There has been a drastic change in the world of children’s movies since the pioneering Pixar group. The likes of Toy Story and Finding Nemo showed the world that you can have a delightful, entertaining, morally good story for the kids, but with humour, wit and some satire for the parents. Pixar did not stand alone in this achievement as Disney has dominated the world of animated musicals for many years and DreamWorks broke the mould of traditional animation with the first Shrek released in 2001. With that being said, any contender would have to do something magical, and ground breaking to compete with these, but sadly that is not this feature film. Legends of Oz does not have the same production value, nor the humour, to be in the same league. On top of that the story and characters are not original at all.
The story picks up immediately after the first episode that we all know from the popular book “The Wizard of Oz”. But if you’re cultured and over 30, you will have seen and appreciate the Judy Garland musical hit film of 1939. Throughout the movie there are many references to the 1939 film, including small quirks in the voicing of The Cowardly Lion, and key phrases from the old beloved songs. Listen out for the familiar music in the scenes with the flying monkeys.
Dorothy (Lea Michelle) awakes to find her family farm in ruins after the tornado, and her parents are forced by the villain to foreclose and vacate. On her way out Dorothy is summoned and swooped up by The Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), who is now a genius, by means of a magic rainbow. The three old side-kicks are in need of Dorothy’s help in saving Oz from the schemes of the evil puppet master, The Jester (Martin Short). The teleporting bridges fails halfway and Dorothy is dumped in the middle of Oz, with no option but to, again, follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City. Along the way she meets many new characters and forms a new gang. She stumbles upon a city of people made from candy, a city of porcelain dolls and an old tree, played by Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard. Dorothy and her new gang learn hard lessons about trust, team work and believing in one’s self, but not before the Jester plays a few tricks on them.
This is a painful to watch if you are more than 6 years old; insufferable at times. The characters are over-the-top eccentric, the camera motions are nauseating and the script looks like a first attempt, and holds little for the adults. You will find weak puns and the odd toilet humour, even a few reference to the movie Dumb and Dumber, by Toto the dog. The animation has enough 3D content to make you blink or duck a few times but unfortunately the style of animation itself is not at all believable or polished. The characters and world-physics are “cartoony”, non-descript and inconsistent, something you would get on a Saturday morning animation. The camera composition and set production is somewhat like a Broadway stage musical, with lots of 2D style foreground movement with background images. This does bring a unique flavour and redeems the music, which is distinctly Bryan Adams (the main composer) with the typical male on male harmonies and strong guitar parts. Unfortunately it lacks the catchy lyrical wonder of his career and other current animated musicals. It’s hard to establish any admiration for Dorothy as a heroine, because there is nothing that she does that actually contributes to the victories of the villain’s various hindrances; all is done by her friends, whom she helps learn about themselves and cherish each other. Most of the fighting is done by her ADHD puppy and the army of candy soldiers, who fight with M&M’s for bullets and jaw-breakers for cannonballs. The supporting characters from the old movie feature for about 10 minutes in total and the three new characters are shamefully replicated from the three old ones. There’s a clueless marshmallow man, a heartless china princess and a cowardly owl. In the end they walk away with figurative brains, heart, and courage.
A poor, yet very expensive, effort from Prana Animation Studios is not good enough for the 2014 big screen. This will be the last DVD in the back of the cupboard that you were ashamed you bought to “entertain” your children for 92 minutes. You may find moments of nostalgia thinking of Judy Garland and her companions, with the few quick quip phrases, musical notes and references, or find it offensive that this is to be its successor. If you do watch it, then look out for the Batman: Dark Knight’s Joker face make-up reference. If you need an afternoon off from the kids, then save yourself and send them with your baby-sitter, and enjoy the peace and quiet at home.