Dark reimaginings of The Wizard of Oz are all the rage, but what we saw of the upcoming computer-animated Dorothy of Oz suggests there's still some kiddie magic left to share. Also, Patrick Stewart voices a tree with multiple personalities.
Dorothy of Oz is a computer-animated adaptation of the 1989 book of the same name, written by L. Frank Baum's great-grandson Roger Baum. The story is a continuation of the original story, as Dorothy Gale returns to Kansas to find the family farm devastated by the tornado that brought her to Oz in the first place. She's soon transported back to Oz, thanks to a combination rainbow/tornado operated by her old friends the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.
There, she finds Oz is under threat from the Jester, a highly over-the-top villain who wants to conquer the magical realm, and who has some eerie parallels with the heartless bureaucrat who just condemned the Gale homestead. Dorothy takes off on a new journey, encountering a gigantic talking owl, a man made entirely of marshmallows who has trouble thinking for himself, and a very loud, bossy princess made out of finest china.
The movie features a fun voice cast, including Glee's Lea Michele as Dorothy, Martin Short as the Jester, Dan Aykroyd as the Scarecrow, Kelsey Grammer as the Tin Man, Jim Belushi as the Cowardly Lion, Hugh Dancy as Marshall Mallow, Oliver Platt as Wiser the Owl, Wicked's Megan Hilty as the princess, and, of course, Patrick Stewart as Tugg, an ancient tree that gains a new personality every time a piece of him is taken away.
Make no mistake - this is a kid's movie through and through. While the footage I saw didn't feature a ton of dialogue, this doesn't seem like the kind of movie that's going to feature a lot of Shrek style pop culture references or double entendres, which admittedly makes it pretty much automatically better than 85% of kid's entertainment these day. The movie seems intent to capture the whimsy and weirdness at the heart of the Baum books. The movie is also a musical, and Bryan Adams has written some pretty beautiful songs for Michele and Hilty to sing.
I think kids could get a lot out of this as a continuation of the Oz story, but I'm less sure of the appeal this has for adults. The computer animation isn't bad, but it lacks the depth and artistry of Pixar or Dreamworks. The story itself seems a little on the simple side, with the romantic and villainous elements pitched very broadly for the kids to enjoy. The songs and their performances might actually be the saving grace here - I'll admit that, much as my adult eyes weren't wowed by what I saw, the combination of the songs and images made me get some sense of the magic Dorothy of Oz is trying to evoke.
I didn't get a whole lot out of Dorothy of Oz, but there's a very real possibility that I'm just a joyless old grump. If nothing else, I'm definitely not a little kid, and I'm guessing that Dorothy of Oz will be just right for them. The movie is currently set for an August 2012 release.