Disney's Return to OZ, the 1985 sequel to the beloved classic, The Wizard of Oz (1939), is a slightly disturbing return to the land of L. Frank Baum's imagination. I'm not sure how well it did upon its release - I don't remember it coming out in theaters at all - but if it wasn't well-received, I can believe it. This sequel is scary (this coming from someone who is still disturbed by the original's flying monkeys).
When the movie opens, we learn that Dorothy (a nine year old Fairuza Balk) has been unable to sleep since the tornado that destroyed the Gales' home and whisked her away to the land of Oz. her aunt and uncle are at their wits' end and decide to take her to a mental asylum where she will be subjected to electroshock therapy in an attempt to cure her of her Oz-ish delusions. The asylum is frightening, with unseen patients' shrieks and cries echoing through the halls. The head nurse is brusque to the point of meanness; the head doctor seems far too excited at the prospect of zapping people with his electricity machine. As poor Dorothy is strapped to a table and connected to the electroshock machine, a wild thunderstorm rages outside, knocking out the facility's generator. In the confusion, a mysterious blonde girl frees Dorothy and runs outside with her. The head nurse gives chase and the girls fall into a raging river, the blonde disappearing under the surface and Dorothy clinging to a battered, floating chicken coop.
In the morning, Dorothy of course finds herself in Oz, accompanied by a (now-) talking hen from back home, Billina (which begs the question, why wasn't Toto able to talk when he was in Oz?). Looking for Dorothy's old friends, they journey to the Emerald City, only to discover the city in ruins due to the machinations of the Nome King. Dorothy and Billina are menaced by nasty Wheelers (people with wheels for hands and feet who are fully as terrifying as the flying monkeys) and a very scary witch who switches heads on a whim, but gain some new companions - Tik-Tok, a clockworks soldier; Jack Pumpkinhead; and the Gump - before confronting the Nome King.
Return to OZ is pretty intense. There are quite a few scary characters - even good, simple Jack is a teensy bit creepy - and the sets are not as candy-colorful as TWoO. The animation is awkward and has not aged well but Fairuza Balk does a great job as Dorothy, who has been de-aged from TWoO to align more closely with the original books. What I enjoyed the most about RtO, actually, was how much came back to me from the books, which I adored when I was younger. Even though it has been literally decades since I've read any of the OZ books, I remembered Billina, the lunch-pail trees, Mombi the witch, the Gump and the Wheelers. Watching Return to OZ has actually inspired me to revisit the books - you can scarcely ask more of a movie than that.
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