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A 3D animated adventure that essentially picks up where the 1939 classic left off (as opposed to last year’s live action prequel, Oz The Great and Powerful) Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is visually energetic but tonally all over the Yellow Brick Road map.
Although it makes a conscious attempt to contemporize the venerable tale–mainly by amping up the characters and the volume–while still incorporating the classic touchstones that have made the original one of the most iconic movies of all time, the desired Oz-mosis never occurs.
Instead, it’s a loud Oz hodgepodge that never adheres to a prevailing tone long enough to allow viewers to emotionally engage with those characters in spite of some admittedly inspired CG flourishes.
With its buoyant cast providing the voices, led by Lea Michele’s spirited Dorothy, the Clarius Entertainment release could charm younger audiences, but some of those louder, darker sequences might prove too intense for pre-schoolers.
While you’ll find the name Baum on the source material—in this case it refers to author L. Frank Baum’s great grandson, Roger Stanton Baum, a former stockbroker who has written a series of books under the More Adventures of Oz umbrella.
Barely having time to assess the considerable devastation rendered by that fateful twister, Dorothy is once again summoned from Kansas back to Oz (courtesy of a Rainbow Mover) by her old pals, the Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and the formerly cowardly Lion (Jim Belushi).
It seems the devious, frantic Jester (Martin Short) has turned the key denizens of Oz, including beloved Glinda (Bernadette Peters) into his literal puppets in his quest to carry out the unfinished business of his late sister, The Wicked Witch of the West.
With Dorothy’s old travel mates among the Jester’s fresh conquests, she and Toto team with an obese Owl named Wiser (amusingly voiced by Oliver Platt), the squishy Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and the delicate China Princess (Megan Hilty) in her fresh trek to Emerald City.
Along the way they sing some truly forgettable songs penned by the likes of Bryan Adams and longtime writing partner Jim Vallance, and Tift Merritt.
Animation veterans Daniel St. Pierre, who doubles as production designer, and Will Finn work hard to be all things to all generations—constantly switching modes from bright and bouncy to shrill and manic to soft and poignant, with each shift of gears making an awkward transition.
The bumpy ride is especially noticeable during those bookended sequences back in a modern day Kansas where the effects of the tornado are portrayed with a degree of realism that feels jarringly out of place with the rest of the production.
That absence of a unifying mood also extends to a script credited to Adam Balsam (Murphy Brown) and Randi Barnes (George of the Jungle), which, like the Scarecrow’s straw-stuffed limbs, seldom finds a firm footing in that hyper-imaginative world that is Oz.
Production companies: Summertime Entertainment
Voice cast: Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammer, Jim Belushi, Bernadette Peters, Oliver Platt, Hugh Dancy Megan Hilty, Patrick Stewart, Martin Short
Directors: Daniel St. Pierre and Will Finn
Screenwriters: Adam Balsam, Randi Barnes
Executive producers: Neil L. Kaufman, Rene Torres, Greg Centineo
Producers: Bonne Radford, Ryan Carroll, Roland Carroll
Production designer: Daniel St. Pierre
Music: Toby Chu
Rated PG, 93 minutes.
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