“Oh, Toto,” says Dorothy (“Glee’s” Lea Michelle), “This doesn’t look like the Oz I remember.”
Tell it, sister.
Why why why why why take the most beloved family film of all time, based on a cherished book, and make a charmless sequel based, not on the other books by the original author, but on a story by the original author’s stockbroker grandson?
The original The Wizard of Oz has survived other attempts to build on its imperishable appeal, and it will survive this one, too. A bigger challenge will be for the audiences who try to struggle through this version, much too long at under 90 minutes.
Here is what is not too bad. The voice talent is excellent, with Broadway divas Bernadette Peters (as Glinda) and Megan Hilty (China Princess), a kindly Patrick Stewart (a tree), a dashing Hugh Dancy (Marshal Mallow — he’s a marshmallow, get it?), Martin Short as the wicked Jester, and shambling Oliver Platt as an enormous owl called Wiser (names are not this film’s strong point, either). The opening credits spin out of a 3D tornado that is pretty nifty.
That’s about it. The animation is garish and uninspired. The songs range from forgettable to not awful. The story is dreary. And the dialog is painful. “Emerald City needs all the heart and courage it can get right now!” says the Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd) to the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammar) and the Lion (Jim Belushi) — Cowardly has been dropped from his name. This is apparently a cue for some excruciating bro-talk like “Can it, rust-bucket!” Can you imagine a line like “I have a large piece of bark lodged in my hindquarters” in the original? TMI, Wiser, way TMI. The attempts at humor are especially tough going. When Dorothy is hauled into court, she has to face the “peanut gallery” of candy peanuts and a jury of her peeps made up of Peeps. When Wiser says he is scared of the dark, the response is, “You’re nocturnal. Get a grip.” Oh, and the flying monkeys are here, and their leader has a pink mohawk.
Emerald City is indeed in trouble and they need Dorothy’s help. In Oz, years have passed, but back in Kansas it is the morning after the tornado and yet taking place in modern times — Auntie Em wears jeans. Dorothy’s house has been destroyed and this movie’s version of Agnes Gulch is an appraiser (Short again) who says he is “government-adjacent” and condemns all the property in the area. Before Dorothy can do something about this, she and Toto are whisked through a rainbow vacuum tube and find themselves back in Oz.
It turns out the Wicked Witches of the East and West had a brother, the Jester. He is capturing people and turning them into marionettes, so he can take over Oz. He has even captured Glinda, using the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West plus a magical orb that intensifies its power.
Dorothy and Toto meet up with Wiser, Marshal Mallow, and China Princess on their journey. They have dreary adventures and finally arrive for the confrontation with the Jester, which is surprisingly violent for a film for children. Weapons include a sort of gatling gun. The China princess appears to shatter. But all is resolved, finally, so that Dorothy can go home and set that appraiser guy to rights.
The best one can hope for from this movie is that it will be a potent deterrent to those who want to try to make more Oz movies, and a powerful reminder to families that they can best go over the rainbow by watching the classic.
Parents should know that this movie has fantasy violence and peril and scenes of post-storm destruction.
Family discussion: What could Dorothy do that the others could not? How did what she learned in Oz help her back home?
If you like this, try: the Judy Garland “Wizard of Oz” and the books by L. Frank Baum (great for family reading aloud)