Return to Oz
Return to Oz is a 1985 fantasy film directed and written by Walter Murch, co-written by Gill Dennis and produced by Paul Maslansky. It stars Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, and Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale in her first screen role. The film is an unofficial sequel to the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) film The Wizard of Oz, and is based on L. Frank Baum's Oz novels, mainly The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907). In the plot, Dorothy returns to the Land of Oz to find it has been overthrown by the villainous Nome King, and must restore it with her new friends Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Princess Ozma.
|Return to Oz|
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
|Directed by||Walter Murch|
|Produced by||Paul Maslansky|
|Written by||Gill Dennis|
|Based on||The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz|
by L. Frank Baum
|Music by||David Shire|
Freddie Francis (uncredited)
|Edited by||Leslie Hodgson|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
|Box office||$11.1 million (USA)|
In 1954, Walt Disney Productions bought the film rights to Baum's remaining Oz books to use in the television series Disneyland; this led to the live-action film Rainbow Road to Oz, which was never completed. Murch suggested making another Oz film in 1980. Disney approved the project as they were due to lose the film rights to the series. Though MGM was not involved in the production, Disney had to pay a large fee to use the ruby slippers created for the MGM Wizard of Oz. Return to Oz fell behind schedule during production, and, following a change of Disney management, Murch was briefly fired from the project.
Return to Oz performed poorly at the box office, grossing 11.1 million dollars in the United States on a 28 million dollar budget, and received mixed reviews. However, it performed well outside the U.S and has since acquired a cult following. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.
In 1899, Dorothy Gale still talks of her adventure in the Land of Oz, troubling her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, who believe she is fantasizing. In her yard, she finds a key with an Oz insignia. Aunt Em takes her to Dr. J.B. Worley for electrotherapy, leaving her under the care of Nurse Wilson. As Dorothy is about to receive treatment, the asylum is struck by lightning and the power fails. Dorothy is freed from her restraints by a mysterious girl who tells her that Dr Worley's machines damage the patients. They escape, with Nurse Wilson in pursuit, and fall into a river. Dorothy clambers aboard a chicken coop, but the other girl vanishes.
Dorothy wakes up in Oz with her chicken Billina, who can now talk. They find the Emerald City in ruins and its citizens (including the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion) turned to stone. Cornered by Wheelers, menacing people with wheels instead of hands and feet, they escape into a room Dorothy unlocks with the Oz key. They meet a mechanical man, Tik-Tok, who explains that King Scarecrow has been captured by the Nome King, who is responsible for the Emerald City's destruction.
The three visit princess Mombi, who collects heads and decides to imprison Dorothy to take hers. In a locked room at the top of Mombi's castle, Dorothy, Billina, and Tik-Tok meet Jack Pumpkinhead, who explains he was brought to life via Mombi's Powder of Life. They assemble a creature with furniture, rope, and the head of a moose-like animal called the Gump. Dorothy steals the Powder of Life from Mombi, but awakes her many heads. A girl in a mirror guides Dorothy back to her friends, where Dorothy uses the powder to bring the Gump to life. He flies them across the Deadly Desert to the Nome King's mountain. Mombi sends the Wheelers after them, but they are halted by the Deadly Desert.
In his underground domain, the Nome King tells Dorothy explains that he has turned the Scarecrow into an ornament, . He will allow Dorothy and her companions three guesses each to identify which ornament; if they fail, they will become ornaments themselves. The Gump, Jack and Tik-Tok each fail. The Nome King gives Dorothy the chance to return home, since he has her discarded ruby slippers, but Dorothy refuses.
While Dorothy makes her guesses in the ornament room, Mombi arrives. The Nome King, furious at having allowed Dorothy to escape, imprisons her in a cage. On her last guess, Dorothy locates the Scarecrow, and realizes that people from Oz turn into green ornaments. After she finds Jack and Gump, the enraged Nome King eats the Gump's couch body. He prepares to eat Jack, but Billina, hiding in Jack's head, lays an egg and it falls into the Nome King's mouth. As eggs are poisonous to nomes, the Nome King and his subterranean kingdom crumble. Dorothy finds the ruby slippers and wishes for the group to be returned to a restored Emerald City. There, they mourn the loss of Tik-Tok until Billina notices a green medal stuck on one of the Gump's antlers. Dorothy restores him.
At a celebration, Dorothy is asked to be Queen of Oz but refuses, saying she must return to Kansas. She learns that the girl who helped her escape is Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, who had been enchanted by Mombi. Ozma takes her place on the throne and Dorothy hands over the ruby slippers. Billina opts to stay in Oz. Ozma sends Dorothy home, promising that Dorothy is welcome to return.
In Kansas, Dorothy's family finds her on a riverbank. Aunt Em reveals that Worley's hospital was struck by lightning and burned down, and Worley died trying to save his machines. They see Nurse Wilson locked in a cage on a police buggy. In the farmhouse, now complete, Dorothy sees Billina and Ozma through her bedroom mirror. She goes outside to play with Toto.
- Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale
- Nicol Williamson as Dr. J.B. Worley/Nome King
- Jean Marsh as Nurse Wilson/Princess Mombi
- Piper Laurie as Aunt Em
- Matt Clark as Uncle Henry
- Emma Ridley as the Girl at the hospital/Princess Ozma
- Justin Case as the Scarecrow
- Pons Maar as Lead Wheeler/Nurse Wilson's assistant
- Bruce Boa as Policeman
- Tansy as Toto
- John Alexander, Rachael Ashton, Robbie Barnett, Ailsa Berk, Peter Elliott, Roger Ennals, Michele Hine, Mark Hopkins, Colin Skeaping, Ken Stevens, Philip Tan and Rob Thirtle as the Wheelers
- Mak Wilson as Billina
- Michael Sundin & Timothy D. Rose as Tik-Tok
- Brian Henson & Stewart Larange as Jack Pumpkinhead
- Lyle Conway & Steve Norrington as The Gump
- Deep Roy as the Tin Man
- John Alexander as the Cowardly Lion
Walter Murch began development Return to Oz in 1980, during a brain-storming session with Walt Disney Productions production chief Tom Wilhite. He recalled: "One of the questions he asked was, 'What are you interested in that you think we might also be interested in?', and I said, 'Another Oz story.'... And Tom sort of straightened up in his chair because it turned out, unbeknownst to me, that Disney owned the rights to all of the Oz stories. And they were particularly interested in doing something with them because the copyright was going to run out in the next five years."
The film is based on the second and third Oz books, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907). The element about Tik-Tok being "The Royal Army of Oz" derives from Tik-Tok of Oz (1914), in which he is made the Royal Army of Oogaboo, and also makes frequent cries of "Pick me up!" That book was itself based on a dramatic production, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz (1913). Murch also used the book Wisconsin Death Trip as a historical source for the film.
Murch took a darker take on Baum's source material than the 1939 adaptation, which he knew starting out would be a gamble. Between the development period and actual shooting, there was a change of leadership at the Walt Disney studios (with Wilhite replaced by Richard Berger), and the film's budget increased. Once shooting began, Murch began to fall behind schedule, and there was further pressure from the studio, leading to Murch being fired as director for a short period. High-profile film-makers including George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola supported Murch in discussions with the studio, and Murch was reinstated and finished the film.
The film was developed and produced without the involvement of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio behind the 1939 film. No approval was necessary, because by 1985, the Oz books on which it was based were in the public domain, and the subsequent Oz books had been optioned to Disney many years earlier. A large fee was paid, however, to use the ruby slippers, which were still the intellectual property of MGM. at the time (as they had been created specifically for the 1939 film to replace the Silver Shoes of the original stories).
The film received mixed reviews upon its release. The film-critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes records 52% positive reviews based on 33 reviews, its critical consensus reads "Return to Oz taps into the darker side of L. Frank Baum's book series with an intermittently dazzling adventure that never quite recaptures the magic of its classic predecessor." Those who were familiar with the Oz books praised its faithfulness to the source material of L. Frank Baum. However, many critics described its tone and overall content as slightly too dark and intense for young children. "Children are sure to be startled by its bleakness," said The New York Times' Janet Maslin. Canadian film critic Jay Scott felt the protagonists were too creepy and weird for viewers to relate or sympathize with: "Dorothy's friends are as weird as her enemies, which is faithful to the original Oz books but turns out not to be a virtue on film, where the eerie has a tendency to remain eerie no matter how often we're told it's not." "It's bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying," added Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader. Amelie Gillette of The A.V. Club frequently refers to its dark nature as unsuitable for its intended audience of young children despite it being one of her favorite movies growing up.
The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, but lost to Cocoon. Fairuza Balk and Emma Ridley were nominated for Young Artist Awards. It received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film (lost to Ladyhawke) and Best Younger Actor for Fairuza Balk (who lost to Barret Oliver for D.A.R.Y.L.).
The film has been released to VHS, Betamax, LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray over the years. The initial release, to VHS, laserdisc, and Beta, occurred in December 1985 shortly after the theatrical release, with the VHS initially priced with a list price of $79.95. Disney reissued it in 1992 with alternate cover art. In 1999, Anchor Bay Entertainment, who had obtained the home video rights to several titles from Disney's live-action catalogue, issued the film on full-screen and letterbox VHS, as well as a DVD release featuring both versions. All three releases featured an intro by Fairuza Balk before the film and an interview featurette with her after it. All three versions went out of print shortly after their release.
In 2004, Disney released their own DVD, which dropped the Anchor Bay disc's fullscreen version and added anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 TVs for the widescreen version, upgraded the audio to 5.1 surround, retained the Anchor Bay disc's extras, and added four TV spots and a theatrical trailer. In 2015, Disney released a 30th Anniversary Edition of the film on Blu-Ray exclusively through the Disney Movie Club, featuring a newly remastered and cleaned up transfer and DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound, but none of the bonus features from the 2004 DVD.
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