More than ruby slippers or poppies, the most magical ingredient in the story of Oz was simplicity. It's the reason we're all still familiar with a 75-year-old movie, "The Wizard of Oz," adapted from what's now a 114-year-old novel by L. Frank Baum. The lost little girl and her companions, all wishing for powers they already have -- these characters resonate in a way that needs no explanation.
Simplicity has been missing from every "Oz" sequel since. After all, the only way to continue a story is to complicate it. Subsequent screenwriters (and Baum himself) have come up with whimsical new characters like Jack Pumpkinhead, from the 1985 flop "Return to Oz," and clever new story lines like the Wizard's tale in last year's "Oz the Great and Powerful," but none have had the original story's powerful, mythical simplicity.
A new animated movie, "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return," continues the tradition. Based on a 1989 novel by Baum's great-grandson, Roger Stanton Baum, it begins just as Dorothy Gale (the voice of Lea Michele, of Fox's "Glee") regains consciousness in her tornado-ravaged house. Within moments, however, a rainbow-shaped teleporter whisks her back to Oz, where years have passed. Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd) is now a math whiz, the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) can't control his emotions and the Lion (Jim Belushi) is a blustery brawler.
That beloved trio is quickly incapacitated by the evil Jester (a manic Martin Short), leaving Dorothy to find new companions. Ranging from ill-conceived to grotesque, they include the mordibly obese owl Wiser (Oliver Platt), a candy soldier named Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and Dainty China Princess, an insufferably privileged 18th century aristocrat (Megan Hilty) whose hollow porcelain body seems almost intended as a Marxist metaphor. Bernadette Peters is the voice of a spaced-out Glinda; Patrick Stewart plays a tree so old he begs to be whittled into a boat.
Stiffly animated, sluggishly directed (by Daniel St. Pierre and Will Finn) and padded out with generic Broadway-rock tunes co-written by Bryan Adams (yep, the one who sang "Cuts Like a Knife" in 1983), "Legends of Oz" feels like the opposite of the original film. Underneath its aggressive distractions and dim ideas, it has no heart.
PLOT Dorothy Gale must save Oz from a new villain, The Jester.
RATING PG (some scary images and mild peril)
CAST Voices of Lea Michele, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Kelsey Grammer
BOTTOM LINE An uninspired sequel with weird characters, generic rock songs and none of the original story's heart.