Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return"

Before you get your knickers into a twist about a new animated movie compromising the purity of the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz,” I’d like to point out that there was already an “official” sequel in 1985. (Which is not well remembered because, well, it was pretty awful.) And there have been a handful of films over the years that continued or adapted the story of Dorothy & Co. – “The Wiz” and last summer’s blah “Oz the Great and Powerful” starring James Franco.

Author L. Frank Baum actually wrote a number of Oz books, and his descendants published even more. Heck, there already was an animated version in 1971 called “Journey Back to Oz,” and the Muppets did their own Oz flick in 2005.

So if the very existence of “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” offends you, then my advice is to just get over yourself.

It’s actually a rather agreeable little film, aimed more at small kids than grown-ups looking to relive childhood memories. The computer animation is decent, the voice acting lively and engaging – including a first-rate turn by Martin Short as the bad guy – and it even features a number of catchy musical sequences.

Sure, this is a few steps down the ladder from “Frozen” in terms of quality and artistry. But it greatly exceeds low expectations.

For Dorothy (Lea Michele), only one day has passed since the twister that transported her to Oz. She wakes up to find her Kansas home leveled, and a shifty appraiser (Short) convincing people to sign over their property and depart.

Back in Oz, though, many years have passed. Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd) has come into his own as the resident brainiac running the wizard’s palace and contraptions, while Lion (Jim Belushi) and Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) have become a brave warrior and emotional soul, respectively. But they’re under attack from the evil Jester (Short again) and zap Dorothy back to help out.

This requires a new journey down the yellow brick road, but with a new set of companions assembled along the way.

Wiser (Oliver Platt) is an immensely fat, clever owl who wears spectacles and has a tendency to finish other people’s sentences. Marshall Mallow (Hugh Dancy) is a brave, resolute soldier who just happens to be made of gooey marshmallow. The China Princess (Megan Hilty) is the brittle leader – both in terms of her body and fractious personality – of a tiny people made out of delicate china.

Rounding out the cast are Bernadette Peters as Glinda, trapped by the Jester, and Patrick Stewart as Tug, an aged tree who helps Dorothy along her way.

The Jester is quite a memorable villain. The sibling of the wicked witch killed by Dorothy, he’s both cursed by and hungry for magical power. He can work his sister’s crystal ball and broomstick, though not particularly well, and commands her army of flying monkeys. Short gives him a frenetic desperateness, and also displays some quite amazing singing pipes.

The music by Toby Chu will get toes a-tapping, though the songs tend to be short expositional transitions between scenes rather than show-stoppers.

Co-directors Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre keep things moving along at a brisk pace, and the action scenes are crisply-staged. We get to see a lot more of the fanciful world of Oz, including a bestiary of neat critters. (Though personally, I would have liked to see more than a token munchkin or two.)

This “Oz” film may seem like a cheap spinoff, but it’s fun and breezy. It certainly beats that smarmy Franco flick by a gold-bricked mile.

1 comment:

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