Ever since 1939, The Wizard of Oz has been viewed as a timeless family classic thanks to its wondrous world, charming characters, and revolutionary filmmaking. Unfortunately, these qualities will be hard to spot for those who stumble into this unofficial sequel. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is an awkwardly misguided follow-up that, despite having a few commendable aspects, might make you consider clicking those ruby slippers together.
Rather than being a standalone feature, Legends of Oz acts as a direct sequel based on the original book’s follow-up Dorothy of Oz, written by the original’s author’s great-grandson L. Frank Baum. I heavily emphasize on “direct” because the film’s rushed opening makes it seem like a Part 2 then something newcomers can jump into. It doesn’t help that this adaptation’s own predecessor doesn’t exist, thus making it difficult to get invested in what’s happening.
Right from the first scene, we are thrusted into the conflict of Emerald City being invaded. There’s no time given to explain the situation properly, nor to reintroduce us to the characters we grew to love earlier. Because of how iconic The Wizard of Oz is, it’s like the filmmakers assumed everyone would instantly recognize what’s shown on screen when newcomers unfamiliar with anything Oz-related would get confused. You know Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion? Well, I hope you do because this sequel won’t be refreshing you on their watered-down characteristics.
As a sequel inspired by its predecessor (both book and film), problems further arise with inconsistent continuity. It’s especially jarring that when I saw motor vehicles driving around in a colour Kansas setting, something that the original clearly didn’t present, it makes me question if that tornado caused Dorothy Gale to travel forward in time. Major elements that were present in the original story like the magic slippers have seemingly vanished, and the unmemorable modern-like songs make this adventure feel far less of what the original was. Top that off with an eviction subplot only present in the beginning and end, which connects with the film very poorly.
Along with the dissimilar feel to the original, this also applies to the characters. As I said earlier, the movie gives no time to refresh on who we’ve seen before, and thus makes them seem less dimensional. Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion Man are only there to teleport Dorothy to Oz before becoming damsels in distress for most of the film. Dorothy herself is just the chosen one to save her friends with less complexity in her, and her new companions like Wiser, Marshal Mallow, and the China Princess are just there to guide her on the quest with not much else to offer.
The only exception to this would be the villainous Jester. As the brother and successor of the late Wicked Witch of the West, his presence and actions can be effectively threatening towards the heroes. This is on top of an interesting fleshed-out backstory of how he became the fool he is, and a strong vocal performance by Martin Short. Speaking of which, the voice work, in general, is quite solid across the board. Whether it’s an old or new character, the actors and actresses do a put in a decent performance into what is otherwise a subpar script, even Kelsey Grammer despite his Razzie win for this movie. These are all good cast choices, but it’s the poor use of these iconic characters that makes them feel like a waste.
If there’s anything else in this film that’s tolerable, it would be the animation which, even then, is a mixed bag. Prana Studios (who also animated DisneyToon’s Tinkerbell and Planes movies) has shown to display some talented craftsmanship, with decent character animation, flashy effects, and especially with the environments. Not only are they detailed and large in scope, but also convey the appropriate mood, whether it’s the colorful Candy Country or the gloomy desertion of Emerald City. Despite those positive aspects though, it still has that direct-to-DVD vibe with the rendering and some textures not being on par. It shows that Prana Studios probably weren’t quite ready to present their work on the big screen, but it’s still an okay effort for an indie production (if you can at least stomach the Jester’s creepy marionettes).
While not downright atrocious like what Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic suggest, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is still a broken sequel where it’s point of existence is questionable. As both a standalone movie and a sequel, it fails in both regards as it can be both too generic and too confusing, and is something that plenty of great talents were not properly utilized on. This might peak some interest for hardcore fans of the Oz universe who are curious. Otherwise, it’s probably better to say at home in Kansas.