At one point in Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, Bernadette Peters pronounces her lines in such a robotic, uninterested and seemingly confused fashion that you’d almost swear that she was reading them for the very first time.
To be honest, the digitally animated feature doesn’t really deserve a better performance from the Emmy-winning actress and singer. It’s so cheap-looking and utterly lacking in any charm or originality that you can’t blame Peters or the rest of the voice cast for performing in such an obvious, “we’re-only-doing-this-for-the-paycheck” manner.
Aside from giving some very talented people so little to work with, perhaps the film’s biggest crimes are its crimes against cinema and literature. The musical-fantasy claims to be an adaptation of Dorothy of Oz, a 1989 novel that was written by Roger S. Baum, the great-grandson of legendary Oz creator L. Frank Baum. But it does a serious disservice to both Baums, to the legions of fans of their beloved characters and creations, and most especially, to the 1939 movie classic The Wizard of Oz, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary.
Actually, this miserable “sequel” to that inarguable classic probably should have gone straight to video. But with so many name actors in its voice cast, as well as a soundtrack that featuring “original” song contributions by Bryan Adams, Tift Merritt and others, the filmmakers and producers most likely had to give it a theatrical release just to recoup their investment.
Legends of Oz finds Dorothy Gale (voiced by Glee’s Lea Michelle) back in Kansas, where she and Toto have survived yet another twister. However, she and her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (the voices of Tacey Adams and Michael Krawic) have been forced out of their storm-ravaged home by a greedy land developer/appraiser (Martin Short), who has condemned their farm and condemned those of their neighboring farmers as well.
Things aren’t any better for her friends in Oz’s Emerald City, though. In fact, the Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and the Lion (Jim Belushi) have had to resort to extreme measures to contact Dorothy and summon her back there. It turns out the evil Jester (Short again), the brother of the deceased Wicked Witch of the West, has gotten a hold of her magical broom, and has converted Glinda the Good Witch (Peters) and other Oz residents to human “marionettes.” He has even worse things in store for Dorothy’s trio of pals.
So with them unavailable, Dorothy has to recruit a new crew of helpers, who include Wiser (Oliver Platt), a giant-sized (and rather obese) owl, Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), a living piece of candy fluff, the self-explanatory China Princess (Megan Hilty) and Tugg (Patrick Stewart), an aging tree who’s prepared to sacrifice himself so they have means of transportation to the Emerald City.
In addition to the numerous, “were-they-being-blackmailed” name actors in its voice cast, Legends of Oz also boasts quite a few animation veterans in its production. Co-directors Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre both have several Disney classics to their credit (as animators, they worked on Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King), but this mess simply shuffles from one shoddily animated set piece to the next with no energy, and only occasional musical interludes (mostly hit and miss) to break up the tedium.
And again, they were clearly unable to motivate the vocal performers, who only come to life in the musical numbers (well, Michelle and Dancy do that, at least) and who really bring nothing to the characters, save for maybe Short, whose scheming Jester and appraiser characters get the only chuckles here. (Adam Balsam and Randi Barnes’ script is full of groan-worthy, too-obvious attempts at jokes and puns as well as a few unwelcome crudities.)
Jeff Michael Vice can also be read reviewing comics and television for Big Shiny Robot! (www.bigshinyrobot.com), be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).