Kids’ movies don’t necessarily have to be good to make money. Though — judging from Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’s box office — they need to at least try, and there’s no evidence of effort here. In fact, there is not an ounce of inspiration or thoughtfulness to be found. Instead, it attempts to ride the reputation and popularity of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). This isn’t exactly surprising, since the film is based on Dorothy of Oz, a novel written by Oz creator L. Frank Baum’s great grandson, Roger S. Baum. The book isn’t recognized in the Baum Estate’s official Oz canon. (Yes, there’s an official Oz canon, and I spent too much time on the Internet figuring this out.)
The film takes place immediately after The Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy (voiced by Glee’s Lea Michele), waking up to find her Kansas farm destroyed by a tornado. The setting is modernized, however, and the real-world villain is a smarmy, pseudo government agent (voiced by Martin Short) intent on condemning the family’s farm. At the same time, Oz — where time, we’re told via lazy exposition, moves much faster than in the real world — has unravelled and fallen under the control of The Jester (also voiced by Short), a purple-clad bad guy who looks suspiciously like the Domino Noid. He gets his jollies from turning people into wooden marionettes, presumably because the movie doesn’t differentiate between jesters and puppeteers.
Ignoring the whole dream aspect of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is sucked back to Oz via some sort of rainbow contraption invented by the Scarecrow (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and adventure ensues — at least in theory. There’s a good bit invested in referencing the 1939 film. The Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion (voiced by Jim Belushi) — who, now with a full dose of courage just comes across as a jerk — and the Tin Man (voiced by Kelsey Grammer), as well as the flying monkeys, all make appearances. But for the most part, there is a whole new cast of characters, none of whom are very interesting.
The sheer cultural iconicity of The Wizard of Oz makes it difficult for these new characters to stand up to their predecessors. The best the film can manage is the awkwardly named Marshal Mallow (voiced by Hugh Dancy), an ambulatory, vaguely creepy marshmallow dude. The bargain-basement animation — with its jerky, stiffly moving characters — is largely to blame. It all neatly ties into the dull production design of the film, an aspect that creeps into the musical numbers, too, where the best we get are some drab, flat ballads and some ersatz Paul Simon. It all makes for a bland, lifeless little movie. Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher.