Thursday, August 4

Movie Review - Return to Oz

    Did you know that The Wizard of Oz has a sequel? Not only that, but while the original was released by MGM, Disney released Return to Oz. Oh, and they didn't get sued for it either. How is that possible?

    Both movies were based off a series of Oz books. The original series of 14 books was written by John R. Neill between 1900 and 1920. The last was released shortly after Neill died. MGM acquired the rights to The Wizard of Oz, loosely based on the original book. Also noteworthy is that MGM's Wizard of Oz wasn't even the first adaptation of the original book, others being stage adaptations, a Broadway musical and three silent films. Needless to say, this was bigger than Twilight ever will be.

    So how did Disney get away with creating this movie? Oh that's simple, they released Return to Oz the year the series became public domain, 1985. Disney did however pay MGM to use the ruby red slippers, which were created for the 1939 musical that needs no introduction.

    Anyway, Return to Oz is a hybrid of the second and third books in the series: The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. It didn't perform that well originally - receiving mixed reviews and only made $11 million. Heck, Siskel and Ebert gave the movie a rather scathing review and listed it among their "Worst of 1985." It's since gained a cult following, but then again so has Troll 2. Also noteworthy, Return to Oz is not a musical. Is this movie any good though?

    Return to Oz is significantly darker than the 1939 musical. Dorothy, played by a then-young Fairuza Balk, is suffering from Oz withdrawal. Her family is worried about their daughter and they send her to a mental hospital. It's here where she is eventually transported back to the Land of Oz, but not before some rather creepy moments. There's a machine for shock therapy, a nurse that appears rather sadistic to Dorothy’s young eyes. Its way too creepy for a kid’s movie, yet this is just the appetizer.

    After Dorothy returns to oz, she finds that the yellow brick road has been destroyed, the emerald city is in ruins, and all of her friends have been turned to stone. What happened to the magical adventure of the original? What was Disney thinking? If I want to see destroyed beauty, I'll play Gears of War. This is like taking a kid's ice cream cone and covering it in crusty dry mud.

    That's Return to Oz's main problem; it's far too dark and creepy for a kid’s movie, yet way too slow and simple-minded for the average adult. It's not sure what audience it's made for. The worst scene is where a witch, played by Jean Marsh, collects the heads of different women to wear on top of her body, and wants to keep Dorothy’s head once she grows up. What follows is a rather intense scene that even got me on edge a bit, and I usually get bored while watching horror movies. This movie is simply far too intense for little kids.

(This scene will give kids nightmares)

    Another problem this movie has is that it's just slow. It's full of dull talking scenes which over explain things that you could easily figure just by looking at the screen. Scenes that should carry dramatic tension become dull. The slow, quiet soundtrack doesn't help either, only increasing in volume and tempo during the scarier scenes I mentioned earlier. It doesn't help that the movie has very little comic relief.

    That said, it's not necessarily a bad movie. Sure, it's both slow and overly dark, but the visuals are rather strong. The final act involves a creature known as the Nome King, played by Nicol Williamson. The Nome King is basically a moving rock animated by claymation as far as I can tell. It looks brilliant, and somehow both realistic and not at the same time. He bargains with Dorothy, who is trying to restore her friends, and the result is actually really cleaver.

    Dorothy doesn't have the same travelling companions this time around. Gone are the lion, the tin man, the scarecrow and her dog Todo. Instead she's travelling around with a walking clock called Tic Toc, a creature with a pumpkin for a head named Jack, some moose head, and her talking pet hen. You do see her companions from The Wizard of Oz, but save for the scarecrow (whose costume is hilariously cheap here,) none of them have speaking roles.

    It's a fascinating movie to watch if you're a fan of the original or love obscure movies like this, but not necessarily in a good way. I kind of enjoyed it, of it at least. If a darker, sometimes unsettling take on the Land of Oz If the concept interests you, or you're a fan of the original, check Return to Oz out. If not, don't bother.

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