In a lot of ways, it’s kind of funny that we hold 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” as the definitive word on the magical fairyland, especially when you consider the sheer glut of Oz-related material that preceded it.
When L. Frank Baum first published “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900 it became nothing short of a phenomenon. By the time Judy Garland stepped into a pair of ruby slippers there had been nearly 40 books written about Oz along with several stage plays and silent movies. Oz had been done to death in 1939, making “The Wizard of Oz” a reboot of a reboot of a reboot.
So in a sense, Oz was like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Spider-Man all rolled into one for the first quarter of the 20th Century. So what happened?
For some reason “The Wizard of Oz” closed the door to Oz behind it and for the past 75 years, only half-hearted attempts have been made to open it back up again. Oh sure, “Wicked” was a big hit on Broadway, but forgettable movies like “The Wiz,” “Return to Oz” and “Oz the Great and Powerful” didn’t exactly spark a firestorm of interest in the land over the rainbow.
You can add “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” to that list of lackluster Oz movies, thanks mostly to some supremely unimpressive animation.
It’s surprising it looks so cheap when you consider all the talent brought in to make this movie, to the point you have to wonder if after paying the cast there wasn’t much left in the budget for animators.
The story is fairly engaging and based on a book written by Baum’s great-grandson. Not long after returning to Kansas, Dorothy (Lea Michelle) and Toto are called back to Oz by the Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), Lion (James Belushi), and Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer).
A villain called the Jester (Martin Short) has stolen the Wicked Witch’s broomstick and captured various dignitaries of Oz, including Glinda the Good Witch (Bernadette Peters).
Once again Dorothy and Toto have to make their way through the Land of Oz to try to help their friends and once again they pick up some new ones along the way. They meet a talkative, overweight owl named Wiser (Oliver Platt), a soldier from Candy County named Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), the fragile China Princess (Megan Hilty), and an old tree-turned-boat dubbed Tugg (Patrick Stewart).
Mixed in are some catchy, not-terrible songs written by Bryan Adams and you have all of the ingredients for a solid, moderately entertaining family movie. But in the end, I just couldn’t get past the flat, dull animation that in no way, shape or form felt cinematic.
I know the likes of Pixar have set the bar high, but this was on par with what you might see watching an afternoon of Nickelodeon. I don’t want to disparage Mike the Knight or anything, but at least he’s not trying to get me to pay extra to see him in 3D.
The cynical part of me wants to think that Oz is just too outdated for our modern world and that any effort to revisit Dorothy and her friends is going to feel out of touch. But I still like to think that there is enough unexplored territory in that magical country that, if done right, could be just as wonderful as the first time we skipped down the Yellow Brick Road.
Unfortunately, no matter what the case may be, “Dorothy’s Return” isn’t the movie that is going to turn things around.
“Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” is rated PG for some scary images and minor peril.