Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

The Steam Engines of Oz is an animated film based on the Arcana comic of the same name.  Arcana is a fun little independent comic company that publishes some great books by fantastic comic creators.  They published my comic Philly and now that book is worth $36.5 million.  True story.  The only other Arcana animated film that I’ve seen is Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom which a comic I really, really enjoyed.  Unfortunately I couldn’t make it through that film and just shut it off.  I really think they murdered that comic with that film.

I never read The Steam Engines of Oz so I’m not sure how good the adaptation of the story is.  I went in optimistic because I generally enjoy anything based on The Wizard of Oz.  The last animated feature I saw about Oz, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, was not very good though I did enjoy the animation.  So I had my fingers crossed going in that this would at least trump that film.  It did not.  In fact almost everything about this film just felt tired from the plot to the animation.

I’ll tackle the plot first.  The film revolves around a young girl named Victoria wh0 basically runs around Emerald City fixing things.  Technology in Oz has grown since the days of Dorothy and has a bit of a steampunk feel to the world.  Victoria is suddenly swept away by a bunch of winged monkeys so you think the bad guys have captured her.  It turns out that these winged monkeys actually work for Locasta who is a good witch queen lady.

Locasta tells Victoria that the Tin Man is destroying the Emerald Forest in an attempt to save someone he loves.  Tin Man is now a king or something which may be something that happened in the later Baum books that I never read or was just done for this comic/movie.  So Victoria is tasked to go forth and figure out how to stop King Tin Man.  She’s first joined by Gromit, a Munchkin, and Mr. Dig who is the brother of good ol’ Oz.  As describing this plot is boring me to tears I’ll say she is later joined by the Scarecrow and the Lion to stop Tin Man by finding his lost heart.

I hate taking away from this film because I know that it is an independently made animated film.  The cost of making such a film cannot be cheap but everything about the animation here looks extremely cheap.  Very cheap and completely lacking.  The animation actually reminded me very much of the unfinished animation from the infamous film Food Fight, just a bit better rendered.  Nearly all of the animation throughout the film comes off completely stiff and almost all of the characters just have a very weird look.  It is now twenty plus years past the first Toy Story but this film doesn’t hold a candle to the Pixar film animation wise.  Now maybe that is a very unfair comparison as Pixar is one of the industry’s giants.  So I’ll compare it to Hoodwinked – an animated film that I thought looked kind of bad back when it was released back in 2005.  Imagine a pre-viz version of Hoodwinked and you have The Steam Engines of Oz.

Now there is some good in the animation.  Whenever the film goes into a montage a completely different look is given for those scenes.  This animation is fantastic and every single time the film goes to one of these montages I thought to myself, “Why didn’t they just use this animation for the entire film!?!”  While 99% of these characters look awful, I will say that the animation used for the Tin Man is fantastic.  The Tin Man looks so great that any time he is onscreen with any other characters you see how out of place he is.  He shows how bad the animation is because he looks so good.

The plot moves along pretty quickly but doesn’t really throw much exposition at you.  I found this to be a bit off-putting.  As I’m not too familiar with the Oz books, the only experiences I have with this world is through the films I watch.  In The Steam Engines of Oz you are thrown right into the story, introduced to Victoria, given her mission, and off she goes.  It helps in this sort of circumstance to have some sort of character who may be new.    Usually if there is a new character, the audience can easily accept the exposition because this new character is given information about this world that he/she would not know.  Not much exposition here.  You are thrown into the deep end and just expected to tread water.

Where’s Dorothy?  Who knows.  The back of the Blu-ray case says that it is 100 years past Dorothy’s time so I guess she’s dead.  Except the film also says that the citizens of Oz don’t age.  So maybe she shouldn’t have moved back to Kansas?  Why is Tin Man king?  I dunno.  The film talks about this fight being a war with one character even stating something like we need to bring an end to this war.  The war?  It’s like Victoria’s 6 member crew versus Tin Man’s 15 or so soldiers.  That’s not a war.  That’s a skirmish or at least enough people for a decent game of flag football.

With not much backstory to Victoria you feel zero connection with her.  Same with her team.  Even when we get to Lion and Scarecrow the animation is so bad you feel zero connection with them too.  Scarecrow is locked away and ends up having to be saved by Victoria.  He looks like a dirty old creepy man who is thrown in jail after being ripped out of his rape van.  I’m not joking.  He was in my nightmare last night.  He threw me in his rape van.  He gave me the bad touch.

The film was actually able to pick up some decent vocal talent.  William Shatner voices the great Oz so I thought that was a hell of a get.  Ron Perlman voices the Lion but it doesn’t really sound like Ron Perlman.  Why hire a talent like Ron Perlman who has such a wonderful voice only to have him not sound like Ron Perlman?  That puzzled the crap out of me.  Julianne Hough voices Locasta and I have no clue who she is.  Once I looked her up I found out that she was on Dancing with the Stars (which I never watched) before going on to acting in a bunch of films I’ve never seen except for Rock of Ages (which I don’t remember her in even though she was a main character).  But looking at her picture on her bio she is gorgeous, so she has that going for her.  Many of the voices seem to come from the O’Reilly family, which makes sense since Arcana’s Sean O’Reilly wrote and directed the film based on his own graphic novel.  For the next animated film I volunteer my voice free of charge.  I’m already an accomplished voice actor whose credits include Thankskilling 3 so you know I’m going places.

At this point I’m very interested in how this adaptation was so I’ll pick up the comic series on Comixology.  Perhaps the original comic was able to convey this story better as a comic frees you up from any and all limitations.  As for the film?  Fans of Arcana comics and films or hardcore fans of Oz may like it. But except for a slight few redeeming qualities, The Steam Engines of Oz just didn’t play well for me.


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