“Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” is a harmless but almost charmless adaptation of a book by L. Frank Baum’s grandson. It’s a derivative hash of grandpa’s story, set in the present day, given forgettable new tunes by pop songsmiths such as Bryan Adams which are sung by the likes of Lea Michele, Martin Short, Hugh Dancy and the operatic Megan Hilty of TV’s “Smash.”
And it’s in 3D. Of course.
But lest this child’s play be written off all altogether, let’s look on the bright side. The bottom rung of big screen computer-generated animation’s ladder, entry level stuff, is decades beyond where it used to be. This work, animated at Prana in India, has decent production design — a dark, abandoned Emerald City, a shiny, porcelin sheen its scenes set in “Dainty China Country” and luscious-looking 3D sweets in Candy County.
And the animated characters are beautifully rendered, even if their faces don’t have the expression and plasticity that Pixar, Blue Sky, Disney and Sony have managed in their recent films.
Dorothy (Michele), Toto, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry survive a tornado that trashes their corner of Kansas. An unscupulous real estate hustler (Martin Short) is ready to buy out the whole, shattered town. But before Dorothy can stop this foreclosure fraud, a rainbow snatches her and drags her back to Oz, her and her little dog, too.
Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd) has smartly summoned her to save the land, which is under the thumb of The Jester (Short, again), the evil brother of the Wicked Witch of the West. And Brother carries a grudge.
Dorothy, on arrival, teams up with Wiser, the chatterbox owl (Oliver Platt), the candy soldier, Marshal Mallow (Dancy) and the haughty China Princess (Hilty) and sets off down the ruined Yellow Brick Road to save her old friends.
Kelsey Grammer plays a mercurial Tin Man who now has a heart.
“I had no emotions before,” he wails. Now, “I want to try them ALL out!”
Jim Belushi voices the lion, and Bernadette Peters is perfectly cast as Glinda, the Good Witch, now just a puppet of Jester.
“No good can come from the reign of a fool,” she trills.
With unknown animation entities, the rule is that the more impressive the voice cast, the weaker the script. Hire Great Brits Patrick Stewart (as a boat), Brian Blessed and Dancy (who croons a tune or two) and maybe you can cover up the startling lack of humor on the page.
These films — even the bad ones — are gold mines. So there’s no point in complaining about the cynicism that exists in this genre. Not with Disney, inexplicably releasing a sequel to its embarrassing fiasco “Planes” later this summer.
MPAA Rating:PG for some scary images and mild peril
Cast: The voices of Lea Michele, Martin Short, Hugh Dancy, Oliver Platt, Bernadette Peters, Megan Hilty, Dan Aykroyd, Patrick Stewart, Jim Belushi
Credits: Directed by Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre, written by Adam Balsan and Randi Barnes, based on a Roger. S. Baum book. A Clarious/Prana Studios release.
Running time: 1:28