Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril
Written by Adam Balsam, Randi Barnes and more
Directed by Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre
Starring Lea Michelle, Kelsey Grammer, Dan Aykroyd and more
Is it better to try for greatness and fail, or to try for mediocrity and succeed pretty well?
I wrestled with that question as I watched “Legend of Oz: Dorothy’s Return,” an animated sequel based on a children’s novel written by L. Frank Baum’s grandson, Roger Baum. The movie is both surprisingly pleasant and utterly forgettable, like a competently put-together side table designed to be functional rather than attractive. It’s not as worthy of mockery as I’d feared, but it’s easy to surpass standards when they start out that low.
The story starts soon after the original “Wizard of Oz” ends, though the time period has been pushed forward into an unspecified semi-modern era. Oz is in trouble again, having been overwhelmed by the evil Jester (who is actually from the book, so we can’t blame the scriptwriters). A rainbow comes along to sweep her up into the adventure, where we meet various Oz-appropriate characters such as an enormous owl and a marshmallow man.
Yes, it follows the original “Oz” plotline suspiciously closely, but so has every other “Oz” related movie made since the original (barring “Wicked,” but thinking about the musical as you watch “Legend” will just make you sad). The scriptwriters tweak it enough that it feels less like a retread and more like simply another standard kids adventure, and there was a respect for the source material and the overall “Oz” universe that I appreciated. There’s even a voice-acting decision that serves as a direct nod to the original.
But there’s little genuine movie magic to be found. The songs are fine, but feel like they’ve been pasted in, and the plot moves ahead so predictably it could have been created via computer model (or those typing monkeys everyone talks about). What’s supposed to be a major climactic moment has such a painfully obvious escape hatch that I’m sure even three-year-olds in the audience were simply waiting for the characters to catch up.
The voice acting is competent overall, though you might be stunned to see how many big-named actors they somehow managed to con into working on such a forgettable little movie. Martin Short is the villainous Jester, and deserves a great deal of credit for managing to pull a few moment of genuine menace out of such a blatantly ludicrous character.
Despite that, there’s no way he should have gotten as many musical numbers as he did. The man has a perfectly decent voice, but in a cast that also includes a woman who is literally famous for her Broadway singing (Bernadette Peters) he’s far from a priority. The fact that he had two numbers while Peters had none is the closest thing to a true tragedy the movie can muster.
Still, it’s not bad. I’m sure it will have a long and fruitful life running on Nickelodeon for the next 20 years or so, and if you happen to catch a showing then by all means sit down and watch it. Until then, though, there are better things to do with your time.