May 8, 2014 Updated: May 8, 2014 at 9:35 am
Starring: Voices of Lea Michele, Martin Short, Hugh Dancy, Oliver Platt, Bernadette Peters, Megan Hilty, Dan Aykroyd, Patrick Stewart, Jim Belushi; directed by Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre; 88 minutes; PG for some scary images and mild peril; D+
"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" is a harmless, but almost charmless, adaptation of a book by L. Frank Baum's grandson. It's a derivative hash of grandpa's story, set in the present day and given forgettable new tunes by pop songsmiths such as Bryan Adams.
And it's in 3-D, of course.
This work, animated at Prana in India, has decent production design - a dark, abandoned Emerald City, a shiny, porcelain sheen in Oz's "Dainty China Country." And the animated characters are beautifully rendered, even if their faces don't have the expression and plasticity that Pixar, Blue Sky, Disney and Sony have managed in their recent films.
Dorothy (Lea Michele), Toto, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry survive a tornado that trashes their corner of Kansas. An unscrupulous real estate hustler (Martin Short) is ready to buy out the whole shattered town. But before Dorothy can stop this foreclosure fraud, a rainbow snatches her and drags her back to Oz - her and her little dog, too.
With unknown animation entities, the rule is that the more impressive the voice cast, the weaker the script. Hire great Brits Patrick Stewart (as a boat), Brian Blessed and Hugh Dancy (who croons a tune or two) and maybe you can cover up the startling lack of humor on the page.
Except it never does.
Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers