Dir: Daniel St. Pierre, Will Finn. US. 2014. 92mins
Hitching its wagon in hopeful fashion to any residual goodwill and interest from last spring’s $490-plus million surprise hit Oz The Great and Powerful, animated family musical Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return spins off a story that loosely picks up after the 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz. Waves of indifference emanate from this meagerly imagined yarn, adapted from a non-canonical book by Roger Stanton Baum, the great-grandson of originating author L. Frank Baum. Wasting a voice cast populated with recognisable names, this attempt to cash in on nostalgia for its source material evokes more bewilderment and boredom than excitement or wistful reminiscence.
There’s little to bond viewers to the characters’ quest, the repartee is significantly lacking, and it doesn’t much help that Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion spend most of the film partitioned away from the action.
Opening wide Stateside against R-rated comedy Neighbors, Legends Of Oz would seem to have some sort of inroads with family audiences, but dim marketplace awareness for distributor Clarius Entertainment’s offering should drop a house on its theatrical box office chances. Ancillary prospects seem consigned chiefly to an audiovisual babysitter for viewers under the age of eight.
Immediately upon waking in post-tornado Kansas, Dorothy Grace (Lea Michele) and her dog Toto are whisked back to Oz on a “rainbow mover” sent by her friends Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and Lion (Jim Belushi). Jester (Martin Short), the scorned brother of the defeated Wicked Witch of the West, is consolidating power in a most unfriendly way, turning all who oppose him into puppets. Dorothy is the only one who can stop him, and so off she goes to the Emerald City, teaming up along the way with a giant, obese owl, Wiser (Oliver Platt), candyman soldier Marshall Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and the imperious China Princess (Megan Hilty).
Baum’s children’s novel was published in 1989, but its narrative feels like some weird grab-bag collection of Shrek, Hoodwinked and the odd mix of leftover Oz riffs, including flying monkeys. Whether handcuffed by rights issues, a lack of imagination or the dictates of a sprawling list of credited sub-producers that tops out around four dozen, screenwriters Randi Barnes and Adam Balsam deliver nothing that rises above the level of cardboard characterizations from a disposable small screen serial. There’s little to bond viewers to the characters’ quest, the repartee is significantly lacking, and it doesn’t much help that Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion spend most of the film partitioned away from the action. The end result feels like watching a cover band mangle some tune that’s at once familiar and scarcely recognisable.
Co-directors Daniel St. Pierre and Will Finn oversee a passable technical package, working with Prana Animation Studios, but there still isn’t a tremendous amount of care put into the overarching visual style, which is built — particularly in scenes with the Jester — around lots of movement, but exhibits an inconsistency of scale. More damning and inexplicable are simple slips in logic. In the first musical number, Dorothy slips into song, only to have the movie duck into a montage and then cut back to her in song. Later, in a two-minute group conversation that unfolds in real-time, the background goes from day to early evening, like some bizarre live-action continuity flub.
To the extent that there’s distracting entertainment value herein, it lies in the musical numbers, which are rangy and offer a respite from the plodding road trip familiarity and moralizing of its narrative. Of special note are the rock-infused Candy Candy and the ballad Even Then.
The genial vocal performances lean mostly toward acquittal, but in his chirpy earnestness Dancy at times sounds like he’s channeling C-3PO. As the Jester, Short delivers no shortage of energy. Lacking any good material, however, he’s all surface-level noise — just like this movie.
Production companies: Summertime Entertainment, Prana Animation Studios
US distribution: Clarius Entertainment
Producers: Bonne Radford, Ryan Carroll, Roland Carroll
Executive producers: Neil L. Kaufman, Rene Torres, Greg Centineo
Co-producers: Kristin Dornig, Arish Fyzee
Co-executive producers: Robert Centineo, John A. King, Robert Laimo, Jim Roberts, Thomas Stone, Joanne Stone, Fred Day, Lincoln Day, Dan Evangelista, Mary Evangelista, Scott M. Meide
Associate producers: Bob Lanning, Douglas Wright, Jordan Washington
Screenplay: Randi Barnes and Adam Balsam, based on the book Dorothy Of Oz by Roger Stanton Baum
Editors: Dan Molina, Stan Webb
Production designer: Daniel St. Pierre
Music: Toby Chu
Songs by: Bryan Adams, Tift Merritt, Jim Vallance, Jim Dooley, Mike Himelstein
Main cast: (voices) Lea Michele, Hugh Dancy, Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammer, Jim Belushi, Patrick Stewart, Bernadette Peters, Oliver Platt, Megan Hilty, Brian Blessed