Making the Grades
Years have passed in Oz time since Dorothy (voice of Lea Michele) left the Emerald City, yet it’s only been a day on Earth. Sadly since her first heroic visit things have gone, shall we say, to the monkeys. Queen Glinda (voice of Bernadette Peters) has been captured and turned into a literal puppet ruler and it’s all the fault of a new sinister man called The Jester (voice of Martin Short). He’s hoping to enforce his dictatorship with the help of a magic scepter, a device he’s already used to create an army of flying monkeys—and quite ugly ones at that.
Of course no one in the Emerald City is happy about this, least of all the Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man (voices of Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi and Kelsey Grammer). So Aykroyd’s character asks, in essence, “Who you gonna call?” The trio decides to ring up Dorothy on the Oz videophone. It’s a quick chat because the mad monkeys are banging on the door. In haste the three compadres send the rainbow mover device (or something like that) to pick up their heroine and she finds herself back in Oz… with her little dog too.
Sadly her flight doesn’t land in the capital, and that means the first order of business is, as in the 1939 classic film, a road trip. And like in that movie, Dorothy is about to meet a few new friends. The first is a rather large owl—appropriately named Wiser (voice of Oliver Platt)—who happens to know the way to the Emerald City. The route will provide plenty of opportunity for adventure including a trip through Candy County where they meet Marshal Mallow (voice of Hugh Dancy). Next is a shortcut through the Land of China, a world of fragile figurine people who live behind a great wall of teacups called… well, I think you’ll figure it out. Here they find their other travelling companion, the Princess of China (voice of Megan Hilty). Finally an impassible bridge is overcome after an aging tree (voice of Patrick Stewart) volunteers to be their boat across the water. Once in Oz the battle to retake the kingdom begins with candy used as artillery.
Parents wondering if this is a reasonable choice for a family matinee will need to consider the patience of their children. The 92-minute running time feels long at points—and for good reason. The journey after Dorothy arrives is the bulk of the thin storyline and is the typical scenario of protagonist-faces-obstacle followed by protagonist-overcomes-obstacle. While our three new Ozzites have personality challenges to overcome, which are similar to the original Oz trio, there isn’t the same sense of dramatic character development. And there are also some scary and sad moments that may be troubling for the very youngest of children, particularly in the Land of China after an earthquake shatters many of the little beings. We see workers gathering up wheelbarrows full of fractured faces. I believe some were still talking. (Think Alice in Wonderland meets Picasso.)
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this production is its mix of polished perfection and disappointment. At first blush you may be distracted by the stiffness and imprecise lip sync during the musical numbers—things we aren’t used to excusing in top-line animations. However the character design and backgrounds are very appealing, especially in the Land of China. The details of these tiny characters, complete with reflections in their porcelain glaze, are convincing. As well, some of the songs (such as the touching Even Then) are memorable and enjoyable.
The message presented to children (the obvious intended audience) is dedication to friendship, accepting new people even when they may be difficult at first (the Princess of China is particularly prickly) and working hard to overcome disappointment (especially when Dorothy returns to Kansas and convinces her parents and the community to work together to rebuild after the tornado). It’s a sizeable package of goods that do outweigh the bads—even with the ugly flying monkeys.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.
Why is the “road trip” genre a popular way to have characters develop in a story? What “road trips” have you travelled in your life? Did you learn new things along the way?
Dorothy is reluctant to see her old home torn down after the tornado. What is the difference between a house and a home?