Dear James Franco,
Everything is forgiven.
Sincerely, Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
If you remember my mega snarky review for the Franco-led Oz: The Great and Powerful, then you also remember the rather demented glee I experienced while blasting a film that managed to capture almost nothing in the way of the true magic and wonder of the original film The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Compared to Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, Oz: The Great and Powerful is a cinematic tour-de-force of magic and wonder and cinematic brilliance.
How bad is Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return?
I rooted for the bad witch. Heck, I really rooted for the a character known as the Jester. Heck, I'd have rooted for just about anyone just to make the film end. Even at a mere 88 minute running time, Legends of Oz had my eyes drooping and I'm fairly sure that puddles of drool were starting to form as IQ points melted off my brain watching a film so trivial and so incredibly godawful and so mind-numbingly stupid that I half expected Jim Varney to show up in the cast to be scared stupid.
In case you don't remember, by the way, Jim Varney is actually dead.
Oh, in case you don't get the reference, Jim Varney was Ernest in all the Ernest films.
Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return is a full-length animated feature that picks up where L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz left off. Unfortunately, it's also cut off from that film's sense of wonder and inspiration. In place of wonder and whimsy, we get paint-by-number life lessons and saccharine musical numbers that will, and I'm grateful for this, instantly vacate your brain upon leaving the theater.
I mean, seriously. I was actually a little giddy inside when I saw Canadian rocker Bryan Adams' name in the opening credits as having penned one of the tunes. Unfortunately, that tune is about as ill-conceived as a certain couch dancing Christmas video featuring Adams that pretty much killed his career.
But I digress.
In this film, Dorothy (Lea Michele) is summoned back to Oz because she is the only one who can help save Oz from a dastardly Jester, voiced by an Ed Grimley-inspired Martin Short and easily the film's highlight, who reminded me a whole lot of Anthony Perkins with his dastardly (Did I mention he's dastardly?) plan to basically turn all of Oz's central characters into puppets. Literally. Well, I guess about as literally as you can turn animated characters into puppets.
Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer), and Lion (James Belushi) are all here, but they largely take a back seat to Wiser the Owl (Oliver Platt), Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy, another of the film's highlights), Megan Hilty's China Princess (not to be confused with Bowie's China Girl), and Tugg the Tree (Patrick Stewart). Based upon a book by Baum's great grandson, Roger Baum, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return lacks the simplicity and the inspiration of its predecessor. While I've never quite fancied myself a true fan of the L. Frank Baum original, it's truly painful watching Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion be turned into uninspired stooges while we're left to remain largely apathetic about an overweight owl who can't fly, a figurine princess whose vanity will be tested, and an insecure but loyal soldier whose loyalty will prove the greatest prize of all.
There is a chance, of course, that children will find this just interesting enough to make it worth your while. However, it's difficult to imagine a circumstance that would justify the extra expense for the film's inferior 3-D animation. The good news, I suppose, is that The Nut Job, which just arrived on home video, suddenly looks a whole lot better.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic