[Screen It]


(2014) (voices of Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd) (PG)

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Animated Fantasy: Dorothy returns to the Land of Oz after it falls under attack by the evil Jester, who turns out to be the put-upon brother of the Wicked Witch of the West.
After her adventures in Oz, Dorothy (voice of LEA MICHELE) is readjusting to her old life in Kansas. In the wake of the devastating cyclone, both her family farm and her nearby small town have fallen on hard times, and an evil Appraiser (voice of MARTIN SHORT) is swooping in to take advantage of the local population's misfortunes. He ends up condemning the Gale homestead, and Dorothy's Uncle Henry (voice of MICHAEL KRAWIC) and Aunt Em (voice of TACEY ADAMS) have no choice but to leave.

Before they can, though, a big and beautiful rainbow appears to Dorothy and her dog, Toto, in a field. Magically, it begins to move and even chase her. Suddenly, she is caught up in its brilliant colors and whisked back to Oz where she learns that the Jester (also the voice of MARTIN SHORT), the evil brother of the Wicked Witch of the West, has reclaimed her broomstick and is systematically capturing and imprisoning the various leaders of Oz in an attempt to take it over. Among his captures are the Scarecrow (voice of DAN AYKROYD), the Tin Man (voice of KELSEY GRAMMER), the Lion (voice of JIM BELUSHI), and Glinda the Good Witch of the North (voice of BERNADETTE PETERS).

Once again on a journey to the Emerald City, Dorothy assembles a new group of allies to fight the Jester and reclaim Oz for all its people. These new friends include the overweight owl, Wiser (voice of OLIVER PLATT); the candy solider, Marshal Mallow (voice of HUGH DANCY); the China Princess (voice of MEGAN HILTY); and an ancient tree who agrees to be carved into a boat named Tugg (voice of PATRICK STEWART).

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
As with last year's "Oz the Great and Powerful," there is no way the new "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" was ever going to be as good as 1939's all-time great classic "The Wizard of Oz." But as with Sam Raimi's prequel, I think some initial applause is in order that a group of filmmakers had the courage to even try to add to the story. For years -- heck, decades -- no one tried. No one wanted the touch the ... ahem ... great and powerful "Wizard of Oz." It's a losing proposition.

I mean, you have a film that for many people was one of the first movies they ever saw if not THE first movie. It was a film that ran on broadcast TV year after year and became must-see TV for legions of Generation Xers and Generation Yers. And it featured a cast of talented performers who most people only ever saw in those roles. Ask the average person if they've seen other performances by Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton and so forth. They can't do it! Those actors are SO those characters.

But just as it was weird to see James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams playing in the "Oz" sandbox, so too is it a touch odd to hear the voices of Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammer, and Lea Michele from "Glee" coming out of characters we've loved since we were in Underoos. At the end of the day, though, there is the simple question. Is this a good movie? And I think it is. But then again, I'm a bit of an "Oz" nut and always have been.

This animated film takes up right from where the classic '39 flick left off. Dorothy (voice of Michele) has returned to Kansas. Her adventure in Oz was not all a dream, and she is soon summoned back by the Scarecrow when the Emerald City has come under attack by the evil Jester (voice of Martin Short). So, the Scarecrow sends not a twister but a really cool rainbow to whisk her and Toto up and return them to Oz. But before she can complete the journey, the Jester's army of flying monkeys barges in and disrupts the plan. Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man are eventually captured, and Dorothy has fallen out of the sky in a completely different part of Oz and must form new alliances to help her rescue her friends and save Oz.

What "Legends of Oz" gets right, it gets really right. The Kansas sequences are actually among its most effective, showing that Dorothy actually lives just around the way from a small town that was also devastated by the cyclone of the '39 film and is now prey to a greedy Appraiser (also the voice of Short) who has come to condemn their properties and seize their land. Back in Oz, the Jester is looking to do much the same thing by seizing the various rulers of the land -- Glinda the Good Witch, the Mayor of Munchkinland, the Scarecrow, etc. -- and enslave their people. In a nice twist, he turns out to be the put-upon brother of the Wicked Witch of the West with knowledge of how to turn her broomstick into a most formidable weapon.

Rather daringly, the film is structured as a musical and some of the songs written by Bryan Adams and others are quite effective at moving the story along. There is no way they will ever compete with the likes of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "If I Only Had a Brain." But, again, applaud the attempt here to keep the same aesthetic as the '39 classic.

On the downside, I really wish there was more character work attempted here. When you take away Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion's drive to get a home, a brain, a heart, and some courage, you have to give them more to work with than just defending the kingdom against the next evil threat. There is a little attempt here to have the Scarecrow use his new intellect to help save the day. But the Tin Man bawling because he can't control his emotions and the Lion just wanting to mix it up wherever and whenever is only paid brief lip service.

Even Dorothy is all pluck and no real substance here. I admire her good-heartedness. But you have to give her a flaw or two to sell the film. She doesn't even miss Kansas when back in Oz. She barely thinks about it. What would have been a humdinger of a story is if the Jester hatched a plot that would put both Oz AND Kansas in jeopardy. THAT would have been cool!

As it is, though, "Dorothy's Return" is briskly paced at 88 minutes and full of fun and spectacle. The opening credits alone are almost worth the price of admission. I rate it a 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed May 3, 2014 / Posted May 9, 2014

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