Since all of L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels are in the public domain, there have been countless continuations and adaptations of the series, with varying degrees of separation, from canon to apocrypha. Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return—based on Dorothy Of Oz, a 1989 novel by L. Frank Baum’s grandson Roger S. Baum, and the first in a series intended for younger readers—makes for an odd choice as a computer-animated feature film adaptation. Sure, it features the characters everyone cares about: Dorothy Gale (Lea Michele), Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer), and Lion (Jim Belushi). But they’re altered for the worse and stranded apart from one another for a story that has precious little message other than “beware of obvious hucksters.”
In Oz, the now-genius Scarecrow works with Lion (he’s dropped the “cowardly” and gained a crown) and an over-emoting Tin Man to send an emergency message from Emerald City to Dorothy. An evil Jester (Martin Short) threatens to take over Oz, and he’s turning beloved (yet unfamiliar) characters into puppets with a magic wand, a ret-conned possession leftover from the Wicked Witch Of The West.
Dorothy awakens in Kansas after another twister—one that destroys the Gales’ house and the surrounding town, yet somehow didn’t merit a retreat to the storm cellar. After a slimy and questionably credentialed insurance appraiser (Short again, because there must be a real-world villain parallel in Oz stories) shows up to condemn all the houses in town and coerce their owners to quickly sign them away and vacate, the Gales resign themselves to selling and moving. As Dorothy rues her inability to fix everything, she and Toto are whisked back to Oz via a moving rainbow (why not?), though not to Emerald City. Instead of her familiar companions, a new group joins Dorothy on her journey of rediscovery: Wiser (Oliver Platt), a flightless, chatterbox owl; Marshal Mallow (Hannibal’s Hugh Dancy), a marshmallow soldier from Candy County; and Dainty China Princess (Megan Hilty), the… princess of Dainty China Country.
Casting a legitimately prodigious Broadway talent like Michele in an iconic role like Dorothy is a no-brainer, but problems abound from the rushed beginning all the way through the impossibly resolved ending. Instead of traveling through an Oz that even somewhat resembles one familiar to anyone versed in the MGM classic, Dorothy and her new cadre wander through what is essentially a mash-up of Candyland and the Mad Hatter’s tea party. The Jester, like his human counterpart, has only a tenuous foundation as a villain. He’s the Wicked Witch Of The West’s brother, who was forced to serve as her downtrodden fool, and now… he’s inexplicably evil. The new characters are as weakly drawn as the old guard—who are locked up by the jester for most of the movie and sorely missed.
Formidable as the cast list looks on paper, the voice acting reeks of cash grabs, and the performances are way off (Grammer’s Tin Man in particular). Not a single one of the grating songs is likely to be remembered after the credits roll. At one point, as Dorothy and Wiser stuff their faces full of candy due to some nefarious sign-changing from the Jester, Short sings a seemingly never-ending list of candy names that does absolutely nothing but stretch out the tune to an acceptable length.
The land Dorothy visits in Legends is not the merry old land of Oz—it’s a retread as flimsy as cotton candy. NBC’s gamble on broadcasting a live staging of The Sound Of Music paid off so well that Fox is already giving Grease the same treatment. But the only good thing to come from Legends Of Oz is the idea that perhaps once Glee concludes its final season and that long-rumored Funny Girl revival is complete, someone will cast Lea Michele as Dorothy in a worthier musical adaptation of Baum’s material.