Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
Filmed entirely on location in the Uncanny Valley.
You know when I did a little research into this bowel obstruction of a movie I discovered it was the first effort of a new company called Clarius. At once I started to feel guilty about the vast load of bile I was about to dump all over it like a forest fighting aircraft who can only tank up on the deepest contents of my gullet. I like to see new studios try new things and I’m not comfortable stomping on first efforts.
Then I did a little more researched and discovered that they claim to have had a $70,000,000 budget and at once felt much better about clubbing this baby seal. You see, now I know what I am dealing with, and that is a bunch of idiots with too much money who assume that making movies is easy and that audiences do not require more than a few flashing lights and cute characters to be mindlessly entertained. The fact that they failed so miserably in the low hanging fruit of kids cartoons says a lot about how much they suck.
Given a budget like that I can name about 20 guys who could do between 2-4 films that would at least recoup the film investment and make money on the back end (including myself. If there are any Hollywood studio types actually reading this review contact me and I will tell you about my idea for a film about a humble movie review writer who develops super powers and saves the world from extraterrestrial zombies. I don’t want to demand too much control over the casting but for the romantic love interest I’m going to recommend Mila Kunis and for the protagonist let’s go with the sexiest movie reviewer in the country, me.) To spend that much money and fail is a sign from god that you should go back to whatever your day job was.
The good news is I have found an animated film from this year I hate more than the Nut Job. That one might have had a bad protagonist but it least it had one. It also managed to skip the whole singing issue entirely instead of subjecting me to the earhole raping that was this film. Given a choice between seeing this bomb, the Nut Job, or eating a pinecone I’d choose the pinecone, the Nut Job, and Legends of Oz in that order.
How did this film fail? Let’s pretend I was the man in charge of this studio. How would I have avoided the pitfalls this film seems drawn towards like a mouse to a glue trap? First off given a $70MM budget the first thing I would do is hire some writers who had more to their writing credits than a few crappy TV shows. You know, guys who’s brains don’t lock up when asked to write more than 22 minutes of story. Perhaps someone who has worked on something that made money. You’ve got $70,000,000. A couple hundred grand to good writers is not going to break your bank.
I would then instruct the writers to do whatever they could to maintain the feel and spirit of the original Oz movie. Specifically keep the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion the same in tone and inclination and NOT turn them into the Three Stooges (I’m not kidding about this. Scarecrow was Moe, Tim Man Larry, and Cowardly Lion Curly and at one point Scarecrow literally calls them all “Lunkheads”. Some days the urge to beat the projectionist is harder to resist than others). Remember how part of the charm of the Wizard of Oz was when the Wizard teaches each of them that the qualities they desired-intellect, emotion, and courage-they already had and needed only to see it in themselves and their actions? Well, forget about that. Now the Scarecrow is an annoying super genius, the Tin Man a big cry baby, and the Lion ready to fight anyone, anytime, for any reason.
I would also instruct them to try to keep these beloved characters involved in the story as much as possible, NOT replace them with three more sidekicks who for the first time ever make Jar Jar Binks look slightly cool (ewww. I just threw up in my mouth. Thanks a lot Legends of Oz). In this film we have a obese know-it-all owl (glorifying obesity in a kids movie is cool, right?), a marshmallow soldier named Marshal Mallow (ohh, I see what they did there), and a walking china doll clearly ripped off from Oz the Great and Powerful (you know how it is. If your Oz movie is going to suck why not rip off other Oz movies that suck?). As a fun note this movie lists Dan Ackyroyd, Kelsey Grammer, and James Belushi as the main voices of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion but they are in this film for about 15 minutes total, leaving us with Oliver Platt, Hugh Dancy, and Megan Hilty.
I’d also like them to keep the tone of Dorothy as a proactive individual and positive role models for girls, not a passive second banana.
Next I would hire a director who has also done a movie or two (oddly enough they did in this case, but this guy must have been asleep for most of the direction. I honestly can’t figure it out). Then I would look at my animation and make sure that the humans weren’t so deeply ensconced in the uncanny valley that you literally get sick looking at them. The human figures in this film were truly off putting in that way that only CGI can accomplish. CGI animation can do some amazing things but it can really suck on the other end of the spectrum. It looks like this film was feeling the budget crunch as nothing interesting was going on in any of the backgrounds. They might as well been painted on backdrops. Perhaps some more traditional animation, or a style that is OK with not rendering every skin pore, might have allowed for the occasional bird to fly by in the background.
Finally I would either hire talented songwriters or scrap the song business altogether. The music in this film gives new definition to the term “lame”. You know how in most musicals there is one song that you automatically skip? In this film that’s pretty much every song.
Anyway, I’m already at 1K words and haven’t really gotten into it. I have things to do tonight so let’s go, shall we?
The film starts off with Moe (I mean Scarecrow. Sorry my bad. Dan Akyroyd-Ghost Busters, Grosse Point Blank, the Blues Brothers) and his cohorts Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer-Cheers, Toy Story 2, X Men Last Stand) and Lion (James Belushi-K-9, Red Heat, New Years Eve) being chased by flying monkeys (with day glow mohawks. Aren’t they cute? In the original movies they used to give kids nightmares). Scarecrow has invented a “rainbow caster” which he uses to try to contact Dorothy (Lea Michele-New Years Eve (will that film ever stop haunting me?), Glee) in Kansas because she is the only one who can do something for some reason.
Time moves faster in Oz apparently so instead of the decades that have passed Dorothy is passed out in her basement after the last tornado wrecked her house. The fact that she is still missing and unconscious does little to concern Aunty Em (Tracey Adams-Parenthood, Gray’s Anatomy, School Dance) and Uncle Henry (Michael Krawic-Ghosts of Mars, Fire Down Below, the X Files) as they catalog the damage done instead of looking for their missing niece (wait a minute. Didn’t Dorothy wake up in a bed surrounded by her relatives, all of whom had been characters in the Land of Oz? Piddling detail, I’m sure). Their house is wrecked but before they can start repairs “the Apprairser” shows up and tells them the house is condemned and they have to leave. Aunty Em and Uncle Henry cave like sheep but Dorothy is suspicious.
At that point the rainbow lands and scoops her up. She gets half the message before the flying monkeys wreck the machine and dump her in the Oz countryside. Her enemy is apparently the Jester (Martin Short-Mars Attacks!, Frankenweenie, Weeds) who is the brother of the dead witch and cursed to always be dressed as a jester. She hooks up with her fat owl friend Wiser (Oliver Platt-Love and Other Drugs, X-Men First Class, 2012) who, just like in the other movie is motivated to join Dorothy in order to find his…? Self control? Eaters Anonymous? Jenny Craig? The go to Candyland where he proves his ability to curb his appetite by eating everything in sight. Dorothy joins him in his food orgy (showing kids a cartoon hero eating enough candy to give the entire city of Butte, Montana diabetes is a positive message, right?) only to find out that is illegal and is arrested by Marshal Mallow (every time I see that name it just looks more and more clever. Hugh Dancy-Adam, Black Hawk Down, King Arthur). They are convicted in candy court (less cute than it sounds) but are pardoned when the judge learns that Dorothy is the Dorothy who killed the witch. Marshal Mallow joins them in order to find his king or something and perhaps some kind of spine?
They have to go through China and the Jester sends an earthquake to wreck all the china (oh, you thought the major world power? How narrow is your thought process is. Chairman Mao image courtesy of the Political T Shirt category). By the way, if the Jester has the power to summon up a 6.5 earthquake whenever he wants how is it he even has any competition at all? The China Princess (Megan Hilty-Smash, Secret of the Wings) joins up in order to…do something? Maybe ask the Jester to not send earthquakes? There was something about evaluating Marshal Mallow as a possible husband (given that she is 8 inches tall and he is at least six feet I hope she does a lot of yoga). The team opts to bring her along because there is no way an 8 inch girl in a formal gown made of china will be a liability when she falls off a curb and shatters.
Anyway, once the characters are established that’s pretty much it. The Jester sends stuff to stop them and they overcome it, mostly with dumb luck. One of the talking trees (inexplicably voiced by the great Patrick Stewart. How the hell did he get roped into this?) volunteers to be cut down and turned into a boat. Flying monkeys are no match for candy catapults apparently. The movie grinds its way to an inevitable conclusion.
I don’t do the black holes/stars thing for kids movies. That’s a good thing as far as this movie is concerned. I generally judge kids movies by how the kids in the theater were reacting and the kids in this flick (all four of them) were bored stupid. One of them was doing that thing where he insisted on moving to seat after seat and even ended up sitting right next to me (as an aside I have a realistic understanding of how I am perceived in the world and if you see a 6’5″ guy sitting at the very back of the theater by himself in a children’s movie I think it fair to assume he can be found on the Megans Law website. Odds are the responsible parent thing to do is steer your children away from him, and while I am most definitely not on that site I would applaud your parental instinct). If your kids are particularly challenged mentally they might enjoy it, but understand that by bringing them to see this film you are committing yourself to 92 minutes that compares favorably only to falling into an open septic tank and spending the night there. There is absolutely nothing here for the parents (or poor adult reviewers).
Thanks for reading. I’m seeing Godzilla tonight and hope to have time to write it up tomorrow although I have a lot happening this weekend (Big Wow in San Jose, if you live in the Bay Area). Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have a question or suggestion feel free to email me at email@example.com. Talk to you soon.
“The Infamous” Dave Inman