Dorothy’s trip back to Oz only solidifies the notion that whenever there’s a sequel to a beloved classic, it’s difficult to please everyone. It never manages to capture the feeling of the original, or create a world to captivate a new audience. While visually unique and creative, it’s bothered by a weak plot line, and littered with humor that was too grown up for kids, but not mature enough for the adults. It straddled the line between being fun, and grossly disturbing.
Return to Oz is a 1985 sequel to the original classic “The Wizard of OZ” directed by Walter Murch. It picks up 6 months after the events of the first film. After being put in a hospital to cure her of the asinine visions she talks about to her family (her first trip the land of OZ) Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) escapes, but she falls into a river and gets swept away, only to find herself back in OZ. However when she arrives, she finds a desolate land, devoid of all the life she remembers. Dorothy then sets off to find out what happened to all of her friends.
It’s a challenge to understand why Murch chose to make Oz such a depressing landscape. The wonder and beauty of the world that everyone is familiar with is a far too distant memory. The colorful yellow brick road is torn apart, emerald city in ruins, and all her friends are turned into stone creatures. Even when Dorothy first comes into contact with the people who now inhabit the world, it’s like a scene out of Mad Max. Dorothy is terrorized by what’s essentially a gang called the wheelers. While they are trying to be a whimsical band of stupid thugs, they come off as genuinely psychotic, and perhaps a bit disturbing. This is not even speaking to the whole idea of Dorothy needing mental shock treatment as a means to cure her, quite heavy stuff for a kids film.
Where this film also fails is in the way the characters interact. Dorothy tries to capture the essence of the original character played by Judy Garland, but it just comes off as awkward and odd. It’s not as if the original Dorothy was trying to talk a certain way, it’s just how characters were on film at the time, and emulating that style nowadays just doesn’t translate well.
One thing that worked quite well however, were the costumes and effects. Tik-Tok, her robot companion was fantastic. His robotic movements and need to be constantly wound was actually a fun treat and I found his character to fit within the lore of OZ. However, right when I get to thinking this film is finally starting to hit its stride, we meet Mombi (Jean Marsh). This evil princess habit of collecting the heads of young girls so she can change her appearance. Again, this just exemplifies the sudden uneasiness I experienced from this film, and I certainly wouldn’t want my young ones to see the image of all these disembodied heads sitting on pedestals in a closet.
In the end though I can see how tough it must’ve been to create a story that appeals to both an older audience and a younger one. After all, the older audience grew up with the original, whereas for the younger crowd it could be their first time experiencing OZ. The outcome of this is a film that is too unbalanced. It tries so heavily to appeal to both that it gets lost somewhere in the middle.
Run time: 113 Mins