“Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” features a big-name cast and well, that’s about it.
If there’s a lesson to be taken from this film, it’s that celebrity voice talent is not enough to make a quality animated feature.
As one might assume from the title, Summertime Entertainment's “Legends of Oz” is an animated sequel to the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz," bringing Dorothy back to that magical land where she encountered witches, flying monkeys and Munchkins. Since Warner Brothers still retains the rights to the original film (the book it’s based on is in the public domain), here Dorothy wears stylish cowboy boots instead of ruby slippers — and that might be a good thing. Any reminder of those magic slippers will only encourage audience members to tap their heels and make their way for the exits.
Here is why Dorothy (Lea Michele) has to return to Oz: The demise of the Wicked Witch of the West has created a villain vacuum, and The Jester (Martin Short) has stepped into the role of local agitator. He’s using a magic scepter to wreak havoc all over Oz and has also managed to capture Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer), Cowardly Lion (Jim Belushi) and Glinda the Good Witch (Bernadette Peters), but not before they are able to send a distress message to their good friend in Kansas.
Things aren’t going well in Kansas, either. Tornadoes have been laying waste to Dorothy’s home town, leaving her family and her neighbors destitute and on the verge of selling their homes off to a conniving speculator (also Martin Short), who somehow manages to drive around in a beat-up 1970s Thunderbird even though everything else suggests that we’re still in Dust Bowl-era Kansas.
Let’s just say the fewer questions you ask, the better.
As her despair is about to overcome her, a magic rainbow snatches her up and delivers her to Oz, where Dorothy teams up with a new motley crew of characters (since all the ones we know are in prison) and sets out to face The Jester. Along the way, songs are sung (“Legends of Oz” is a musical of sorts), fights are fought and jokes happen. We also meet a talking tree voiced by Patrick Stewart.
The story may be muddled and routine, but it is the animation that is to blame for most of the film’s incompetence. The majority of it (especially during the Kansas sequences) is stiff and low-budget. But worst of all, Dorothy exists in that painful zone on the animation spectrum where a character looks just human enough to be creepy and distracting whenever you see it on screen.
The real problem is that this is a production that should have been issued direct to video instead of in theaters. It’s been over a year since James Franco stepped into the prequel-sized shoes of the Wizard in Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.” But even if that film was a disappointment (as, to be honest, anything is bound to be next to the iconic original), at least it felt like it deserved to be seen on the silver screen. Maybe the cast was too big to justify a non-theatrical production, but the sooner “Legends of Oz” disappears into DVD obscurity, the better.
“Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” is rated PG for some scary moments and other mild content.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.