You don't fool with Mother Nature, spit into the wind, remake Casablanca, or trash the land of Oz. Perhaps that is why the 1985 live-action sequel split critics and audiences alike. The 1939 classic musical is so beloved t... more »hat it's almost impossible to imagine seeing Dorothy in shock therapy, a crumbled yellow brick road, the ruins of Emerald City, and the Tin Man turned into stone. But L. Frank Baum, the author of the original Oz books, portrayed just that with his continuing stories of Dorothy. When you get by these tough facts, the film version is solid entertainment for the over-7 set. Dorothy (a 10-year-old Fairuza Balk in her debut) is back in Kansas, where Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) is at the end of her rope: her niece is not sleeping and going on about a place called Oz. Therapy may be the answer, but luckily the scary clinic goes dark before Dorothy can be, er, cured (but the lead-up will scare the munchkins out of most kids). She wakes up in the land of Oz, now in tatters, and searches for its king, the Scarecrow. A new set of friends, including a tin soldier, a talking chicken, and a pumpkin man, help her against new villains, including Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh)--complete with a set of detachable heads--and the evil Nome King (Nicol Williamson with a great assist from Will Vinton's Claymation). The sole directorial effort of Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch is stuffed with marvelous effects that foreshadow later works by Tim Burton and the Henson non-Muppet films. --Doug Thomas« less
"I saw this film at its premiere in Seattle (The Emerald City) in 1985. I had read the Oz books for years (including the then-elusive non-Baum books written after his death) and always loved the mix of danger, whismy, and enchantment in the books.I grew up (like every other person in America)with memories of the 1939 musical--but even as a kid I hated the fact that the MGM musical messed so much with the dangerous and frightening aspects of Oz, turning everything into a candy-coated Technicolor dream.Thus, when I finally saw RETURN TO OZ (based on two books, OZMA of OZ and THE LAND of OZ), I realized that the filmmakers had actually sat down and read the books. Gone were the happy go-lucky images of a very safe place (was Judy Garland's Dorothy ever truly in danger?!?) and in its place was a fairyland full of dark dreams, scary villains, and entirely unique characters. And yet, most of America kept asking, "Where's the Munchkins?"In fact, the film critic for our local paper so trashed the film on its release that I (as a lowly high school sophomore) wrote him a detailed letter explaining what he had missed in the film by spending all his time comparing it to the MGM film. He (like most of America) missed some wonderful moments: Fairuza Balk's film debut as a real, brave, and sometimes scared little girl being called on to save an entire country from extinction, the Oscar-nominated special effects that brought to life characters that had only existed on paper (like Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Nomes), and the great performances by British actors Nicol Williamson and Jean March as the villains.Walter Murch and his team got everything right with this one, even down to character design: look at how closely the Oz chracters (Tik-Tok, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, etc.) match the way they looked in John R. Neil's illustrations; listen to the amazing score composed by David Shire, full of life, brilliance, and haunting motifs (the opening credit sequence alone gives chills); and the use of Will Vinton's Claymation (of California Raisins fame) to bring the rock-based Nomes to life.Unfairly dumped by Disney in the ensuing years (to the point that this DVD version isn't even released by them), the film is only now being rediscovered by people who love great fantasy, great filmmaking, and who truly love to see OZ on screen.HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!"
A brilliant work--but for adults, not children
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 01/06/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The great film editor walter Murch got the chance in the early Eighties to make a spectacular film compressing the first two sequels to THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, THE MAGICAL LAND OF OZ and OZMA OF OZ, as a tribute to the Baum books he loved. The film was a popular flop, given that almost everyone who took their children to it expected it to be a sequel to the famous M-G-M film version of 1939. (In Murch's version, there are no songs and the carryover characters from the first film--Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion---look like the original illustrations of them by John Neill and W. W. Denslow rather than the way they were portrayed in the 1939 film.) But the film has endured as a cult classic, a master of the film art's tribute to the books and illustrations he loved from his youth.
It's an amazingly beautiful film, but it would be insanity to show it to small children. It starts out with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, rebuilding their house and farm from the cyclone, take Dorothy, who has been speaking of wild stories of cities made of emeralds and scarecrows who talk, to Topeka for electroshock therapy. The asylum they bring her to is a terrifying chamber of horrors, and when she escapes it for Oz she is confronted with incredible other visual terrors, such as the lunatic Wheelers and the Princess Mombi (a variant of both the old witch Mombi and the Princess Langwidere from the Oz books), who exchanges pretty heads for her body the way other women change dresses. The scene where Mombi's headless body chases Dorothy through her chamber of heads (as the other disembodied heads scream in horror) is one of the scariest things I can imagine a child ever viewing.
But this is really a film for adults, and the creepiness of its details add to the mature viewers' pleasure. The sets and costumes are spectacular, the cast includes such accomplished actors as Piper Laurie (as Aunt Em), Jean Marsh (Mombi) and Nicol Williamson (the Nome King), and the David Shire score is one of the most beautiful film scores ever written--period. As for Dorothy herself, the producers chose such a unusually haunting Dorothy (with marvelous multicolored eyes and a curious plaintive quality to her voice) that the actress, Fairuza Balk, has spun a strong acting career from her early cult fame in this part."
A misunderstood Gem!!!
Monty Moonlight | TX | 07/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an AMAZING fantasy film! And I am a loyal fan of the 1939 Judy Garland classic, but let's remember that it's not like that is really the source of the Oz stories! I love both films. They are totally different. While this one is sometimes described as a horror film, it's really not, but it has a lot of very scary moments! It would be interesting to see this film done as pure horror, and the same thing goes for Alice in Wonderland, but while this is scary and may give some kids nightmares, it's not a horror film, it's a magical fantasy that is dark in comparison to Garland's Oz. I've never read the books, not yet anyway, but I hear this one is far more loyal. The effects are wonderful! People who call them laughable must only be doing so out of spite! I notice that a lot in reviews lately. This is a visually stunning movie, and as every other fan here has said, it by no means is a sequel to the '39 version. I realize it's called Return To Oz, but that just means the character has been there before!! Still, there are several throwbacks to the '39 classic for those of us who are loyal fans. While I would never want to change the old classic, Fairuza Balk was probably waaaaay more appropriate for the role, and all the other characters were far more like they would actually appear had it been real as well! This film is done in a serious mode, and that works fine. Just don't watch this thinking it's a Judy Garland sequel! Come on, it's from the '80's! I don't remember if I saw this one in theaters or not, but I think I did. It probably would have done much better had it been released today! By the way, this is a great movie to watch around Halloween, and if you enjoy it I strongly recommend the Worst Witch, also starring Fairuza Balk and made shortly after."
Good Movie, Bad DVD
Steve | Vancouver, Washington United States | 02/13/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The latest release of "Return to OZ" (a re-release despite Disney saying it's new to DVD on the box) is a mixed blessing. While it's nice to have an anamorphic transfer of the film, the film itself is a disappointing transfer. At least the Anchor Bay version wasn't filled with scratches and dirt as this Dsiney reissue of the film is. Also, I couldn't pick a chapter by pressing a number on the remote but had to hit the forward button to get to the one I wanted. This wasn't a problem with the Anchor Bay version but is on the Disney one. On the other hand, the Disney version has a few more extras than the old release. Besides the short featurette that was on the old release, we have a trailer and some tv spots. The trailer is alright but why bother with those tv spots when they are in such lousy condition. They were pieced together from various sources (most look like 2nd-3rd generation video copies complete with timecode). Anyway, if you have the Anchor Bay version of "Return to Oz", hold on to it but if you want a version that'll fit your widescreen televisions, get the Disney DVD of the film."
Dark, Haunting and Beautiful...Discover this Oz
Brian Levine | Long Island, NY | 06/30/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can still remember seeing this for the first time when I was 5 years old. "Return To Oz" has to be one of the most haunting and beautiful films I have ever seen and remains one of my favorites to this day even as I watch it time after time. The new widescreen version offers even more depth into Walter Murch's new and exciting vision for Oz. Yes it's dark and at times creepy, but that's what makes it so wonderful. Fairuza Balk is memorable as a wide eyed, and haunted Dorothy, troubled by memories of Oz and seemingly trapped by her longing to return there. The sets, which have a lovely, 1900's look, are magnificent and add a whole dimension to the film. The images of a crumbled Yellow Brick Road, and an Emerald City in ruins still give me an uneasy feeling, and Mombi is still terrifying, as well as a trip to a Kansas insane asylum. The underrated score by David Shire is nothing short of magnificent and one of the best. Many fans have praised the movie, and deservedly so, for keeping in line with the more dark nature of the original Oz books. Don't get me wrong, I will always treasure the original as a fun filled, frothy Technicolor escape, but "Return To Oz" will always be head and shoulders my favorite. This is a haunting yet beautiful favorite that sorely needs to be rediscovered."