Movie Review: ‘Legends of Oz’ a dud at the end of the rainbow

"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return."

‘Legends of Oz’

★ 1/2

I don’t know, maybe this is unreasonable, but I can’t help thinking that if you’re going to make a movie with “Oz” in the title, you’d better be prepared to kick in at least a little inspiration.

Yet that’s precisely what’s missing in the painfully uninspired “Legends of Oz.” No matter what you thought of last year’s “Oz the Great and Powerful,” at least it served up some imaginative oomph. No such luck here.

Based on the original by L. Frank Baum and “Dorothy of Oz,” one of a series of books written by Baum’s great-grandson Roger Stanton Baum, the animated family adventure is subtitled “Dorothy’s Return.” Because that’s what happens, revolving-door style. First she returns to Kansas, where the tornado-devastated family farm is about to be condemned, and then she’s whisked back to Oz after being tracked down and sucked up by a giant rainbow.

Okay, give them a couple of points for the vacuum-cleaner rainbow.

After that, though, we’ve still got about 70 minutes to go and a whole lot of cloying and/or obnoxiously peppy Broadway/pop songs (including a few by rock star Bryan Adams) to get through. As Dorothy (Lea Michele of “Glee”) sets out to rescue Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man (Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi and Kelsey Grammer) and save Oz from the menacingly manic clutches of the Jester (Martin Short). Who’s more than a little reminiscent of a certain comic-book super villain. You know, the one from Gotham City. Whose name also begins with a J.

The almost-always amusing Short does his best and he actually scores, now and then, with what sounds like improvised dialogue. “You’re laughing at me,” he says at one point, for example. “It’s the costume, isn’t it?”

Otherwise, it’s a little shocking how leaden the jokes are in this movie. “What a great wall,” says Dorothy’s new companion Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) when they reach the walled border of Dainty China Country. “It’s china,” someone says. At which point he updates: “What a great wall of china.”

Now, it could be argued that “Legends of Oz” is meant to be strictly for little kids, and that sort of thing might be age-appropriate humor. But I can say that I saw it with a theater full of 3- to 6-year-old kids and after that gag (actually, after most of them) you could hear the crickets a-chirpin’. Maybe that means it went over their heads, but I’d rather think they know a turkey when they see one. Which kind of suggests maybe there’s some hope for the planet after all.

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