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 onto 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 “direct” because the film’s rushed opening makes it seem more like a Part 2 than 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 thrust 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. However, newcomers unfamiliar with anything Oz-related will 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 – when I saw motor vehicles driving around in a colour Kansas setting, something that the original clearly didn’t present, it made 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.
This dissimilar feel to the original 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 is the villainous Jester. As the brother and successor of the late Wicked Witch of the West, his presence and actions are 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 put 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 displayed some talented craftsmanship, with decent character animation, flashy effects, and especially with the environments. Not only are they detailed and large in scope, they 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 rendering and some textures not being on par. It shows that Prana Studios probably wasn’t quite ready to present its 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 Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic suggest, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is still a broken sequel to the point where its existence is questionable. As both a standalone movie and a sequel, it fails in both regards as it is both too generic and too confusing, and is something where plenty of great talents were not properly utilized. 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.
Have you seen Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return? Is it as bad as its reputation suggests, or do you think it was judged harshly? Let us know your thoughts!
Deep down in New Zealand, Karl "Karlamon" Smith is a Kiwi who is passionate in animation, seeing it as an artistic medium that expresses vast creativity and brings unique characters and worlds to life. Whenever an animation-related fact pops up, it will more than likely be cemented in his brain for a long time. Some of his favourite animated movies include Zootopia, Balto, Bolt, Over the Hedge, The Fox and the Hound, the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, The Iron Giant, and The Prince of Egypt.
Prior to contributing to Rotoscopers, Karl has served as a bureaucrat on Ice Age Wiki, and a moderator/site builder/news reporter on Animation Source. Karl is also a Computer Science and Digital Design graduate of AUT University. That, and with his additional fascination in aviation, he hopes someday to be both an animator and a pilot (if that is even possible).