The merry old land of Oz ceases being so merry in the cheaply animated, generically written "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return."
Dorothy (voiced by Lea Michele) doesn't really return to Oz so much as she's abducted by the Scarecrow (voiced by Dan Aykroyd in annoying, high-pitched imperatives). He uses a scary magic rainbow with multicolored hands to snatch her (and Toto, too!) from her economically blighted Kansas homestead.
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"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return"★ ½
Starring: Lea Michele, Jim Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, Dan Aykroyd, Oliver Platt, Megan Hilty, Martin Short, Bernadette Peters, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Dancy
Directed by: Dan St. Pierre and Will Fenn
Other: A Clarius Entertainment release. Rated PG. 88 minutes
"This doesn't look like the Oz I remember!" she says, reading our minds.
Turns out that Oz has been taken over by a sinister villain called the Jester (Martin Short, long on loudness).
He magically transformed Glinda the Good Witch (Bernadette Peters, sounding as if her voice is stuck on slow playback) and the leaders of Emerald City into marionettes that he keeps strung up in vaults along a wall.
This Jester should not be confused with Batman's nemesis the Joker, which might be understandable after the Jester's facial makeup becomes smeared, recalling Heath Ledger's iconic characterization from "The Dark Knight." (DC Comics did offer a cop-turned-superhero named the Jester in the 1940s. Marvel Comics used a Jester supervillain to battle Daredevil.)
How exactly the Scarecrow thinks Dorothy can stop the Jester, especially since he's armed with a magic staff from his deceased sister, the Wicked Witch, isn't clear.
Dorothy re-teams with Scarecrow, the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and the formerly Cowardly Lion (Jim Belushi) to thwart this new menace to Emerald City.
Along the way, Dorothy picks up new recruits: a seemingly flightless, doddering old owl named Wiser (Oliver Platt), a boat named Tugg (Patrick Stewart), a soldier named Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and the dainty, delicate China Princess (Megan Hilty), who breaks more than her heart.
"Legends of Oz," co-directed by Dan St. Pierre and Will Finn, is not based on any work written by original "Wizard of Oz" creator L. Frank Baum, but on a book by his great-grandson Roger Stanton Baum.
This story purports to take place soon after Dorothy returned to the black-and-white landscapes of Kansas at the end of the 1939 classic musical.
Yet, Dorothy's home is now set in the 21st century when a bad economy has forced Auntie Em and Uncle Henry to sell their condemned farm house to an unscrupulous bank executive (Short, again).
No attempt has been made to carry any of the 1939 personalities into this sequel. Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man could fit comfortably into a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. (Scarecrow calls Dorothy "Kiddo." Seriously?)
Buoyed by serviceable songs and puns that youngsters will enjoy (a Candy County jury of Dorothy's peeps is a dozen real Peeps), "Legends of Oz" uses hokey animation that occasionally makes Dorothy look a little creepy, as if she just came from a Children of the Corn convention.
"Things are better by the minute!" Scarecrow crows to Dorothy.
Not even a straw poll would agree with that.