tek's rating: ½

Return to Oz (PG)
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Caution: spoilers!

This came out in 1985, 46 years after The Wizard of Oz, but it's not exactly a sequel. For one thing, it's not a musical. And it was made by Disney, rather than MGM. And apparently it stays closer to the L. Frank Baum books than "Wizard" did. (I've never read any of the books, but I very much want to, eventually.) There are some elements of this movie that are based on the earlier one, rather than the books, but on the whole... it's very different. Much creepier and stranger (hence my putting the review under "weird" rather than something like "fantasy" or "family"). It was not generally well received by critics or audiences, though I suppose some people always liked it. I know I did, and so did at least one of my friends. I don't remember if I first saw it in a theater or on TV or VHS or what, so it's possible I didn't see it until a few years after it came out. Whenever it was, I reckon it must have still been in the 80s, anyway. In the years since then, it has become a bit of a cult classic, so I feel a bit vindicated in always having liked it. Though I'm sure there are still people who will never like it. (A few years ago, my sister rented it and we watched it with some of our younger cousins, who had never seen it. I don't think they- or their parents- were particularly impressed, even though they usually do like the stuff I like.) Anyway, I finally got it on DVD in 2013. (I ordered it a week before "Oz the Great and Powerful" opened, and it arrived on that movie's opening day, as I was hoping it would. Because when there's a new movie in theaters that I want to see, but know I won't be able to, I sometimes like to watch something related on DVD.)

The story is set in late October of 1899, six months after the events of "The Wizard of Oz." Dorothy (played by a young Fairuza Balk, who was age-appropriate for the role, unlike Judy Garland) hasn't been able to sleep since her trip to Oz. Morever, no one believes her stories about Oz. So, her aunt takes her to see a doctor who uses experimental shock therapy, hoping to rid her of her "bad waking dreams," so that she could sleep again. (I feel bad for Dorothy, but at the same time, I can't help wondering if she really did just dream her previous trip to Oz, as well as the visit she'll make in this movie.) Anyway, there's a mysterious girl at the clinic (or asylum or whatever it is), where her aunt has left her to stay overnight. When a thunderstorm knocks out the electricity and the doctor goes to check the generator, the girl unstraps Dorothy from the gurney she was on, and tells her that some patients have been damaged by the treatment and locked in the cellar. The two of them then run away together, and fall into a river, but Dorothy manages to cling to a chicken coop, which keeps her afloat.

When she wakes up the next morning, she finds herself back in Oz. (Incidentally, unlike the old movie, Kansas is in color this time, so it's not as vivid a change when we see Oz.) The mysterious girl is gone, but she's not alone in the coop; for no apparent reason, her chicken, Billina, is with her. (It's hard to imagine the coop floated all the way from her farm to the clinic.) And since they're in Oz, Billina can talk. At first they're in the Deadly Desert, the sands of which turn living things to... sand. (Dorothy knew about this somehow, though I'd certainly never heard of it.) She carries Billina and hops across some stones a short distance to a nearby meadow. However, unbeknownst to her, she's being watched by the stones. One of them reports to an as yet unseen king (who we'll later learn is the Nome King). For a reason we don't learn til near the very end of the movie, we learn right away that the king is very upset that Dorothy has a chicken with her.

Before long, they discover the Yellow Brick Road, which Dorothy is distressed to find is in ruins. (It's in the middle of a forest that could not possibly have grown up in just six months, and there's no sign of the Munchkins or their city. Incidentally, it was at this point that I thought Balk sounded very much like Garland's Dorothy.) She begins running along the road toward the Emerald City, which they reach way sooner than Dorothy and her friends did in the original movie. It, too, is in ruins, and all the people have been turned to stone. There's a message on a wall that says "Beware the Wheelers." Before long, Dorothy and Billina learn that the "Wheelers" some totally creepy people with wheels for hands and feet, who roll around on all fours. (At this point I feel like mentioning that, as was obviously the case with the original movie, there are people and things in Oz in this movie that are apparently based on people and things she'd seen in Kansas, which is one of the things that makes it seem like she really might be delusional, after all. The Wheelers seem to be a combination of gurneys and orderlies, except here of course, they're evil. Though they did seem sort of mundanely sinister in the "real" world, possibly just because Dorothy was a little kid experiencing a totally new and potentially frightening... you know, experience.)

Anyway, the Wheelers chase Dorothy and Billina, but they manage to find a hiding place. Then they discover a short, round, mechanical man who is apparently the "Royal Army of Oz." He has three keys that need winding: one for thinking, one for speaking, and one for action. After she winds him up, he tells her his name is Tik-Tok, and that the Scarecrow left him to wait for her. But he doesn't know what's happened. So he and Dorothy venture out of hiding, he beats the Wheelers, and makes one of them answer Dorothy's questions. The Nome King had conquered Oz and turned everyone to stone. The Wheeler says only Princess Mombi knows where the Scarecrow is, so Dorothy, Tik-Tok, and Billina go find her. It turns out she has a collection of heads, and alternates which one she attaches to her body, like an accessory. She decides to lock Dorothy in a tower until she's old enough to take her head, for the collection. Tik-Tok doesn't manage to stop Mombi, because his action had run down.

In the room where Dorothy is locked up, she meets a new scarecrow-type thing, with a jack-o-lantern for a head. His name is, appropriately enough, Jack Pumpkinhead. He says his mom had made him to scare Mombi, but then Mombi tested her powder of life on him, which is what brought him to life. And then she locked him in the tower, but forgot he was there, because she hadn't worn the head she had on at the time since then. Anyway, he has no idea what's happened to his mom. Meanwhile, Dorothy comes up with a plan to build a flying creature out of stuff she finds in the room, which she'll bring to life by stealing Mombi's powder of life. The extremely odd creature she assembles is called the Gump. (Incidentally, I think when I first saw this movie, I had a vague recollection of some movie I'd seen on TV before, about some other adventure Dorothy had in Oz, that involved powder of life and green elephants, and that's all I remembered. Now I think that movie was "Journey Back to Oz," which I really want to see sometime to refresh my memory.)

So... they all fly to the mountain of the Nome King, where Dorothy is briefly reunited with the Scarecrow, and the Nome King explains why he did all that he did. But he's unwilling to free the Scarecrow or restore the Emerald City and its citizens... Well, more stuff happens, but I already feel like I've said way too much. I've left out tons of details, though, and I don't want to say any more about the plot, except of course that there's a happy ending, after all the nightmarishness. Anyway... definitely a weird movie, but that's a big part of what I love about it. Also, there's some humor, and the characters are all kinda neat, and I quite enjoyed Balk's acting (as well as the voice acting of all her friends). And of course, the whole thing is just really nostalgic for me.

weird index
tek's nostalgia

Untitled Document The Wizard of Oz
movies: The Wizard of Oz * Journey Back to Oz * Return to Oz * Oz the Great and Powerful * Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
TV: Tales of the Wizard of Oz * The Wizard of Oz in Concert * The Muppets' Wizard of Oz * Tin Man * Once Upon a Time * The Wiz Live! * Emerald City
web: Lost in Oz
comics: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz