By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The producers of this animated musical are taking commercial aim at that sliver of a target audience of parents, guardians, chaperones, and kids who have seen The Wizard of Oz — in other words, approximately everyone.
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is a virtual sequel to the brilliant and beloved, Oscar-winning 1939 Judy Garland-starring classic. Yet, oddly, it’s simultaneously a celebration and a desecration of it.
If you and/or your kids have seen The Wizard of Oz too many times to sit down in front of it again, then perhaps this opportunity to see some of the same Wizard of Oz characters in a different context will be a powerful draw.
But here’s the problem: with apologies to Mark Twain, the difference between the charm and artistry of the original movie and that of this animated sequel is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
And Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is most definitely the bug.
Pitched at the very young –- by default, if not an intentional approach –- the film is sort of based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but mostly based on Dorothy of Oz, by his great-grandson, Roger Stanton Baum.
Upon her return to post-tornado Kansas, Dorothy Gale (the voice of Lea Michele of TV’s “Glee”) finds the region to be devastated. The homes of her friends and neighbors are being condemned right and left.
So she heads back to Oz, where she discovers that the three cherished friends with whom she shared her magical journey -– the scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), the tin man (Kelsey Grammer), and the lion who’s no longer cowardly (Jim Belushi) –- as well as Glinda the Good Witch (Bernadette Peters) are in trouble, as is the Emerald City itself.
That’s why they’ve summoned her, via a magical rainbow mover, back to Oz, where time has proceeded much faster than it does in Kansas.
New friends pop up on Dorothy’s new journey, including a marshmallow man, Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy); Wiser the Owl (Oliver Platt); a china doll princess (Megan Hilty of TV’s “Smash”); and Tugg (Patrick Stewart), an ancient tree who has turned into a tugboat.
But there are also obstacles galore along the Yellow Brick Road, and let’s not forget about those ever-present flying monkeys.
It’ll take a group effort to stop The Jester (Martin Short) –- who, it just so happens, is the brother of the Wicked Witch of the West — from taking over regions of Oz and getting the Emerald City completely under his control by turning folks into marionettes.
With eight original songs — and an uninspired, undistinguished, and instantly forgettable lot it is -– this is a musical that doesn’t pay off during any of the numbers in the expected way.
And when the insistent score attempts to make up for some of the film’s other limitations, the feeling of disappointment and desperation is palpable.
As for the 3-D come-on, it’s an absolutely unimportant element of the movie.
Directors Will Finn (Home on the Range, The Road to El Dorado) and Dan St. Pierre (Everyone’s Hero), working from an adapted, awkwardly structured screenplay by Adam Balsam and Randi Barnes, fail to make us care about the characters or their welfare and do little other than remind us of the indelible movie that they are piggybacking.
Which makes the film’s unintentional message inevitable: why watch Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return in addition to The Wizard of Oz when you can just re-visit the original instead?
So we’ll click our heels together for 2 stars out of 4 for this meal consisting of leftovers only. Don’t expect much more than animated Oz and ends.