My thoughts on Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

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On Thursday at 3:00 took in the animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (not to be confused with the Legends of Oz comic series which is cowboy themed) at the Scotiabank theatre in West Edmonton Mall, this was one of the last first run theatre showings in my area.

As of this writing the film has recuperated less than 1/10th of it’s 70 million dollar budget, money raised from private investors that went to hiring top notch talent like Patrick Stewart, Martin Short, and Kelsey Grammar. In spite of it’s failure at the box office, and the production troubles that might be partly responsible, the film is quite charming and worth a watch.

I have no particular affinity for the Oz books of L Frank Baum’s great grandson Roger S Baum, nor do I have a dislike for them in fact in spite of having a copy of Dorothy of Oz, the source material for this film, on my shelf I have yet to get around to reading any of his works. Roger, to my understanding, concerns himself with only the first of his ancestor’s famous series, and my primary interest in Oz is drawn from it’s canon sequels and the expanded universe around it. So this fact coupled with lackluster trailers, and some of the murmuring I heard in advance lead me to go into the film with low expectations.

I counted the number of spectators in the audience, myself included there were eleven, the others seemed to be grouped into three families; I was on my own. I seated myself in the exact centre of the theatre which also put me between the other clusters of people, and I was able to hear the excited reactions of the children to the unfolding drama.

The acting was top notch, as is to be expected from the cast, but the story and new characters were a lot stronger than I was expecting. Things that made me cringe in the trailers flowed a lot more seemlesly in their proper order. Oliver Platt’s overweight and over-talkative owl character managed to be annoying to Dorothy without being insufferable to me, Hugh Dancy was quite charming as Marshal Mallow but I thought he sounded a lot like C3PO, and Martin Short’s Jester was just the right combination of comedic, charming, and slightly threatening. There are no real surprises in the plot but it’s well paced, aside from one song about the power of teamwork that comes at the mid point, and is both the worst song (the rest are quite good), and slowest point in the movie, on the plus side it does have a couple cameos in it for fans of the elder Baum’s books. The only real problems for me in terms of story come from the framing narrative, and the China Princess.

The china country (as in porcelain and not East Asia), is an oft-ignored part of Oz, and many consider it a bit shoehorned in to the original plot. Oz was not as of yet populated by many living beings which consisted of what we would think of was non-living inanimate objects (other than the Scarecrow) so their appearance seems to come out of left field, and they are are part of the also usually dropped victory lap on the way to Glinda’s castle. So when two films in as many years feature residents of China country as part of their core cast it’s hard not to compare them. Oz the Great and Powerful gave us the China Girl, and this film gave us the China Princess.

The Princess is a type of character I like very much, an aristocratic, feminine, take charge woman who is used to getting her way and acts arrogant and proud, but really has a caring heart. I love these characters. The problem is the Princess contributes nothing to the plot… while everyone else uses their talents as some point to be essential to the completion of Dorothy’s mission the only thing the Princess does (aside from issuing a few directives to her soldiers at the end) is get smashed to bits in an attempt to try and wrench some tears from gullible kids who will think she’s dead; it’s a common enough tactic in children’s movies that don’t want to kill someone off for real.

But it didn’t work! The movie clearly demonstrated earlier that a China person could be broken into very small parts and still be alive. In fact those victims (partly the Princess’ own) were still talking and chatting in spite of being in much worse shape than the Princess in her supposed death scene. This divides the party due to Dorothy unwillingness to risk any more peril to her friends, and which is supposed to be the emotional low point of the film. For some reason the Princess unlike her subjects seems unable, or unwilling to speak until she is fully re-assembled. Not a single kid in the audience I was with cried, they all in fact murmured about how she could be fixed with glue; I remember seeing the original Power Rangers movie… I thought the way out of Zordon’s death was broadcast in advanced but that still produced crying children.

By contrast the China Girl in Oz The Great and Powerful, was essential to the success of the enterprise in that film, her small size and lack of lungs allowed her to cross the poppy field with Glinda’s wand and free Glinda unnoticed by the wicked witches. Surely something size related could have been found for the Princess to do, I find it particularly irksome that the feminine member of the team is the least useful, and who ends up, at least temporarily, fridged. Oz TGAP’s China puns were less cringeworthy also, a simple sign reading “China Town,” as opposed to the following exchange:

Wiser: What a great wall

Dorothy: It’s made of china

Wiser: What a great wall… of china!

My other issue entered around the framing narrative, Martin Short doubles as a shady con-artist trying to seize the property of Dorothy’s family and their neighbours whose homes were damaged by the twister that brought her to Oz. Perhaps it’s because she has an extended conflict with him after the resolution of the Oz plot, something which is not featured in any of the three other theatrical films that use the Oz/Kansas doubles conceit, but he felt less like the theatrical descendent of Miss Gulch than O’Hare from the Lorax animated film. His plotline just seems totally unnecessary.

These aside I liked the film. If you’re an Oz fan or just looking for a movie that won’t have you totally bored to tears to watch with a young kid, I suggest picking this one up when it hits home video.

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2 Responses to My thoughts on Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

  1. Nathan says:

    It’s interesting to me how L. Frank Baum implied the Great Wall of China pun without stating it outright. I guess he had more respect for the intelligence of his audience than the movie does. The China Princess comes along in the book and doesn’t really do anything, but there’s no reason they couldn’t have added something in for the film.

  2. J. L. Bell says:

    We’re thinking about a Winkie Convention panel on the China Country now that it’s appeared in two recent movies. Your comments above suggest you should be part of that. Please email me!

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