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'Legends of Oz'

China Princess, Dorothy Gale and Marshal Mallow from "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return."

When most of us watch a movie, we pay no attention to the men and women behind the curtain. But especially in an animated film, there are minions doing the dirty work, one frame at a time. They may not be as important as the director, the screenwriter and the actors, but sometimes the crew’s handicraft is the most interesting thing in the film.

Case in point: “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.” This musical ’toon isn’t made for anyone old enough to operate a remote control, let alone remember the MGM classic, but the dubious, discount-bin eye candy could keep the chaperones awake.

In the books by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy returned to Oz several times, but none of the stories was set in the 21st century, like this one. Dorothy (voice of Lea Michelle) is still living in tornado-plagued Kansas, where the good folks are losing their property to an evil bureaucrat (Martin Short). But before Dorothy can save the farm, she gets sucked back over the rainbow by those needy nincompoops the Scarecrow (Dan Akyroyd), the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and the Lion (James Belushi). They need her help to defeat the evil Joker (Short), who has imprisoned the good witch Glinda (Bernadette Peters).

In Oz, Dorothy and Toto acquire a new set of traveling companions to lead them to the Emerald City: flightless bird-brain Wiser the Owl (Oliver Platt), gallant candy-man Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and tiny diva China Princess (Megan Hilty). When they discover that the Yellow Brick Road has been washed away by floods, they float down river on Tugg (Patrick Stewart), the only oak tree in the Haunted Forest who isn’t still mad at Dorothy about that apple incident from years ago.

Of course, there are songs, by a motley crew of tunesmiths who include Bryan Adams, but except for a showstopper tailor-made for Short, they don’t make much of an impact. Ditto for the script, which is woefully lacking in the kind of wisecracks for grown-ups that make the Pixar and “Shrek” movies cross-generational hits.

Yet if you’re old enough to read this and you find yourself at a screening, try thinking about the munchkins who worked so hard on the psychedelic scenery.

And if counting Plasticine sugarplums doesn’t help pass the 88 minutes, click your heels and softly repeat: “There’s no place like home.”


What “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” • Two stars out of four • Rating PG • Run time 1:28 • Content Some mild peril

Joe Williams is the film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.