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'Legends of Oz' strays from the yellow brick road

Legends of Oz:  Dorothy's Return
Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
Clarius Entertainment

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

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Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” is an attempt to being back the charm of Dorothy and her grand adventure in Oz to appeal today’s families, however, following the classic yellow brick road is easier said than done.

“Legends of Oz” is based on the original series of books by author L. Frank Baum and also “Dorothy of Oz,” one of the books written by Baum’s great-grandson, Roger Stanton Baum. In the film, modern Dorothy has just returned to post-tornado Kansas only to almost immediately be magically whisked back again to Oz. But, this time instead of a tornado, she is carried back via a sort of rainbow-vacuum tunnel.

Fully expecting to see her now-iconic Oz friends, the Scarecrow (voiced by Dan Aykroyd), the Lion (voiced by James Belushi), and the Tin Man (voiced by Kelsey Grammer), Dorothy (voiced by "Glee's" Lea Michele), instead, finds herself dropped off by the rainbow in an unknown area of Oz without any friends to greet her and far from Emerald City. In a plot that doesn’t really connect the dots, Dorothy comes across of new set of friends: Wiser (Oliver Platt as a kind and rotund owl), Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy as a valiant marshmallow soldier), and the China Princess (Megan Hilty as a self-involved, very breakable royal). Dorothy later finds out that the Wicked Witch of the West’s dastardly brother, the Jester (played by Martin Short) has been wreaking havoc on Oz in an attempt to make a power grab of some sort (but, unfortunately, even that plot point is unclear). The renown young girl from Kansas now faces a very different Oz than she left with untested new companions against an evil foe.

Although the film is chock-full of well-known actors in voice roles, little is compelling or interesting about the new characters with the brief exception of the brewing romance between Marshall and the Princess. Songs are not catchy, the motivations behind characters and plot movement is often a bit murky and, unfortunately, even much of the animation (even in its 3D form) seems wooden. Further, several characters are unable to show significant facial emotion and, accordingly, the wonder of Oz is definitely muted. Further, and of most concern to families with young children, the Jester is almost “too” scary. Jester, a harlequin clown (an identity reportedly forced upon him by his magical, evil sister) is very much the Batman’s Joker for the Kindergarden set. (In fact, my 6-year-old was quite alarmed by his imprisonments and in-your-face wickedness). As such, the attempt to further modernize Oz’s villain feels far too extreme (and very out-of-place) for the littles in your viewing party.

Reportedly, the effort to bring this non-big budget film to the big screen was herculean. Summertime Entertainment, a multimedia company focusing on family-friendly entertainment, secured the rights to ten of Stanton Baum’s stories about Oz (meaning that more Oz adventures may be in the works). Together with newbie marketing and distribution company, Clarius, “Legends of Oz” is being released in over 2500 theaters nationwide. Ironically, the background story of how the CGI film came to be seems far more compelling than the family film’s actual plot. Even if your family has Oz interests, watching this on DVD will more than satisfy your curiosity about the film. For the rest, consider re-watching the classic 1939 film, reading Baum’s many books, or even watching last year’s mixed-reviewed “Oz the Great and Powerful” (best for older tweens and up). “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” is rated 2 - of 5 stars.

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