Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (2014)
Editor’s Notes: Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is now out in wide theatrical release.
There are few comforts to take from Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. One of them is that this film will be forgotten in a few weeks, another is that it raises the esteem of the oft-maligned but still pretty good Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) and still another is that Patrick Stewart likely got well paid for the 30 minutes he spent his handful of lines.
The story starts in Oz, years after the events depicted in the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939). Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd) is the administrator of Oz and the realm is in trouble, threatened by the evil Jester (Martin Short). He calls together his old friends The Cowardly Lion (Jim Belushi), now going simply by ‘The Lion’ since he got his courage and The Tin Woodsman (Kelsey Grammer) to help him contact Dorothy (Lea Michelle). The Lion expresses concern that Dorothy would not remember them since it had been so long, but Scarecrow explains that although it’s been years in Oz it would only be the next day for Dorothy.
There are few comforts to take from Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. One of them is that this film will be forgotten in a few weeks.
Cut to Kansas and Dorothy waking up, ignoring the final scene of The Wizard of Oz with everyone around her, and walking out of the house to see Aunt Em (Tracy Adams) and Uncle Henry (Michael Krawic) speaking about the damage to the house and property by the twister that carried Dorothy to Oz. When a shady claims adjuster (also voiced by Martin Short…get the connection?) and condemns the whole area (along with the entire town), Dorothy tries to fight it but Henry and Em are ridiculously complacent about having to give everything up without ever even seeing a FEMA badge. Dorothy runs away and encounters a rainbow that starts to follow her. When inside, she is able to speak to Scarecrow who explains he invented this as a means of travel to Oz and they need her help.
While traveling by rainbow (which is not nearly as convenient as the Muppet’s travel by map), the throne room in the Emerald Tower is breached by flying monkeys and the trio are forced to flee, hoping that Dorothy makes it to Oz in one piece and is able to come to their aid. Upon landing in an unfamiliar part of Oz, Dorothy meets Wiser (unrecognizably voiced by Oliver Platt) a fat owl who can’t fly. Along the way through a series of difficulties they pick up Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), China Princess (Megan Hilty) and make a boat out of a volunteer old tree whom they name Tugg (Patrick Stewart) after he is successfully converted to a boat but can still talk.
Of course they make it to the Emerald City and eventually confront the Jester and win the day. The trouble is that by the time all this happens, you just don’t care. None of the characters are particularly compelling and the danger never feels like it matters all that much. In the original, there was always a pretty good chance that any one of the main characters could die at any minute but here even when one character does effectively die, you know it isn’t for long.
The main reason for this is an extremely weak script. The reason for bringing Dorothy back to Oz is flimsy and should have been developed on screen more. If we’d seen Oz fall into chaos at the hands of the Jester and things get so bad for the Scarecrow that he has to call her in it would have felt more necessary. As it stands, we enter right when the three are reunited and the realm has basically already fallen. We have no sense of how bad things really are or how they got that way. None of the new characters are particularly good and even the old ones retain none of their original charm or characteristics that made us love them 75 years ago. Add flat voice work from all of the actors except Short and you’ve got a dreadful film.
The animation doesn’t do the film any favors either. It looks like it was made for television, with only some elements rising above the basicness of the rest of the film.
And then there are the songs. The terrible, terrible songs. I don’t remember any of them, but I remember hating them as they were being sung, shoehorned into the film probably because the script was too short to get it to feature length. I realize that I also said the songs in Frozen (2013) were unmemorable, but I can admit when I was wrong and there I was. Here, I am not. The songs were so useless in this film that if they had not been there, nothing would be different (except maybe I would have thought slightly better about the film. Maybe).
The only actor that seems to have had any fun or want to be a part of this project is Short who makes the Jester a fun(ish) character. He’s the only character I came close to liking, anyway. Short is charismatic and sounds like he actually showed up to the studio to record instead of calling from a quiet closet.
The animation doesn’t do the film any favors either. It looks like it was made for television, with only some elements rising above the basicness of the rest of the film. Toto is adorable and some of the character design is inventive, but the execution is far below what we have come to expect from computer generated animation these days. If this had debuted on television, the animation would be praised, considering I’ve seen some cartoons that look like they ran out of time and colored in the animatics, but for a theatrical release I expect, nay demand, better.
The question I kept asking myself as I sat in the theater next to my son today was “Why am I not at home watching this on TV? Why did I have to pay to see this?”. The level of effort put into Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is next to nill. The only reason I can come up with to explain why it is in theaters is that there is a really good talker in the distribution wing of Summertime Entertainment and they were able to secure a worldwide release into major theater chains or those distributers needed something to fill a gap left by something they would have rather put out instead. Either way, it’s out there and little kids and undiscerning moviegoers will enjoy it. All others beware.
If this had debuted on television, the animation would be praised, considering I’ve seen some cartoons that look like they ran out of time and colored in the animatics, but for a theatrical release I expect, nay demand, better.