Featuring the voices of Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, and Kelsey Grammer. Rated G.
Over the last few years, the world has been rediscovering The Wizard of Oz canon in any number of ways. The animated Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is the latest attempt to blend elements of an old-school classic with some high-tech touches. As it turns out, it’s a hit-and-miss proposition all the way, with directors Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre serving up a bizarre mix of surrealism, Tin Pan Alley, and Saturday-morning-cartoon clichés.
The plot? Dorothy (pleasantly voiced by Lea Michele) returns to Oz to save the Scarecrow (voiced by Dan Aykroyd), the Lion (voiced by Jim Belushi), and the Tin Man (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) from the clutches of the power-hungry Jester (voiced by Martin Short).
Okay, so nobody’s expecting Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. But even for a feature-length cartoon that stresses the darker side of fantasy, some of the choices seem oddly off-kilter.
Although the pace is commendably brisk, it’s weighed down by a grim—almost gothic—undertone. The evil Jester’s specialty is a horror-movie staple: turning the living into soulless marionettes that do his bidding. Short’s interpretation is especially creepy. He makes it clear that he won’t stop until Dorothy is dead. It’s the sort of foreboding stuff that seeps into the movie’s bouncier moments—so much so that preschoolers may find the movie somewhat disturbing.
The musical score features work by several composers, most notably Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. The songs—safe, syrupy, and instantly forgettable—contain the sort of manipulative emotion you’d expect to see at a Céline Dion concert.
The animation is just as predictable. The human characters have the uniform look of big-eyed blowup dolls. Dorothy seems especially devoid of feeling. Watching her sing is like viewing a Botox commercial set to music.
The nonhuman characters fare significantly better. At their best, they seem lively and cheerful. Especially Toto, who has the most attractive personality in the bunch. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a cute dog to save this one.