Film Review: Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

Direly lacking the innocence and charm so necessary to this brand of fantasy, this 'Oz' has a few good moments but is more likely to engender viewer indigestion rather than delight.

In this latest cinematic installment inspired by the writing of Frank L. Baum, Dorothy Gale (voice of Lea Michele) finds her beloved Kansas utterly devastated by that nasty tornado. Never one to hang out in the dreary Midwest, especially now, she manages to return to Oz, where she discovers the place under the sway of the Jester (Martin Short), a villain who has the Wicked Witch of the West's profile, as well as her patented evil ways. He is holding her old pals Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and Cowardly Lion (Jim Belushi) hostage, but, luckily, Dorothy finds new friends—Wiser the Owl (Oliver Platt), China Princess (Megan Hilty), Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and Tugg the Tugboat (Patrick Stewart)—to aid her in saving her pals.

After all the flamboyantly empty bluster of Oz the Great and Powerful, the animated Legends of Oz feels almost like a gentle respite. Which doesn't mean that it's good, exactly. The human characters, beginning with Dorothy, are unappealingly rendered with those too-smooth, expressionless faces which seem the cartoon equivalent of Botox. The songs are nothing special, with some particularly painful lyrics. Worst of all, the dialogue has that snarky, tritely slangy quality which is the blight of so much so-called family entertainment these days. From the moment, the Lion—voiced by the annoying Belushi and portrayed as a strutting jock instead of a dithering Bert Lahr charmer—says, "I got your back, Straw Man!," you groan at the numbing, pandering tone. Smart linguistic stylization—so essential to this kind of fantasy—seems beyond the ken or ability of the screenwriters.

Some of the animation, like Wiser's clever, argyle-sweater ponderousness and the China Kingdom's interiors, is effective and eye-pleasing, but then you have to contend with infelicities like hair which resembles those comic vinyl wigs sold in novelty shops, and Bernadette Peters' furball-in-the-throat, little-old-lady speaking tones, so at odds with the Barbie doll bodaciousness of the Glinda presented here. Additionally, there's Michele's off-putting, nasally pushy voice, whether speaking or singing (whither the dulcet tones of Judy Garland?). The Jester is just a manic pain in the ass, and Short seems bent on hysterically outdoing every excess of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey combined.

There's not much Hugh Dancy can do with the bland stiffness of Marshal Mallow (who comes across like the least appealing of Dorothy's companions in the original Wizard of Oz, that hollow Tin Man of Jack Haley's). Happily, Hilty invests the China Princess with more on-point musical-comedy savvy and even some delicacy—which is like a small, lyrical oasis in this heavy-handed desert of "fun" for the entire family—and her tiny, spinning lady-in-waiting is possessed of an absurd but delightful charm this entire enterprise could have used a hell of a lot more of.

Click here for cast & crew information.