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Movie Review: Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

May 11, 2014
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Legends of Oz doesn’t inspire much in a cogent metaphor or witty comparison. For anyone who remembers, and you probably shouldn’t because that’s the idea, this is the cinematic equivalent of the animated series Undergrads: The animation is drab, the humor aspires to only a few chuckles, and the characters are defined by tics. Add to that the songs, which are more noticeable for their periodicity than the music and lyrics. In short, it’s a calibrator for mediocrity.

Take for example the character of The Jester (Martin Short). If you were accosted by a street derelict and asked, while he pressed his knotted and gnarled pinky up your nose, to come up with a new villain to terrorize the Land of Oz, you would like say “a Jester,” because it seems so obvious of a choice. The writers of Dorothy’s Return were under no such duress, and yet they came to the same conclusion — the first choice that thudded into their heads. “Jester” is a cliched pick, like answering a word association quiz for “hunger” with “foodless.” And, failing a creative choice for a villain, they go further and make him the Wicked Witch of the West’s brother. There’s no basis for this in the first film, and if you’re going to choose a Jester as your bad guy, you could at least make up for it by giving him an interesting backstory, but the reason is brevity instead of creativity — since he’s related to the baddie we already know, by extension we know he’s really bad, too.

Maybe that’s not the screenwriter’s fault, since the film is based on Dorothy of Oz by Roger S. Baum, Frank’s grandson. And if the lame title were not a giveaway, the work doesn’t ooze much inspiration. Dorothy(Lea Michele), now, oddly in present day, is whisked from her farm in Kansas back to Oz by the Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer), and the Cowardly Lion (Jim Belushi) — who at least take on a decent Three-Stooges dynamic.

The Jester has sent his army of flying monkeys to lay waste to Oz, and the original trio figure that since Dorothy saved the day once, she can do it again. However, while she’s in transit, her friends are captured by the Jester, and her flight is interrupted, landing her in some obscure patch of Oz, once more to follow the Yellow Brick Road and gather new traveling companions. In order, they’re Wiser, the owl (Oliver Platt), Marhsal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), and the China Princess (Megan Hilty). At least they have some nibbles of personality, but we’ve seen this before.

If Dorothy’s Return was so dedicated to reproducing the 1939 film’s formula, and dedicated to collecting so many talented and moderately recognized names, the obvious criticism is clear: Why not base the characters on the personalities of the people playing them?

To be fair, Martin Short is as good a choice as any for the Jester, and while he delivers, his lines don’t. But otherwise there’s no reason for anyone to play the roles they’re playing. Maybe there’s an exception for Bernadette Peters as Glinda or Patrick Stewart as a dead tree, but Aykroyd, Grammer, Belushi, Platt, Dancy, and Hilty could all be shuffled around without any noticeable result.

It’s not terrible, but it’s a consistent letdown, without an ounce of creativity or inspiration.

Rating: 2 of 5

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is rated PG. Directed by Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre. Written by Adam Balsam and Randi Barnes. Based on the novel Dorothy of Oz by Roger Stanton Baum. Starring Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammer, Jim Belushi, Martin short, Megan Hilty, Megan Hilty, Hugh Dancy, Oliver Platt, Patrick Stewart, Bernadette Peters, Michael Krawic, Tacey Adams, Brian Blessed, Douglas Hodge, debi Derryberry, Randy Crenshaw, Randal Keith, Richard Steven Horvitz, Tom Kenny, Pete Sepenuk, and Betsy Roth.

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