter enjoyed this movie so much more. As a matter of fact, she can’t stop singing a couple of the songs from the movie! This movie was entertaining and funny for adults and children alike and the animation is superb. I have a feeling this critic may have been watching a different movie.

  10. Supersonic says:

    This is definitely a future entry for the Nostalgia Critic.

  11. Tyler says:

    Disagree completely with every aspect of this review. I have 4 kids, they saw the premiere and all LOVED the movie. It was clean humor for adults and kids(Toy Story-like), and very memorable. In fact, they’ve been quoting lines from the movie since we saw the Premiere on May 3rd. They loved the music, and the animation was spectacular. Disregard everything Justin said if you have kids and a family.

  12. fsn.rfox says:

    Reblogged this on Global News Now.

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