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MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz” was a musical film that became a classic! It’s been loved and adored by children and families alike for generations. The songs have been instilled into modern culture as well as the characters. Hence it wasn’t long before other film adaptations based on the books were made in an effort to capture the success that “The Wizard of Oz” brought.
The Disney company was also among those who got into the action. Last year, for example, they released a film intended to be a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” called, “Oz: The Great and Powerful”. I thought it was quite good and you can find my review of it here.
But in 1985, Disney make a “sequel” to the classic film entitled “Return to Oz”. It would be nothing like the original film in terms of tone and would instead be a quite dark and macabre tale bereft of songs and musical numbers. Most likely due to this change in tone, the film was a box office flop, but managed to gain a cult following over the years.
So is the film bad or good? Let’s find out on the yellow brick road of reviewing! Ha, see what I did there? Yellow brick road of re….umm…ok…moving on!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie takes place a few months after Dorothy’s adventures in Oz. Dorothy, played by Fairuza Balk,
can’t seem to stop talking about the wonderful land of Oz which causes her Aunt Em, played by Piper Laurie, to worry. She believes that Oz was just a hallucination of Dorothy’s and that Dorothy may be having serious mental problems causing her to believe that her trip was real.
(An interesting thing to point out is that the three workers who were working for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in “The Wizard of Oz” don’t appear at all in this film. Actually, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry don’t seem to have ANY farmhands! Did they just fire the trio soon after the twister for…I dunno…influencing Dorothy’s dreams with their likenesses?)
Exactly how sure is Dorothy that her journey was real? Well, one day after a meteor shower, she finds a random key on the farm with the letters, “OZ” carved on it. She then logically assumed that it’s a key sent by the Scarecrow to Dorothy via a meteor that passed by on the previous night. I mean, how can anyone not come to that conclusion?!
Because of this and other events, Aunt Em decides that Dorothy is in need of treatment, so she takes her to a “doctor” in town who specializes in electrotherapy (a new way of treatment at the time). Dr. Worley, played by Nicol Williamson, suggests that electricity flowing through Dorothy’s body is enough to get her to stop the hallucinations. (Of course, he doesn’t tell this to Dorothy or Aunt Em, at least not in those exact words).
Being content with the facility, Aunt Em leaves Dorothy there with the intention of coming back to pick her up when the treatment is over. After she leaves, Dorothy is left under the care of Head Nurse Wilson, played by Jean Marsh. The nurse takes Dorothy to a room where she’s locked in until it’s time for the operation.
Still dreaming about Oz and whether or not the Scarecrow DID send the key, she suddenly sees a random girl in her room with her…despite the room being empty before and the door being locked! And like all young
girls people, she isn’t curious AT ALL about this and doesn’t question this at all! Because we all would’ve done the same, right?
Finally, the time for the operation arrives and the Head Nurse Wilson comes to collect Dorothy and asks her if she wants a ride.
As Dorothy goes on her “ride”, she starts to fear about what’s going to happen and starts to lose trust in the “medical genius” of the establishment. Thankfully before the operation commences, a storm occurs that causes a blackout. Whilst Dr. Worley and Head Nurse Wilson rush to get the lights back on, the random girl appears out of nowhere and helps Dorothy escape and like before, Dorothy doesn’t question her being there.
They both run into the storm away from the establishment until they come to a raging river. In the end, the random girl apparently drowns and Dorothy wakes up in a chicken coop in the land of Oz. Oh boy, are storms the only method of transportation to the land of Oz?
Anyway, she realizes where she is and notices a hen from her aunt’s farm named Bellina with her in the chicken coop. So in this film, we don’t get a dog named Toto as Dorothy’s companion; instead we get a talking hen who has trouble laying eggs as Dorothy’s companion. Lucky us!
Dorothy soon discovers that Oz is quite different from when she remembered. No Munchkins seem to be around, the yellow brick road has been nigh destroyed, and the Emerald City seems to have lost its emeralds as well as life. All the inhabitants are stoned (I mean TURNED into stone)
and there’s no sign of the Scarecrow. But, we do have the Wheelers!
No, I mean, the Wheelers!
Yes, the Wheelers: frightening gangs on four legs’ worth of wheels who speak in male versions of the Wicked Witch of the West’s voice, terrorize Dorothy, and have an extreme prejudice against chickens (Bellina) for some reason.
Dorothy runs away from the Wheelers into a secret room (opened by that mysterious key she correctly assumed was from Oz) and wonders how to get out from there without running into the Wheelers again.
In this secret room, she meets the most awesome character of the film, a sort of robot soldier named Tik-Tok. Tik-Tok is a machine, but can talk, move, and even think depending on whether or not you wind those particular motors on his back.
As Dorothy manages to wind him up, they instantly become friends and Tik-Tok helps her leave the secret room and take care of the Wheelers.
By now, Tik-Tok tells Dorothy what’s been going on: a figure called the Nome King has taken over Emerald City and taken the Scarecrow prisoner. In an effort to help, both Dorothy and Tik-Tok (and Bellina, of course) head to a local witch named Mombi for help. Mombi is Head Nurse Wilson’s Oz counterpart, hence played by the same actress, and has an interesting head on her shoulders. I mean, has interesting MULTIPLE HEADS ON HER SHOULDERS AT DIFFERENT TIMES! You see, the witch decapitates women with heads that she adores, stores the heads, and wears different heads on different days as to her liking.
And when she sees Dorothy’s face, she realizes that when Dorothy gets older, her face will be quite pretty. This of course means that Mombi must have it! So instead of helping, Mombi captures Dorothy and locks her in her attic. In the attic, Dorothy meets a live talking pumpkin figure named Jack,
no it’s actually a pumpkin-headed figure named Jack…Pumpkinhead.
Ignore him. THIS is what Jack Pumpkinhead looks like.
Jack Pumpkinhead seems to think that Dorothy is his mother whom he hasn’t seen in years….
and tells Dorothy that he’s alive because of a secret potion that Mombi has in her cabinet. So Dorothy quickly devises a plan. She uses a moose’s head from the attic, and with the help of Tik-Tok and Jack (and Bellina, of course), puts the head on a couch, attaches wings made of palm leaves, escapes from the attic, steals the potion, makes the moose-headed flying couch come to life….
and flies away from Mombi with her friends!
Where are they headed? Well, they decide to fly straight towards the Nome King’s mountain to deal with him once and for all. Once there, Dorothy tells the Nome King
to give back what he stole because it’s not nice to steal.
When that doesn’t work, she threatens to attack him with her army of a robotic soldier in need of winding, a pumpkin-headed character (with a non-egg-laying hen hiding inside his head so that not even the Nome King knows she’s there), and a flying, talking, moose-headed, be-winged couch…..
Yeah, this doesn’t really frighten the Nome King all that much, to be honest….
The Nome King then decides to make a deal with Dorothy. He owns many valuables/trinkets and has transformed the Scarecrow into one of them. And he allows all four of them (he doesn’t see Bellina, of course) to go into his trinket room one-by-one and make three guesses each as to which of the trinkets is the Scarecrow. If they’re right, the Scarecrow comes back to life, if not, they all turn into ornaments themselves.
Long story short, they all start turning into ornaments which makes the Nome King become more and more human (and since he’s Dr. Worley’s Oz counterpart, he’s played by the same actor)
until it’s Dorothy’s turn and on her last try, she gets it right!
The Scarecrow was apparently an emerald-like ornament and she comes to the conclusion that her other friends have become green ornaments themselves, so the Scarecrow and she look to find and un-transform their friends which they do, but not before the Nome King gets mad!
They’re about to be destroyed, Jack in particular who’s about to be eaten, when Bellina pops out of his eye socket
causing the Nome King to panic. Then she finally lays her first egg right into the Nome King’s mouth. And now we finally learn why the Nome King, the Wheelers, and everybody is apprehensive about chickens…it’s because eggs are poisonous and can destroy people which is precisely what happens to the Nome King!
(So, the Wicked Witch of the West was destroyed by water and the Nome King was destroyed by eggs. At least the Wicked Witch of the East was destroyed by a house…that makes the most sense.)
With him dead, the people of Emerald City become un-stoned, Mombi gets arrested, and the citizens of Emerald City want Dorothy to become their ruler. But Dorothy can’t stay, cuz she has to go home, where there’s no place like.
But before she goes, she manages to find a girl there named Ozma. She’s actually that same girl who helped Dorothy escape from the electrotherapy establishment earlier and tells Dorothy that she was Mombi’s prisoner for a long time. Mombi imprisoned her inside mirrors, which was why Dorothy was able to see and interact with her in Kansas (Kansas is apparently right through the looking-glass of Oz or vice-versa).
And not only that, but she’s also a Princess, the true ruler of Oz, and the real mother of Jack Pumpkinhead!
Sigh…ok, let’s wrap up. Princess Ozma sends Dorothy back to Kansas where Uncle Henry and a search party find her unconscious in the forest. Apparently, she’s been missing for days and the storm burned the asylum down killing Dr. Worley and Nurse Head Wilson in the process.
The film ends with Dorothy back on the farm more cheerful and helpful to her Uncle and Aunt while still being able to talk with Princess Ozma through the mirror.
This film is so weird and so dark that you just can’t help loving it! I really enjoyed watching this, even though I was weirded out by this many, many times!
I can totally see how kids can be frightened by this movie as it does have many scary elements. But with that aside, the film is quite interesting! The special effects are good for its time and don’t look horribly dated now either. The acting is….ok….Fairuza Balk is both bland and passable at the same time, but she’s just a kid, so I can’t judge her too harshly.
If you haven’t seen this, please do! Just don’t expect anything like “The Wizard of Oz”.
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 31/35 = 88.57% (B+) !
The next review will be posted on March 17th.
14 thoughts on “Return to Oz (1985)”
I don’t like this movie at all…and that has nothing to do with the scary parts (okay, the talking heads freaked me out).
I said it before, I say it again: I don’t like Alice down the rabbit hole stories. And that’s exactly what it is. Nothing about the plot makes any sense, not even the frame story they devised.
The child actor is quite good. The effects are impressive. But there is nothing behind it. Not even a nice “sense of no purpose”, because there is supposed to be some sort of plot for the scenes in Oz – which boils down to a very boring “heroine on a travel” story, but without the thoughtful scenario’s something like the Neverending story (first part) or even the Narnia movies have.
Yeah, this movie is quite an “Alice down the rabbit hole”-type story.
I’ll agree with you that the plot/purpose of the film seems quite contrived, but I found myself enjoying this alot.
Coincidentally, I found that I had given the same grade to this movie as I had given to “Oz: The Great and Powerful”, which is another film that people seem to have mixed feelings about.
Maybe I just like “Alice down the rabbit hole” stories. Well, not Tim Burton’s one though!
Agree completely. I particularly don’t understand why Doug Walker talked about Matilda being mean-spirited, “****ing up your kid” and being unable to believe what he was watching while being quick to add that he loves this movie because… “it’s good, and it has a good message”! How is it good? Matilda used the Gothic angles to portray a claustrophobic environment, i.e. the world from a child’s point of view (“Besides, even if you didn’t do it, I’ll punish you anyway because I’m big and you’re little, I’m right and you’re wrong, and I’m smart and you’re dumb”). The Trunchbull is a distillation of every child’s fantasy about their school principal, and the same for th
punishments she doles out.
Matilda gave a message to every child who has ever been ignored and unappreciated not to give up on themselves, to find the joy in life and pursue their passions, to stand up to bullies. Matilda did something to earn the ending, too! It wasn’t just something mandated by the Don Bluth principle. (Although the film ruined that largely by letting her keep her telekinesis and reducing them to mere superpowers.)
What can you possibly take away from this that you can’t from so many other fantasy films, especially the 1939 adaptation? I have never been more unable to make sense of another critic’s opinion than in this case.
Maybe I just don’t like this kind of revisionism, It’s an early sign of the kind of movie Disney is making now with Maleficent, but at least there I could see the point. And I think I’d rather watch it again, too.
Sorry to nitpick but Nurse Wilson doesn’t actually die. You see her getting taken away by the police at the end. But really good review. This film – and Oz: The Great & Powerful – are actually far more true to the spirit of the original books. I never got to see this film until I was about 14 but I can tell I probably would have loved it as a kid. It’s just one of those really fun dark fantasy kids’ films that we saw so much of in the 80s. I enjoyed it more than The Dark Crystal
Welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting!
Oh, does she survive? I couldn’t remember, lol!
I recently saw ‘The Dark Crystal’ and was horribly bored by it! I much prefer ‘Labyrinth’.
I hate this movie. It is grim, mean spirited and it crosses the line from fun ghost story to horror movie that traumatized me as a kid. The wheelies and the scene with all the heads is just too much.
Oz is supposed to be about magic and good vs evil not put Dorothy in a hellish place and hope she gets out ok. Plus, earth isn’t any better. Nobody will listen to her and they take her to electroshock therapy! It’s just too much. It looses all the love and charm of the original and gives us nothing in return. No imagination . Nothing but boredom, grimness, and meanness. Is there no limit to what we can put in a children’s movie? What’s next Hannibal Lector in the animated Silence of the Lambs? There has to be a stopping point and Return to Oz jumps way over that point and to make it worse it is so slow and tedious with nobody to root for.
I agree with Siskel and Ebert on this one- ‘I would have had 2 hours more happiness in my life it wasn’t for Return to Oz’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMoBqw1DWJY. Definitely one of my least favorite movies ever.
Interesting. Maybe if I had seen this movie when I was younger, I’d have found the scary stuff more objectionable.
Maybe and I bet if you had kids you’d be more concerned. They forgot the original made Oz a place of good and evil. This is just the evil and it becomes exhausting.
I think Dorothy is an easy character to root for, actually. Interestingly enough this seemed to be Doug Walker’s primary defense of the movie. I can’t claim he said much more substantial than “But I like it! And nostalgia! Other people like it, too!”, though.
Dorthy is easy to root for but in original we are given so many reasons- her puppy is taken away, nobody listens to her, she’s a dreamer in Over the Rainbow. Here it is just a girl getting mean things done to her and not any deeper. Yeah I dont get the appeal of this movie at all. I really dont.
My first experience with this was as a very young child, who found the children’s illustrated version of this movie in the library, obviously a tie-in leftover from the era it came out, well before my time. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I can’t claim it traumatized me, but it was quite frankly one of the most bizarre, laughable things I had ever seen. Watching the actual film now, though, I find I remembered very little of the actual plot – which is not surprising since there is so very little of it that is not recycled from so many other fantasy adventure stories. The world of Oz itself could be replaced by Wonderland or perhaps the world of The Phantom Tollbooth. The film seems to take place in a nightmarish hellhole for no particular reason. Perhaps this was an attempt to be faithful to the original books, but I doubt any of them featured Dorothy’s loving aunt and uncle forcing her to submit to electroshock treatment! What’s more, we feel nothing for Dorothy but as a pale imitation of the beloved character from the 1939 film. Her new friends are weird creations noted more for how far they come out of left field than anything else. The whole film feels like depraved fanfiction of the original film by Sid from Toy Story, or if the product of a very young child’s imagination, surely one suffering from the earliest signs of mental imbalance. It follows the Don Bluth principle to be sure, but with no redeeming message to make all that worthwhile, nothing to justify the nightmares children may have after viewing this film, nothing left but mere soullessness.
Interesting way to look at it.
Another interesting/obscure Disney film that has people either really loving it for its creativity and weirdness or really hating it for it’s dark tone and lack of whimsy compared to the original musical. I never grew up with a strong affinity towards ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and only saw it again very recently and enjoyed it. Overall, a large part of me is curious to check this one out; I’ve heard its a much truer representation of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ than Tim Burton’s version, which is a definite plus in my book.
Yeah, I’m on the camp of those who love this movie for its creativity and weirdness/darkness.