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A Return Trip You and Dorothy May Want to Skip

cover Let’s face it, had CG film making been around back in 1939, it’s almost a given that the original Wizard of Oz would have been a fully animated film. The fantastical element, the characters, the locations; they all lend themselves to the fully rendered medium. So the logic, then, in 2013’s Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is very clear. We have CG today and Dorothy’s adventures in the mythical land of Oz go beyond what was covered in the original movie; let’s go back and do it all again with modern technology on our side.

The theory is great- and the film’s producers even went above and beyond to assemble a powerhouse cast here: Dan Aykroyd as the Scarecrow, Kelsey Grammer as the Tin Man, Jim Belushi as the Lion, Patrick Stewart as Tugg, Martin Short as the Jester just to mention a few. Yet somehow, it doesn’t take long for the proverbial wheels to come off the train. But before we get to that, let’s take a brief look at some numbers.

The film premiered at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France on June 14, 2013 and was released in the United States and Canada on May 9, 2014. The theatrical film was unsuccessful both critically and commercially, grossing only $18.7 million worldwide against a $70 million budget. It was then released domestically on DVD and Blu-ray on August 26, 2014. Somehow, despite losing a lot of money and credibility, the studio says that a pair of sequels and a TV series based on the mythos are in development.
So what’s the story all about you ask? Well to summarize it loosely, it’s only been the span of a single day for Dorothy in Kansas (despite the arrival of cars straight out of 1977) when her friends in Oz need her help to rid the land of evil once more.

A cowboy-boot wearing Dorothy hustles on back to the magical land only to discover her old pals Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion have been kidnapped and tied up by the late Wicked Witch of the West’s brother, Jester (Martin Short). Even Glinda (Bernadette Peters), the good witch, is locked up in a glass display case along with the rest of Oz’s leaders thanks to said Jester.

This leaves Dorothy (and the audience) with a brutally uneventful slog across the land with host of forgettable B-listers like Wiser the Owl (Oliver Platt), Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and China Princess (Megan Hilty). If this summary sounds sloppy and poorly plotted, just wait until it’s stretched out across 1 hour, 28-minutes!

Perhaps therein-lies the biggest fault of the film- all of the pieces for success are here but somehow none of it comes together, even briefly, to form an enjoyable experience. We have a fantastical land literally begging for the CG treatment, we have a vocal cast who should, theoretically, have no trouble making us laugh, we have musical numbers scattered about with the type of regularity witnessed in say Disney’s much better Frozen. There are even a couple of jokes that work (there is a reason the line about being judged by a jury of one’s peeps made the trailers, it’s one of the only truly funny moments in the whole production). Considering directors Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre are both Disney veterans, it’s tough to put a finger on exactly where this piece derails.
But derails it does and in fairly short order besides. The pacing and lack of layered wit will likely leave adults yawning and checking the time frequently while youngsters will become bored even quicker. There is absolutely nothing about the world building or character development here that warrants viewer dedication. Instead the project comes off as a by-the-numbers romp from one locale to the next before ultimately achieving victory as anticipated. Maybe this isn’t so bad a crime for any film, the trouble is with a legacy like the Wizard of Oz behind it, Dorothy’s Return’s lackluster delivery feels all the more dramatic.

The animation itself is also substandard for the most part, coming off in presentation closer to what we now associate with weekly CG animated television series than the stuff of international theatrically released 3D films. I, however, don’t dwell too heavily upon this as a subscriber to the theory that beautiful visuals do not a compelling film make and vise versa.

All in all though, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return comes off as a very poor attempt at capitalizing on a license with a positive association for millions worldwide. It isn’t unwatchable by any means so much as there are glimpses all around as to what the film could have been if assembled properly: An endearing fantasy romp in the tradition of pieces like Dinsey’s Tangled or Frozen. Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks this production most certainly is not.

To end things on a positive note- the concept of revisiting Dorothy’s adventures in Oz in the realm of CG hasn’t been completely in vain as Amazon has an original series through its Prime membership program called Lost in Oz that much better conveys ideas mishandled here.