RATING |

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return is a harmless but almost charmless adaptation of a book by L. Frank Baum's grandson. It's a derivative hash of grandpa's story, set in the present day and given forgettable new tunes by pop songsmiths such as Bryan Adams that are sung by the likes of Lea Michele, Martin Short, Hugh Dancy, and the operatic Megan Hilty of TV's Smash.

And it's in 3D, of course.

Animated at Prana in India, this work has decent production design: a dark, abandoned Emerald City; a shiny, porcelain sheen in Oz's "Dainty China Country"; luscious-looking 3D sweets in Candy Country.

The animated characters are beautifully rendered, though their faces lack the expression that Pixar, Blue Sky, Disney, and Sony have managed in their recent films.

Dorothy (Michele), Toto, Auntie Em, and Uncle Henry survive a tornado that trashes their corner of Kansas. An unscrupulous real estate hustler (Martin Short) is ready to buy out the whole shattered town. But before Dorothy can stop this foreclosure fraud, a rainbow snatches her and drags her, and her little dog, back to Oz.

Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd) has smartly summoned her to save the land, which is under the thumb of the Jester (Short, again), the evil brother of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Dorothy teams up with Wiser, a chatterbox owl (Oliver Platt); a candy soldier, Marshal Mallow (Dancy); and the haughty China Princess (Hilty), and sets off down the ruined Yellow Brick Road to save her old friends.

The returning characters - the emotionally mercurial Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer, not bad), gutsy Lion (Jim Belushi), and Glinda, the Good Witch (Bernadette Peters, perfectly cast) - have almost nothing to do.

The singing is competent, and rocker Adams' contribution, a build-a-boat-with-beavers tune, "Let's Work," bounces along. "When the World" is Michele's "Over the Rainbow" moment. But no song will stick with you past the closing credits.

With unknown animation entities, the rule is that the more impressive the voice cast, the weaker the script. Hire great Brits - Patrick Stewart (as a boat), Brian Blessed, and Dancy (who croons a tune or two) - and maybe you can cover up the startling lack of humor on the page. Except it never does.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return *1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre. With voices of Lea Michele, Martin Short, Hugh Dancy, Oliver Platt, Bernadette Peters, Megan Hilty, Dan Aykroyd, Patrick Stewart, Jim Belushi. Distributed by Clarius Entertainment.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (some scary images and mild peril).
Playing at: Area theaters.

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