Friday, May 09, 2014

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return — Jared's Review

Well, of the three first-run theaters in my city, only two seem to be showing Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return from Summertime Entertainment. They both were having 7PM showings tonight, and I went to my old favorite, the Campbell 16. (My new favorite, the Regal College Station Stadium, bizarrely is not showing it despite having a notable standee for the movie. It's also a lot closer to home...)

Well, I wound up being the only person to show up for it, which turned out not to be a 3D showing. So... I had a private screening. Not that I wanted one...

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return has had a bit of a history. In 2004, we'd heard that Roger S. Baum's Oz books had been optioned for film, with plans to develop a franchise. In a few more years, we heard that Roger's Dorothy of Oz would be the first for film treatment. The film, being the first animated feature by Summertime Entertainment, had a bit of a troubled path with lawsuits and funding, but finally arrives in theaters as Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return this weekend, distributed by Clarius Entertainment. It is the first theatrically-released animated Oz film that uses computer generated graphics, the first animated theatrical Oz film since Journey Back to Oz.

The animation is rather good. We must remember that this is the first animated film by Summertime, so it's no surprise that the finesse and polish of recent hits such as Frozen aren't quite there. On the other hand, it is definitely better animated than Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil. The animation doesn't scream "cheap." I didn't see it in 3D, but other reviewers have noted that the 3D is used tastefully. With that in mind, there were a number of sequences where I could see where some depth illusion would have enhanced the picture nicely.

(I was a little disappointed with no 3D at my theater as I'd previously seen Oz the Great and Powerful and MGM's The Wizard of Oz in theaters in 3D.)

The story of Legends of Oz heavily reworks Roger's book into a sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with some definite MGM inspiration, but just different enough to not get sued. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Lion hurry to the Scarecrow's Rainbow Mover to get Dorothy, explaining that years have passed in Oz, while for Dorothy, she would have just come home from her first visit to Oz yesterday.

Great. A Narnia-ish rule for time between the two worlds...

Dorothy's not having a great time at home (in a modern-day Kansas) as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's house is condemned. Dorothy tries to be brave for her community, but there seems to be little she can do, until she's whisked off to Oz by the Scarecrow's rainbow, which doesn't bring her to the Emerald City as her old friends are interrupted by Flying Monkeys. The Wicked Witch of the West's brother—the Jester—has taken the broomstick and harnesses its power with a crystal orb. He's turned many leaders of Oz into puppets, finishing with Glinda.

In Oz, Dorothy meets new friends on her way to help her old friends: the giant owl Wiser, Marshal Mallow of Candy County, the Dainty China Princess, and a helpful tree who becomes Tugg the boat. With help from friends old and new, Dorothy is ready to face the Jester. (There's a song sequence where you get to see a few L. Frank Baum characters: the Queen of the Field Mice and her people and the Sawhorse.)

The story certainly doesn't reach quite the poignant heights set by the famous MGM film, and honestly, I wasn't expecting it to. There's one case where the story suffers from that, and that is in two characters falling in love. They don't exchange much more than glances or a few pleasantries or flirts onscreen, so it becomes difficult to buy that they're actually in love. To be fair, they have more interaction than some classic Disney princesses had with their princes, but we've come quite a way since. The same problem is felt in Dorothy's relationships with her new friends. Aside from Wiser, there is little character development between adventures so Dorothy's new friends never seem to connect with her quite as much as the original trio.

Early on, we spotted many parallels to this production and Journey Back to Oz, a long time in completion (though the case is quite different for this film, which bears a 2012 copyright date), an all-star voice cast, as well as it simply being an animated sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Like Journey Back to Oz, Dorothy's first trio of friends appear, but this time, despite any misgivings they have, they try to help.

Dorothy is voiced by Lea Michele, and lest you think that her performance is Rachel Berry in Oz, Michelle manages to offer her own Dorothy, vocally different from her Glee character, and yet not attempting to channel Judy Garland. Bernadette Peters voices Glinda, and while she does a fine job, her voice seems just a bit too flighty for the way the character looked. Martin Short voices the Jester, and definitely relishes the role of villain. Patrick Stewart voices Tugg, and is definitely believable as an old tree.

Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters) voices the Scarecrow, and offers a very intelligent-sounding interpretation of the character. Kelsey Grammer (Fraiser) plays the Tin Woodman and fills the role well. Jim Belushi (According to Jim) is well-suited to the Lion, though, with a deep voice. Oliver Platt (The Big C) voices Wiser and is quite believable as an owl. Hugh Dancy (Hannibal) makes a charming Marshal Mallow. Megan Hilty (a former Glinda from Wicked, Smash) voices the Dainty China Princess, offering a good voice for the character.

The songs are nice, but not particularly great on first exposure. Unlike a couple friends, I didn't listen to them before watching the film, so perhaps they'll get better on another exposure.

Altogether, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return is a fun movie to see and a good start for Summertime Entertainment. Not too scary for the kids, but not condescending to them either. It's not going to be hailed as a great film, and possibly not even a great Oz film (particularly as many believe that role to be permanently filled), but it's one that those who enjoy a light-hearted film should check out, and definitely bring the kids!

(Do it quick, because given the seemingly limited release, it doesn't appear that it will be in theaters for very long.)

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