By the time this film draws to a close, it will have accomplished little more than being a glorified 90-minute distraction for kids.
In Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, Dorothy (voice of Lea Michele) wakes up back in Kansas, having only just gotten back from her first trip to somewhere over the rainbow. Unfortunately, Dorothy's hometown has been left in ruins by the tornado and the local populace has started packing up and moving out - acting on the orders of a suspicious government appraiser (Martin Short), who likewise demands that Dorothy and her family vacate their damaged property as soon as possible.
However, no sooner than Dorothy starts pondering how to solve this dilemma, she finds herself whisked up (literally) and transported back to Oz, where the malevolent Jester (also Short) - brother to the now-deceased Wicked Witch of the West - has launched a hostile takeover of the Emerald City. With her old comrades being either on the run or already captured by the Jester and his newly-acquired army of flying monkeys, Dorothy must attempt to save Oz with the help of some new friends - including, the talkative (and plump) owl Wiser (Oliver Platt), as well as the noble soldier Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and the strong-willed China Princess (Megan Hity).
Legends of Oz - based on the book Dorothy of Oz written by L. Frank Baum's great-grandson, Roger Stanton Baum - presents itself as a 3D animated sequel to the original classic Wizard of Oz movie released in 1939. Unfortunately, in spite of having a talented celebrity-studded voice cast and co-directors Will Finn (Home on the Range) and Dan St. Pierre's (Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey) giving an admirable effort to redesign the Dorothy character as a more modern female archetype, Legends of Oz ultimately feels like little more than a cheap knockoff of the Wizard of Oz film brand.
Part of the problem facing Legends of Oz is that such recent animated children's features as Disney's Frozen have raised the bar for feminist narratives higher than what this movie even attempts. Taken on its own, the Legends of Oz script by lesser-knowns Adam Balsam and Randi Barnes is still slapdash in its construction, clumsily interweaving forgettable songs - written by Bryan Adams, Jim Dooley, and Jim Vallance - with Dorothy's half-baked empowerment arc. Likewise, there are a handful of supporting characters who either serve little to no purpose in progressing the story, or are granted little development before their subplots are given an unearned payoff.
Visually, Legends of Oz is colorful, yet cold and unfeeling. In this movie, the bright and shiny backdrops that make up the imaginative world of Oz feel distant and removed apart from the action in the foreground, while the various characters are unexpressive and hollow-eyed. It's direct-to-DVD quality work, in other words, which makes sense, as the animation was handled by Prana Studios, which also contributed to number of Disney's Tinkerbell movies and Planes (the latter was originally intended to be a home-video release). As such, there's little to be gained from watching this film on the big screen in 3D, since the digital camera movement fails at creating an immersive effect, while the CGI imagery never truly pops off the screen.
The sloppily-animated character mannerisms stand out all the more because Legends of Oz, as mentioned before, does boast quality voice acting by a noteworthy collection of actors. In addition to the aforementioned names, the roster includes Dan Aykroyd as the Scarecrow, Kelsey Grammer as Tin Man, James Belushi as the (ex-Cowardly) Lion, Bernadette Peters as Glinda, and Patrick Stewart as Tugg the tree-turned tugboat. Unfortunately, in the absence of equally competent animation and writing to match the comparatively nuanced and lively voice performances, the final result feels like little more than a waste of talent, in that respect.
Some younger moviegoers will, no doubt, find more to appreciate about Legends of Oz, as will their parents. However, for most people, by the time this film draws to a close, it will have accomplished little more than being a glorified 90-minute distraction for kids - not an enchanting and memorable addition to the Wizard of Oz movie pantheon. That might be enough to justify watching this feature at home, but probably best to think twice before paying the price of a theater ticket for that same experience.
If you're still on the fence, here is the trailer for Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return:
Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return runs 88 minutes long and is Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril. Now playing nation-wide in the U.S. in 2D and 3D theaters.
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