Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Cinema File #348: "Legends Of Oz: Dorothy's Return" Review

Oh, enough already! How many more vapid, inane excursions into the magical land of Oz do we need, honestly? Okay, yeah, I love Return to Oz more than most and have even dabbled in a treatment for a dark and gritty re-imagining of the L. Frank Baum universe, but even that's already been done, probably more than once. To go back to this well yet again without any sort of twist, even a hackneyed over used one goes right past redundant and into the arena of doing serious harm to the original everyone loves so much in the first place. Such is the case at least with the latest iteration, Legends Of Oz: Dorothy's Return, based on the continuing adventures of Dorothy Gale in Oz based on the works of Baum's son, because simply adapting one of the public domain sequels at a much cheaper price would have indicated some degree of common sense among the people making this piece of shit.

The story is the same anyway, and is in no way more modern for having been written a few years later, so why not save a little money on the licensing? You know the structure by heart: little girl from Kansas finds herself in Oz and along the way to the Emerald City recruits three friends, each more useless and less endearing than the last, only to confront an arbitrarily evil enemy threatening the realm with some poorly defined and easily surmountable force. Its weird to think about considering how beloved this franchise is, but with the exception of Return To Oz which at least made use of the talking chicken in the end, even the best of these movies is mostly inconsequential non-sequitur in search of a meaningful plot. Maybe that's what makes it so popular, like a Bella Swan for Depression era fantasy nerds, a blank slate upon which we can apply our own meaning - anything from believing in yourself to going back to the Gold Standard.

I mean, think about it, what do the Tin Man, The Scarecrow, or the Cowardly Lion actually add to the plot of the original movie apart from being other characters to talk to about all the random bullshit going on? They each have a song that expresses a nominal goal, and they each achieve that goal in the end one after the other by pure happenstance (and fakery), but none of the events of the story would have happened any differently if Dorothy had gone it alone like some kind of fruity dream world version of Gravity. Is there such a thing as Chekov's supporting cast? I know, I'm supposed to be talking about the new one here, which coincidentally utilizes the original trio at least in a bit of a novel way as they adapt to the qualities given to them by the Wizard, but then the movie proceeds to introduce a whole new group of useless magical people to gawk at the scenery, and I have to wonder why anyone bothered.

But then I'm getting ahead of myself, and let me tell you, there are certainly more reasons to wonder why anyone bothered to make this movie than the limitations of its source material. Legends Of Oz is a direct sequel to the original film, thus ignoring the only good one by once again pretending Return To Oz doesn't exist, in which Dorothy wakes up in her now tornado ravaged Kansas town, only to be whisked back to Oz, this time by a considerably less destructive magic rainbow. Once in Oz, she discovers that an evil Jester, the Wicked Witch's brother, has taken her broomstick and afixed to it the magical bauble of nonsense no one cares about in order to become the new evil ruler of the place, turning the leaders of all the Oz provinces into puppets...for some reason. This is one of those movies where "for some reason" can basically be filled in for every plot point, and to make matters worse, you get the sense that here its done on purpose, as if they think its cute. Its not.

I suppose I should start with the elephant in the room, namely the self-evidently shoddy animation. Somehow, I had it in my head that this movie must have been much older than it was, that it was actually produced many years ago with its release date pushed back to now, justifying the relatively poor quality of the visuals, but no, apparently this is as new as anything, and just this crappy on its own terms.  My benchmark for bad CGI animation is an obscure Scottish movie called Sir Billi only notable as Sean Connery's last film before retirement, and while this isn't quite that bad, the human characters including the famous protagonist are somehow less human and thus more uncanny valley creepy than the humans from the original 1995 Toy Story. In case you forgot, its fucking 2014, and there's no excuse for this in a theatrical movie! It naturally gets better once you get to a world of fantasy characters, but not enough to not make you question how this even got released.

All of which could have been forgiven if there was even one thing to latch onto as consistently entertaining. There are brief moments of potential here and there, mostly in terms of a better voice cast than this movie deserves headed up by Martin Short as the film's madcap villain, but its almost as if the movie goes out of its way to give them all as little as possible to do. The standout is probably Hannibal's Hugh Dancy as the good natured marshmallow knight from Candy Land, who manages to develop a romantic arc at least that's even somewhat touching once it looks like his love interest might be dead, even though it had been previously established that as a porcelain doll, she couldn't actually die and could be easily rebuilt. Oh wait, that's right. Fuck that manipulative bullshit! This is the kind of movie that makes me feel bad for Jim Belushi for goodness sake.

Oh, and did I mention that this is a musical? You wouldn't necessarily know it from the advertising, and while I can't really think of a way this movie could have been sold well considering how little they had to edit into TV spots, keeping the music out of them was a good call. The movie boasts (boasts!) a book of music co-penned by legendary Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, legendary of course for never being good at the thing he does for a living, and that trend continues here. My god is the music in this movie terrible. Its not just that its lazy superficial pablum, which it absolutely is, but its practically designed to be as forgettable as possible. Its the antithesis of catchy, as if Adam's knew he wouldn't want to be associated with this movie in the long run, so he somehow discovered the formula for music induced amnesia, like some sort of Anti-Kenny Loggins Equation (sort of like The Anti-Life Equation, but with less fascism).

In the age of Frozen and what at least used to be a stellar track record for Pixar, releasing a movie like Legends Of Oz: Dorothy's Return is indefensible. I don't care how much it cost to make it, or how much it would have cost to overhaul it and turn it into something watchable, simply trying to recoup the cost by shoveling something this substandard onto Mother's Day weekend in the hopes of making a profit on nostalgia alone is just, well, wrong. That's the context in which I saw this movie by the way, and even my mother hated this garbage, and she has terrible taste in movies. Even with the ad for Planes 2: Fire And Rescue coming before my screening of it, I would still argue that the bar has been set considerably higher than this movie, and in just about every way, it fails to meet the simple bare minimum requirements for a modern theatrically released animated feature. Even for the sucker's wasteland that is Straight to VOD, I'd still feel kinda bad about it. Judging by the box office, chances are you made the right choice in not seeing it. All I can say is, keep up the good work.
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