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Oz returns to the big screen as an animated film with a new storyline

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Dorothy and her beloved Toto are back on the big screen as “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” opens world-wide May 9, 2014. Only this time her trio of Tin Woodsman, Lion (no longer cowardly) and Scarecrow, double in numbers as they are joined on their journey by an owl, china princess and a candy marshmallow soldier.

Instead of a movie populated live, as it was in the classic 1939 film with Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bolger (the scarecrow) and Bert Lahr (the cowardly lion), the new movie is in 3D animation but also has a stellar cast of voices.

Lea Michele (Glee) is Dorothy, with Dan Aykroyd as the Scarecrow, Jim Belushi as the Lion and Kelsey Grammer as the Tin Man. Other character voices are Martin Short (Jester), Hugh Dancy (Marhsal Mallow), Bernadette Peters (Glinda), Megan Hilty (China Princess), Patrick Stewart (Tugg, a talking tree) and Oliver Platt (Wiser, the Owl).

And instead of having to face a wicked witch out to revenge her wicked sister’s death and obtain the ruby slippers, the group has to outsmart the evil Jester (Short) who wants to take over Oz.

“The wicked witch is basically gone, dead. I needed a new antagonist,” said children’s author Roger S. Baum. Yes, the last name is the same as L. Frank Baum who wrote the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. After a career in banking and business, requests for “Oz” books led him to follow his great grandfather’s footsteps.

“Dorothy’s Return,” produced by Summertime Entertainment, is based on Roger S. Baum’s “Dorothy of Oz.” Summertime Entertainment’s Carroll brothers, CEO Ryan and President Rolland are already working on another “Legends of Oz” movie.

A recent joint phone interview with Roger S. Baum and Ryan Carroll offered insight into the challenge of following-up a classic story and movie.

Referencing “Wicked” and other shows and books, Baum said he has been asked if Oz spinoffs are overdone. “The answer is no. There’s a thirst for Oz.” He added, “It is a challenge. I don’t want to step on toes. Great grandfather wrote 14 books, Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote 19. I don’t want to copy. What I want is the feeling of Oz. I don’t want to get away from Ozy.”

Baum explained the expression. “Ozy is something non-violent. (The book and film) have some scary parts but not violent. There’s no blood and guts in Oz, just fun and mischief,” he said. “I’m mindful of the history of Oz and all the people who love Oz or just the first book. I do not want to insult that. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.”

As to his Jester, Baum said, “There’s flexibility. A jester is supposed to be half-way decent and you can bring in some fun. This jester is evil and fun. He is the perfect opposition. It just hit me. I can replace the wicked witches who are basically dead, with the Jester." However, evil as the Jester is, the movie still is “Ozy.”

“We achieved a PG rating. We landed where we want,” Carroll said. A former student and performer at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Carroll explained why Summertime Entertainment took the animation a step further to 3D. “It immerses you into the environment. You have the ability to modify and softly bring the audience into the environment. It’s not shocking,” he said.

Carroll expects the movie’s core group to be ages 6-11 but would also appeal to teens and adults. “It works on many levels.” Part of that was the quest (saving Oz from the Jester) and part the development of new characters who overcome their flaws. “There are the arcs of the story and characters who have a long life span,” he said.

“There’s jeopardy with a villain. There’s Marshal Mallow from the candy army who follows the rules. By the end, he thinks for himself and he falls in love with China Princess. She’s very breakable but self-indulgent. By the end she gets over herself,” Carroll said.

Another new character is Wiser, the owl. “Wiser is funny but afraid. He cloisters himself. His character is afraid to go and do things. Ultimately he overcomes that. The characters have different challenges to overcome," he said.

Carroll likes that the dialogue isn’t too preachy and that the animation leans toward a magical atmosphere. “It doesn’t force the issues. We visually tell it.” By we, Carroll emphasized that the film was a team effort.

“Everyone worked on it from script writers to producers,” he said. That included brother Roland, who studied at University of Southern California’s School of Cinematography and was the executive producer of several films and Bonne Radford, a producer/animator formerly with Dreamworks. “Bonne had a direct influence,” said Carroll.

Baum summed up the general feeling about his great grandfather's magical place. “The thing I love about Oz is you turn around and anything is possible.”

For more information visit Summertime Enterainment.

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