Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return Review

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I’ve always found that there is something intangible about L. Frank Baum’s world of Oz. The sheer number of insane beings that supposedly live there along should be enough to derail it, but somehow it all makes sense that Dorothy would encounter a forest of talking trees and flying monkeys on her way to the Emerald City. Oz never stays on the same aesthetic for very long, which makes it harder to copy than fantasies set in Middle-Earth or Hogwarts. However, unlike those examples, Oz is in the public domain, so it’s much easier to just make more Oz material, and so many projects have been popping up lately that it seems we as a society have finally gotten over the lackluster Return to Oz and the various nightmare fuel contained within it. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is one such project; a charming kids movie that does right by both the classic film it’s inspired by and the more recent novel that it is adapting.

Dorothy Gale (Lea Michele) has seemingly just awakened from her first trip to Oz, but times flows at a more leisurely pace in worlds of fantasy. In the time since her last adventure, The Jester (Martin Short) has seized the power once held by his wicked sister and turned the monarchs of Oz’s various lands into marionettes under his control. Lion (Jim Belushi), Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), and The Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) must bring the witch slayer back to Oz in order to stop him. Journeying to the Emerald City once again, she is joined this time by Wiser the Owl (Oliver Platt), Marshal Mallow of Candy County (Hugh Dancy), and the princess of the Dainty China Country (Megan Hilty). Patrick Stewart also appears as Tugg, a tree who is used to build a boat for Dorothy and her party.

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In Theaters: May 9, 2014
Runtime: 88 min
Rating: Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril 
Director: Will Finn, Dan St. Pierre
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, Lea Michele, Bernadette Peters and Martin Short
Genre:  Animation, Family, Musical
Studio: Summertime Entertainment, Prana Animation Studios
Distributor: Prana Studios
Official Site: http://www.legendsofozmovie.com/

After looking over the cast list for Legends of Oz, you’d be excused with thinking it was a certain type of kids movie along the lines of a Shark Tale or Over the Hedge; one that is a painfully mediocre tale held up by its celebrity voice actors. Although, since it’s 2014, you might assume that the film is instead a modern CG kids movie, which is nothing more than a collection of bawdy puns and a species of minions ripped from Despicable Me. (It’s worth mentioning that The Jester’s flying monkeys come close to this.) However, Legends of Oz is the rare kids movie that avoids both of these pitfalls and instead tells a heartwarming tale with clever bits of humor that will make parents smirk and children giggle. The celebrity voices disappear into their characters here, especially the original Oz trio, who show that they have evolved into great leaders thanks to the Wizard’s gifts.

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Because of this, it’s truly a shame that we don’t spend the majority of the film running time with Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man. They’re not completely absent, but they seem pushed aside for the new trio of stars, none of which have the depth of character and years of backstory that the originals possess. Wiser too fat to fly, so at least he gets a character flaw to solve on his journey, but Marshall Mallow and China Princess are basically just there to fill out the quota of a love story, which is unnecessary to say the least. The Jester provides a good menace for the characters, but he also seems overshadowed by the Wicked Witch, as all his motivations seem to stem from being her sibling and not getting treated well as they grew up. Martin Short does his best, but there isn’t much material to work with beyond his introduction. Sadly, none of the new characters here do much to replace such Oz sequel mainstays like Tik-Tok or Jack Pumpkinhead, and some more time with any of the more fleshed out characters would have been appreciated.

Dorothy’s Return is also a musical, but like most musicals outside of the Disney canon, none of the songs are particularly memorable. The Jester gets a very lackluster, operatic villain song, and Mallow and China Princess get a love song, with both of those numbers grinding the film to a standstill. Otherwise they don’t get in the way of the story too much. The movie is interesting to look at, none of the voices are painful to listen to, and the film draws from the same strangely untapped pool of funny candy puns that Wreck-It Ralph discovered not too long ago. If all these things don’t sound like high praise, you obviously haven’t seen many kids films in the last decade or so.

For something as expansive as the Oz universe is, its rare to leave the confines of the 1930s classic in other adaptations. That’s part of why this movie might seem fresh to fans, since it’s an expansion rather than a retelling, and one that I could easily see being paired with the original film by the type of kids who always ask what happens to their favorite characters after they go over the rainbow. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is a sequel done right and I find it hard to dislike any adaption that maintains the whimsical nature that defines the Land of Oz. It’s not amazing, but it’s not offensive or snarky either, and its an easy recommendation for any hapless caretakers out there looking to quiet their little ones for a bit.

Rating Banner 3-5