Rediscovering a Classic: Return to Oz

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by Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)

Ever since the earliest days  of film, audiences have delighted in the world of Oz and the many colorful  characters created by L. Frank Baum. The latest of these is Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful, which stars James Franco, Michelle  Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis. But many of you may remember  that this is not Disney’s first journey to the mysterious land of Oz.  In 1985 came Return to Oz, a less star-studded, very dark,  and often creepy continuation of the Wizard of Oz story that is frequently met  with polarizing reactions.

One thing  that must be made clear is that this is not a sequel to the 1939 MGM  classic musical starring Judy Garland. Nor does it resemble that film  visually or tonally. Return  to Oz is based  on two of Baum’s books (The Land  of Oz and Ozma of  Oz) and involves  Dorothy traveling back to help the friends she believes are in great  trouble. Unlike the musical, Oz is not merely a dream, but a real place,  with companions that do not resemble farm workers. So, if you watch  this hoping for a film resembling The Wizard  of Oz, you may  be disappointed. However, if you like different or darker interpretations  of classic stories, Return to  Oz may capture  your interest.

The film  certainly has some fanciful characters that readers of the books will  delight in seeing brought to life, such as Ozma, Jack Pumpkinhead and  Tik Tok (my personal favorite). Much of the imagery is also evocative-  a broken yellow brick road, a room full of glorious ornaments, a lunch  pail tree. Another appealing aspect is that the familiar characters  we love (the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion) all resemble the  original illustrations by W.W. Denslow, while the Emerald city and its  occupants are more like realistic fairy tale characters than caricatures.  Of course, there is also the said creepiness of the film. Before Dorothy  returns back to Oz, her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry send her to a doctor  that specializes in a new treatment hoping it will help rid her of her  sleepless nights. The place is actually an asylum, while this treatment  turns out to be electric shock therapy! The dark corridors and sinister  looking orderlies and nurses resemble something out of horror film,  more than a family friendly flick. Oz is also in dire straits. Dorothy  discovers that Emerald City has been taken over by the evil Nome King,  and overseen by the Wheelers, frightening creatures that have wheels  instead of hands and feet and take pleasure in laughing manically. But  they are nothing compared to Princess Mombi- a malevolent woman who  has cabinets of decapitated heads she likes to “change” into  whenever the mood suits her.

I watched  this movie as a child and I seriously do not know how I did not have  nightmares, and for that matter why I still like it. But I do. Perhaps  it will never reach the universal adoration of the classic musical,  but despite its creepy nature, Return to  Oz has a sort  of indescribable appeal. If you enjoy The NeverEnding  Story or Labyrinth, then Return to  Oz will most  likely appeal to you. Time will tell whether the new take on Baum’s  enduring creations will stand the test of time. Regardless, lovers of  all things Oz should definitely give Return to  Oz a chance  to enchant.


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