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REVIEW: "Legends Of Oz: Dorothy's Return"

Reviews
by Charles Solomon
May 9, 2014 6:00 PM
9 Comments
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Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return reunites Dorothy Gale, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man - and just about every cliche of low-budget CG animation. The film is based on the novel "Dorothy of Oz" published in 1989 by Roger S. Baum (L. Frank’s great-grandson), and while the filmmakers simplified its convoluted plot, they failed to produce a story that’s compelling or even interesting.

Dorothy (voice Lea Michaels) wakes up in Kansas, right after a tornado has devastated her aunt and uncle’s farm. A strange rainbow sent by the Lion (Jim Belushi), Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd) and Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) carries Dorothy and Toto back to Oz. A nasty Jester (the ever-grating Martin Short) has stolen the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West and is using its power to destroy and enslave. He’s turned Glinda the Good (Bernadette Peters) and a lot of unidentified characters into puppets.

Like every other heroine in this kind of journey film, Dorothy makes new friends who help her along the way: Wiser (Oliver Platt), a motor-beaked owl; Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), a candy soldier; China Princess (Megan Hilty) a snotty piece of animated bric-a-brac; and Tugg the boat (Patrick Stewart, who can’t need the money).

To no one's surprise, Dorothy eventually defeats the Jester in a protracted battle that suffers from the kind of namby-pamby pseudo-action that’s weakened many other animated features.  Dorothy’s friends attack the winged monkeys with barrages of candy and bubblegum: It’s not dramatic enough to work as a real fight, but not silly enough to enjoy as slapstick. In the classic live action film, the Monkeys and the Witch are genuinely frightening, which makes the vulnerable Dorothy's victory over them exciting and satisfying. The filmmakers, obviously worried that parents might complain about something scaring their children, offer limp substitutes for drama and catharsis that are about as satisfying as drinking watered Kool-Aid. 

Dorothy's Return is both over-animated and under-animated: The robotic mo-cap main characters move too little and have no weight; the equally weightless free animation of the Jester’s acrobatics is so jerky, it's nerve-wracking to watch. The character designs are unattractive: Glinda looks like a misshapen Barbie Doll, with weirdly slated eyes, a tiny mouth and a wasp waist. 

The songs by five different writers are unnecessary and forgettable. Dorothy's opening anthem sounds so derivative, it's surprising she doesn't conclude, "Cold never bothered me, anyway!" Despite the presence of big-name (and not-so-big-name) stars, the vocal performances are unimpressive, and the characters never shut up. Martin Short's attempts at being manically comic and/or menacing make the viewer realize just how long 93 minutes can feel. 

The film is being released theatrically instead of going direct to video (the bargain bin), where it belongs. And at the end, the Jester isn't killed: he disappears into the tornado he summoned - which means they've left open the possibility of sequel. Some locusts mount similar sequels every 17 years.

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More: Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

9 Comments

  • J.K. Riki | May 21, 2014 11:43 AMReply

    After reading your review, I went to see the film for myself. I'm not sure if it was that my expectations were extremely low, but I didn't find it nearly as detestable as you did. Was it good? Heavens no. But it wasn't abysmal. Mostly it hovered around the realm of average. But what struck me was that behind the mediocrity, there was a soul. Unlike some films of late that I've seen (Turbo immediately springs to mind) this movie clearly had a number of people who really and truly tried their best. Their best wasn't good enough, but that effort still seeps through in places. The animation on Toto (while cliche, mostly) was pretty well done, and the Jester had some nice posing going on, in spite of a lack of weightiness.

    What astounds me is that this film did SO poorly at the box office. I can only attribute it to lack of publicity, because even average films often do at least averagely in their opening weeks. This did terribly, and I think it's because very few people even know it exists. I certainly didn't until last week, and I'm an animator! I, at the very least, should have heard rumblings of it.

    At any rate, this will not become anyone's favorite film most likely, and at the same time I think there will be a certain audience entertained by it. It's a real shame, because it showed glimpses of real greatness in tiny spots. If it had been at those levels of polish and entertainment throughout, I think we'd have seen a really nice animated film by an independent set of creators. Instead we have a commercial failure that doesn't live up to its namesake. Alas.

  • steeriously | May 18, 2014 9:22 AMReply

    You can spend as much money as you want polishing a turd. It will still smell bad and attract flies.

  • Tsk Tsk | May 16, 2014 3:32 PMReply

    Grandma! Again???? Variety, Screenrant, Nerdist, now Indiewire? The same exact review cut and pasted....making me really question your motives. Financial incentive? Saving face, perhaps? Were you and your "gals" ring leaders collecting money to finance this "once in a lifetime investment opportunity"? Listen, when your cut and paste buttons wear out, maybe Google "Dorothy of Oz cease and desist" and find the most interesting aspect of this entire movie. Maybe then you could cluck over how $110M couldn't make a movie that even one credible reviewer recommended.

  • 76 Yr old Grandma | May 16, 2014 8:13 AMReply

    Ok! First, the Wizard of Oz book by Frank Baum & Julie Garland in the Wizard of Oz film is classic & timeless ~ one that's watched time & again by each generation. The Legends of Oz animated musical film is delightful and charming. It remains to be seen how the kids will react & whether the film stands the test of time. I say that because we [the writer and several of her grand-mother or older gal friends] attended an afternoon show & there were No children watching the film -only about 1 dozen attendees. The gals & I LOVED the animation & melodious musicality of the movie! It will catch on & there should be lots of children seeing it this weekend.

    The music by Bryan Adams, songwriter/composer, pinned for the film is Great -- I think the kids will particularly like the song & animation of the Happy song, "Work with Me!" & of course, the journey through Candyland will be loved by the kids.
    The animation process & effects for the characters of Oz (i.e., Tin Man, monkeys) are amazing. I enjoyed listening to the talented singing voice of Lea Michele's & she really got into the role of Dorothy's character.

    This grownup Loved/enjoyed the wonderful stellar, talented voices of Megan Hilty & Hugh Dancy, both in their solo performances & as the 'China Princess & Marshall Mallow' singing their Beautiful duet song, 'Even Then'.~ sigh :-)
    Martin Short really shines as the Jester don't you think; & kudos go to the costume designing for the Jester -- Patrick Stewart is also great & appealing to the little ones as Tugg the Tugboat!

    The gals thought the movie was very 'cute' & well suited for young children to see -- lots of laughs & chuckles made in the journey through candyland -- all of them will tell their kids to take their grandchildren to see it.

    Personally (& at my suggestion) we All agreed, over cups of Hot Tea, to give it an A+ on being a positive role model with high marks in educational values to be discussed w/the kids. Some of the values we talked about were: 1) the good Vs evil; the "work with me" attitude in helping one another, 2) a reiteration of helping those in need of a brain(education); of courage, & heart (scarecrow/lion/tin man) & 3) it connects the dots to people in Dorothy's Kansas; e.g., the Jester & the appraiser abusing governmental powers, et al.

    One reservation perhaps could be for parents to be cautious about their young 3 to 4 YOs seeing the film ~ the mean flying monkeys battle in 3D might be too scary for them.

    Although the Top Box Office attendance stats were not as great as other films at this point (about $3.7M), I do think it will do Very Well, especially in DVD sales for home viewing.
    TOYS: I think the Jester, Toto, Tin Man & Marshall Mallow plush toys will do well; & I believe the Hotest item will be the fashion Singing Dorothy Doll w/cute cowboy boots, et al- especially since she sings the Happy song "Work with Me" from the movie. Like Dorothy, let’s think positive & remember, "There Will Always be a Rainbow when One Needs it Most"

  • hogarth | June 25, 2014 3:48 PM

    Gee, Grandma, that's funny. You seem to be transparent. I can see right through you!

  • NotAFan | May 12, 2014 11:37 AMReply

    First up: I have nothing to do with the production of this new Oz movie, nor do I know any of the creative talent well.

    I do know, however, that it is extremely hard to get a movie made and I recognize that there are more than a few very respected names in the credits (Dan St. Pierre, Will Finn to name just two) so I assume there must be some elements of value. I am not going to try to defend the movie as I have only seen the trailer. I am going to review the reviewer.

    I am sure I am not the only person sick and tired of Charles Solomon's pompous, patronizing and snarky "style". I met Solomon once and found it to be an unpleasant experience. He floats around with a superior air, he is not friendly and seems mostly interested in himself. I wonder what gives him the right to be downright rude to filmmakers more talented than he is a reviewer? I've seen two of Solomon's books on animation and the nicest thing I can say is that I liked the illustrations. OZ took industry professionals years to complete. No matter how the movie turned out (again, I haven't seen it) you can guarantee that real artists have poured their hearts and souls into it for years and I guarantee their feelings will be hurt by Solomon's curt dismissal and snarky "jokes".

    And Charles, I didn't get your locust/cicada gag but I defer to you as the expert on locust behavior as evidenced by your enthusiastic appearance at every free Academy buffet.

  • Andrew | May 12, 2014 11:01 AMReply

    ... how do you know the characters were mo-capped?? Their movements from the trailers clearly show movement made in ways that no human can possibly do!

  • NoOne | May 9, 2014 10:07 PMReply

    Looks as the money was spent on the voice actors and the cameo of the Peeps marshmallow chicks.

  • Greg Method | May 9, 2014 8:13 PMReply

    Does the Scarecrow also talk like Rodney Dangerfield?

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