“Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” returns the heroine who inspired a billion Halloween costumes back to the yellow brick road — this time in search of a plot.
The long journey is filled with action and familiar characters, but ultimately falls short of success. All the brains, heart and courage in the world can’t save a movie that doesn’t have a third act.
The animated film is based on “Dorothy of Oz,” by L. Frank Baum’s great-grandson Roger S. Baum. It never approaches the subtle beauty or emotional pull of the 1939 film, despite attempts to repeat some of the magic with musical numbers. It’s possible that someone will someday write or perform a better song for a film than “Over the Rainbow.” It’s less likely Bryan Adams or Lea Michele will be part of that equation.
The sequel begins with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion panicking about the state of Emerald City, where beloved Oz figures have been turned into puppets. They send a rainbow to Kansas that can teleport Dorothy, who is dealing with a post-tornado eviction. The animation in this scene, and several others after it, looks like something from a cereal commercial.
“Legends of Oz” isn’t completely without merit, or effort. The art direction and production design are solid, creating an imaginative landscape that is often worthy of the Oz label. Chivalrous marshmallow soldier Marshal Mallow (voiced by Hugh Dancy) and the high maintenance China Princess (Megan Hilty) offer some pleasantly trippy Baum-style weirdness.
But the familiar heroes and primary villain display little depth. The most grating newcomer is antagonist the Jester, voiced by Martin Short, who must have been paid in cases of Rockstar energy drink. He isn’t particularly menacing, and there’s no pathos accompanying the character either. The Jester is just another obstacle. A shouting, hyper, unpleasantly manic obstacle.
The animation is disappointing in “Legends of Oz,” with filmmakers often choosing dull contrast-free tones. Repetitive action inspires the lazy feeling one gets while watching someone else play a video game. The bland visual depiction does Michele no favors, capturing almost none of the spunky or compassionate qualities of Dorothy. Even Toto seems lacking in depth, like he just jumped off a “Legends of Oz” lunch box.
After a few entertaining diversions along the way, the ending is a disaster, piling on visual distractions before wrapping everything up in a too-tidy bow. There was sadness and hope when Dorothy returned to tornado-ravaged Kansas at the finish of the original “Wizard,” to face a possibly bleak future surrounded by loved ones. “Legend of Oz” drops a house on that perfect ending, with an oversimplified and painfully scripted fight against con men trying to condemn Dorothy’s family home.
“Legends of Oz” may have some deeply hidden charms. We still haven’t watched it cued up to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Mostly, the film reaffirms how hard it is to make a movie as unforgettable and enduring as “The Wizard of Oz.” Good chance you’ll forget this one on the way home from the theater.