LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN Frankly, I'm baffled by this one. With subpar animation, beyond generic songs (thank you, Bryan Adams), and a voice cast that should have known better (for the most part), I'm not sure how this Oz-set feature ever got greenlit in the first place. LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN tells the story of Dorothy Gale (voiced by "Glee's" Lea Michele) coming back to Oz almost as soon as she's recovered from her last, more famous trip. Of course, time moves differently in Oz, so for her friends the Scarecrow (Dan Aykoyd), the Lion (Jim Belushi) and the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer), many months have gone by.
They call Dorothy back in a time of crisis. A new force of evil in the form of The Jester (Martin Short, who at least injects a little energy into the proceedings) has made himself known and kidnapped Glinda (Bernadette Peters), so Dorothy and her male harem make their way to the Emerald City once again, this time picking up a few new friends along the way, including Wiser the owl (Oliver Platt), Tugg the tugboat (Patrick Stewart), Marshall Mallow (Hugh Dancy) and China Princess (Megan Hilty), who bears more than a slight resemblance to China Doll from last year's Oz the Great and Powerful.
They sing awful, forgettable songs along the way and encounter mildly dangerous situations, but this film is so clearly aimed at young children that you can almost smell the bleach from all of the sanitizing. Sure, the Jester outright threatens to kill Dorothy and her pals, but you never really get the sense that he's got it in him. By the way, at times Jester puts on white makeup and looks a whole lot like Heath Ledger's Joker, which might be the only thing that freaks kids out, but I'm guessing adults will be more troubled by it.
The source material for DOROTHY'S RETURN isn't even officially based on the stories of L. Frank Baum, but rather on the writings of his great-grandson, Roger Stanton Baum, and I think we know how well continuations of beloved stories like those set in Oz always turn out, especially when they're done by a family member. Ugh! Co-directors Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre are both Disney art department veterans during the studios modern heyday from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. But Finn also directed two terrible animated features, THE ROAD TO EL DORADO (for DreamWorks) and HOME ON THE RANGE (for Disney), and sadly his streak continues with this film.
I know DOROTHY'S RETURN isn't aimed at grown folks like me, but the level of pandering to kids on display is frankly an embarrassment. Kids actually enjoy being challenged by anything they watch, and if you don't stimulate their minds in any way, they get restless fast; trust me. I've watched some of the great animated works of Disney and Pixar in audiences filled with kids, and if they're entranced by what's on screen, they sit there quiet and still, wide-eyed and hypnotized. But this latest cashing in on the Oz name has none of that, and the kids in my audience were bored to tears. I feel for your kids, I truly do. In all seriousness, your kids are probably more excited and will be more transfixed if you wait a week at take them to see that movie about giant monsters that trample Japan and San Francisco. Save your money, parents. Seriously.
MOMS' NIGHT OUT Speaking of suck-fests... I'll admit, I didn't do my research before going into the wacky comedy MOMS' NIGHT OUT. Somewhere in the back of my head, I remember seeing a trailer about a group of moms handing over their kids to the dads and going out for a much-need girls' night, presumably filled with floppy wieners at a male strip club, brushes with the police, and other examples of sordid behavior that would be right at home in a racy, R-rated comedy.
Except no. Because when you do some actual digging on this film, you notice two important things. First off, this is a PG-rated movie. How is that even possible? That question is answer by point number two: MOMS' NIGHT OUT is directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin, makers of the faith-based offering from a few years back, OCTOBER BABY. So, yes, this new comedy is actually a Christian's version of a wild and crazy party film filled with terrible jokes, kooky characters and more life lessons about family and God than you can shake a heathen at. But the ultimate message of the film (if I'm reading it right) is that woman are really the only ones capable of taking care of kids because men (one of whom is played by Sean Astin, by the way) are just too irresponsible. How did this ever get made?
And the worst part about MOMS' NIGHT OUT is that it's a sneaky son of a bitch. There's a little bit of church-going in the beginning, but I assumed that was strictly to introduce the preacher's wife character, Sondra (Patricia Heaton), a buttoned-down woman whom we discover later had a wild past that she taps into again for this night out. She actually seems to be encouraging her fellow lady friends to cut loose a little bit and enjoy their crazy night out—which includes a messed-up reservation at a nice restaurant, losing their car, and much commiserating about the pressure of being a mom and wife. The leader of this gaggle is Allyson (Sarah Drew, who is on "Grey's Anatomy," I hear, and that's all I need to know), married to Sean (Astin), and saddled with too many kids and not enough time. She's also feeling under-appreciated, but not in an R-rated, or even PG-13-rated, way.
The film is tolerable to begin with, but once the evening out commences, you might as well double up on the cyanide pills, because otherwise you are in for a long night at the movies. Drew seems to think that playing Allyson as a screechy, hysterical person who overreacts to every situation inappropriately is funny. It's not; it's annoying as hell. The men decide to have a little get-together of their own and someone loses their kids through a series of contrivances and worse-than-sitcom-like behavior. MOMS' NIGHT OUT is the type of film that thinks that having bikers, tattoo artists and neglectful moms as part of its story somehow makes it edgy, when in fact everything is so safe and sanitized that it makes you want to vomit.
There's truly no part of this film I can point to as being interesting, entertaining or worthy of playing on any size screen. Yet on the big screen they will appear, taking up valuable real estate where a lesser-known indie might settle in for a week or two. Instead, we get this garbage, this runny crap that sends women back the stone age and men on their way back to the frat houses and man caves of a bygone era. Seriously, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING had more peril and balls than MOMS' NIGHT OUT.