Return to Oz - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Return to Oz Reviews

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Super Reviewer
August 25, 2007
Ah, the long forgotten sequel, of sorts, to the classic 1939 movie starring Judy Garland. Now, this little gem of a movie was actually loosely based on the novel []iThe Marvelous Land of Oz[/i] by L. Frank Baum and in part his other novel [i]Ozma of Oz[/i]. The plot takes place six months after Dorothy's (Fairuza Balk) original adventure to Oz (in the year 1899) and sees her struggling with insomnia. She is sent off for electric shock treatment at some spooky clinic because in this era people didn't know any better, she isn't being punished, people just thought these methods helped. Anyway, Ozma appears and helps Dorothy escape during a frightful storm, in the midst of the panic Dorothy leaps into a fast flowing river and is swept away. Exit the real world, welcome to the fantasy zone. Dorothy awakes after the storm, but she is no longer in Kansas, she is now once again in the magical land of Oz.

Okay lets get down n dirty here, this movie didn't do very well upon release, although I have no idea why. It was 1985, Star Wars mania was still in full flow, Lucas, Spielberg and Henson were the grand overlords of Hollywood, fantasy was the big thing in the movie industry and this movie had plenty of that. Just looking at the films poster you can see the influence people like Lucas and Henson had on everything, that recognisable, glorious hand drawn style with the typical character posing positions which you saw in many 80's fantasy posters, it looks like a Lucasfilm/Henson Film product. Next to that the visuals even looked like something from Lucas or Henson, the effects in this movie were of a high standard for the time and anyone of a certain age can instantly see the similarities to other movies of the genre, from that that era. Basically I'm saying the movie felt very much like a Lucas or Henson movie, so the fact it didn't do well was a curious one (although many of these films got greater recognition later in life).

Now admittedly I don't know much about Baum's stories, I haven't read the books, but just with a little bit of research I found myself genuinely impressed with the levels of faithfulness this movie incorporated. The movie appears to pick n choose bits to use from the books and they aren't exactly the same, but in general the essence is there. The first and most obvious nod to the original material are the characters. Now back in the day I was always confused why the characters looked so vastly different to the 1939 version, but its actually the 39 version that was way off base (obviously for limited technical reasons). In this movie the characters are actually very faithfully recreated and what's more, they all look fudging brilliant!

First up the Scarecrow, gotta be honest, I don't like the look of this character in this movie, he looks bloody creepy. Its a bloke in a suit wearing a large full covering mask, but the masks face doesn't actually move, the expression was fixed, its only in quick cuts do we see a different expression, bloody creepy I tells ya. But as I already said he does look exactly as drawn way back in the 1904 novel. The tin woodsman doesn't really show in this film, he's there but only in briefly and doesn't say anything, a shame because this character looks awesome, they really nailed his look perfectly. The same can be said for the Cowardly Lion, again he only pops up at the end in a cameo, we don't hear him speak or anything, he's just a large but very well created animatronic puppet.

The new characters are a joy, a real blend of fantasy and imagination brought to life with much scope. Tik-Tok is a squat, big and round, completely copper, wind-up soldier from the Army of Oz, with the appearance of a typical WWI soldier. Now this character is easily one of the most impressive feats in this film, he's a full blown complete costume that does actually look like its been made out of actual metal. The character waddles around awkwardly, so much so that it makes it hard to believe this guy could actually be of any use because he moves so slowly and loudly and constantly requires winding-up, a lot of artistic license and suspension of disbelief required for this guy. Jack Pumpkinhead immediately serves up one thought, did Tim Burton see this movie and get the idea for Jack Skellington? bloody looks like it doesn't it. Anyway again its another fantastic full body suit for a very tall slender fellow, the head being slightly animatronic as it does appear to shift at times for expressions of horror, although not too much. The Gump is, I believe, based very loosely on the sawhorse that Dorothy uses to escape Mombi? This guy is a collection of various items all tied together to create a flying creature, mainly a large couch with wings and a moose-like head, the head being fully animatronic. There is also Dorothy's faithful chicken that appears to be completely animatronic for the most part, and again is damn impressive, looks pretty real.

This leaves the Nome King (played by Nicol Williamson), a character that seems to be living rock and wants to become alive or human in form, presumably so he can rule easier. At first the King appears as just an aged face in the rock, but as time passes we see him in full humanoid form, looking more like a traditional King but made out of rock. The Kings visual appearance seems to be accomplished using claymation (in my opinion), just like all his demon-like minions whom only appear as faces on rock surfaces. The effect is simple stop-motion yet very effective, it clearly takes time and effort to accomplish and still holds up very well. Later makeup effects to make the King appear more human (or alive) are actually really fantastic, you can see its merely face paint/face makeup, prosthetics and clever lighting but my God its good. The combination of Williamson's acting and the spectacular makeup on top really make the Nome Kings scenes the best in the movie. Hell even the Wheelers are well created even though they are just blokes on stilts with wheels on the bottom. Their costumes may come across as a bit stupid looking these days (although their masks are pretty sweet) but their gangly, gaunt appearance accompanied by that eerie rusty, squeaky sound effect (their wheels) which precedes their emergence, is what makes them so bone-chilling.

Other effects in the movie aren't quite up to speed though I must be honest. Whilst there are lots of decent matte paintings being used for landscapes, which work nicely, there is also a lot of bad bluescreen going on, every now and then you get a truly disastrous bluescreen effects shot that just pops up outta nowhere. Some of the sets range from being quite lavish and authentic, to being really fake looking, obviously plastic of foam. Whilst some sequences are really very very poor looking, Dorothy falling down into the Nome Kings lair is dreadful looking, like something from the 50's. Its basically a live action Balk pasted against a horrific kaleidoscope of colours in the background via bluescreen (or rear projection). Other sequences such as Dorothy and co falling through the sky were always gonna be crap looking and totally ridiculous.

What I did like about this movie, character effects aside, was the darkness, the fact that director Murch went out of his way to actually make this a much gloomier affair. This is supposed to be a kids flick but there is so much going on that will scare them, it always gave me the willy's back in the day. Right from the start with Dorothy being taken to Dr. Worley and his house of horrors for shock treatment. Then you have the witch Mombi played with such ferocity by Jean Marsh, she really lays into that character with such force and conviction, especially with all the heads she collects stored away neatly in glass cabinets. Add to that her headless body that stumbles around like Frankenstein's monster whilst all the disembodied heads scream from their glass prisons! Holy nightmare! hardly the stuff for children! The finale against the Nome King isn't for the faint-hearted child either as the giant stone head tries to devour everyone, until he gets poisoned and pretty much rots away roaring in agony leaving a skeletal stone structure.

Just like the original 1939 movie, the whole adventure is hinted at nothing more than a dream with some characters from the real world that manifest themselves in Oz. Of course there is always a little twist to make you keep wondering. Overall I really struggle to fault this movie despite its negative points and glaring plot holes (how did Billina the chicken wind up in Oz with Dorothy? come to think of it how did Dorothy wind up in Oz?). Yes the film is way too dark for kids which is the target audience, the heroes are just as scary as the baddies to be honest, visually at least. So that's an issue, Jack Pumpkinhead is suppose to be the nice, soft, scaredy-cat type fellow, but he looks bloody terrifying! (for kids), thus making it hard for people to relate. On the other hand I must applaud the bravery and attention to faithfulness of the source material. In general it all looks wonderful...if slightly cheesy and corny by today's standards naturally. Yes you could say I'm looking through rose tinted specs and you'd be a degree, nevertheless this film still makes a grand impact with solid performances (including the young Balk). A classic whimsical fairytale which is engaging, endearing and dare I say...retro, well worth your time.
Directors Cat
Super Reviewer
½ October 29, 2011
Good Effects and developed characters. A sequel to The Wizard of Oz was a good idea, but there was no excitement in this film, and I remember watching this on VHS as a child but it still is not entertaining as it was back then as Return to Oz is just plain creepy.
Super Reviewer
½ August 20, 2011
Hideously HIDEOUSLY underrated. Seriously. This is actually quite an interesting film. It's completely unlike its predecessor, the original 1939 "Wizard of Oz." This film is not upbeat. It does not have songs. Simply put, this feels like American McGee's Alice, absolutely insane, but bizarrely (and frighteningly) accurate to the book. This film garnered tons of hate at the time of release, but now people are beginning to appreciate its dark tone. If you have to watch a kids film for some reason or another, just pop this one in. It will surprise you.
Super Reviewer
½ March 2, 2007
If you loved The Wizard of Oz, you'll like accompanying Dorothy (played by Fairuza Balk) on this second thrilling adventure based on L. Frank Baum's "Oz" books! Viewers will hear no songs nor see any Munchkins. It's very different, but equally enjoyable, trip down the Yellow Brick Road, with young star Balk outstanding as the heroine. It gets pretty scary at times and isn't all fluff and wonder like the Oz of yore. This is nevertheless a magical film.
Super Reviewer
February 2, 2011
This movie was just weird. The special effects were so 1985, lol. It was strange watching Fairuza Balk as a small child.
Super Reviewer
September 6, 2010
The worst Wizard of Oz movie I've ever seen. This sequel to the Garland film has a realistic beginning, and then she returns to Oz which is completely different from when she left, which doesn't make sense. I hate this movie.
Super Reviewer
May 16, 2007
A much darker take on the classic tales of Oz. I really enjoyed this as a kid, and, as an adult, I enjoy it even more.
Super Reviewer
½ February 6, 2009
Return to Oz is the not-quite-sequel to the 1939 classic. It is mostly a sequel to a remake of The Wizard of Oz that was never made...if you catch my drift. The tone of the film is so drastically different it feels like a dark and gothic reimagining. Everything is ever so creepy in this film. The real stars are the practical effects. From the wonderful puppets to the excellent stop-motion animation. It puts today's CGI output to shame and adds to the magical feel of Oz. This is the style a new Oz franchise should take, adapting all the books and reminding people that it didn't start with Ruby Slippers.
Super Reviewer
½ August 19, 2007
Very scary, but amazing scene designs and an engrossing plot. This was one of the first movies I saw as a kid where I was immersed in all the hype leading up to what was perhaps the biggest movie event of the summer of '85.
Super Reviewer
½ April 12, 2008
You might think that this would be a poor movie compared to the glory that is the original musical... but you would be wrong. This movie follows the source material closer than the musical ever did and gives you a haunting look into the world of OZ after Dorothy left in the first movie.
I liked this better than the first.
Super Reviewer
March 6, 2007
This movie has balls, although that's probably a poor choice of words for what seems to be a childrens movie.

Not so. Please, kids, stay away from this one. It's not specifically for adults, but it will inadvertently scare the crap out of kids without actually trying. Flying moose-headed couches, and some pretty creepy animation and characters all adds up to a well-done adaptation that captures the mood in Baum's original Oz books... a kind of threatening whimsy.

So for adults, how does it stack up? Well, it doesn't pull punches, at least for a "childrens" movie. Like the family films of old, they definitley weren't family friendly by todays sterilized standards. Plus, the plot is reasonably gripping, even though the deux ex machina is obvious from the very start. Either way, if you ever take the time out to revisit this rather familiar setting, you'll be happily suprised to find it strange, new and if not entertaining, than at least worth the new perspective.
Super Reviewer
June 27, 2007
It wasn't magical going back to Oz this time; too much had changed. It was a dark and scary place. Dorothy wasn't herself either, and was a scared-eye little girl. Nothing is warm in this new Oz land; it's meant to terrify. I suspect this is closer to the books. I've been re-playing 1939 classic too often and can't get into any other type of Oz. I did enjoy some of the characters like Jack Pumpkin and Tick-Tock -- but not scary Momby with her head-gallery or those freaky wheelie guards. The Gnome King's museum challenge was ingenius; I liked that part of the movie. Overall, this movie is cause for nightmares.
Super Reviewer
January 25, 2007
This movie is so weird. They tried to make it like the books, and it worked great. Awesome Jim Henson puppetry, cool story line, and fun overall. This movie scared every little kid I know.
Super Reviewer
March 23, 2013
Disney bastardizes a classic with Return to Oz. Dorothy runs away back to Oz where she finds that the Nome King has conquered the land and imprisoned the Scarecrow. Despite the rich material of the Oz novels, the script is poorly written and the characters are boring and trite; even Dorothy as lost her luster. The effects are rather weak (especially for Disney), and make for a cheap and colorless world. The music is also quite mundane and bland. Return to Oz has no magic or charisma, and does a terrible job at realizing the imaginative world of L. Frank Baum.
Super Reviewer
½ January 30, 2007
Ambitious combination of the second and third books in Baum's Oz series. I think Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Gump, and all the other creatures were all brought to life as they were meant to be! The story is much much darker, but that undercurrent is there in the books. The tone and style of the books is somewhere in between this movie and the classic musical version. Jim Henson's son Brian provides the voice for Jack Pumpkinhead. It is Henson's effects shop that is at work here leading to a surrealist Oz comparable to what one sees in The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I wish someone else with this much respect for the material would make further live-action adaptations of the Oz series.
Jason Vargo
Super Reviewer
½ October 2, 2011
The charm of The Wizard of Oz combined the childhood fantasy of running away from home with instantly memorable songs and characters, all of which were given depth and humanity. If the original allowed the audience to escape their problems in 1939 (World War II was about to break out, the Great Depression continued to hang around and the like), then the 1985 sequel shows what happens when the "perfect world" gets taken down a peg. The problem here, though, is that the film is soulless, joyless and, frankly, looks cheap. Yes, the original Oz may look fake, but at least the actors playing the otherworldly creatures could emote and actually interact with Dorothy. Animatronics, claymation and the other techniques used in Return simply can't hold up. (There's also a very dark opening involving using electricity to erase Dorothy's memories...scary for kids.) A misbegotten film forgotten about, even if it adheres closer to the books than the 1939 version.
Super Reviewer
September 7, 2006
Return to Oz is true gem... no pun intended. ;-)
Disney did not do well at the box office and many critics were very harsh calling it "grim" and "creepy" and "lacking the luster of the original 1939 MGM version."
But this movie was never meant to be anything like Judy Garland's cheery, musical, vibrant colored Oz. This Oz stays true to Frank Baum's original stories and anyone who comes in to the film expecting the magic and enchantment from the first movie is wasting their time and will be sadly disappointed. You must come to this movie with an open mind, accept it for it's artistic appeal and on its own terms. It is nothing like the first movie and it is best to separate them completely in your mind if you are going to enjoy it.
Some children may get scared as there are some creepy parts like the wheelers, head-hunting Princess Mombi, and the Nome King. Even Jack Pumpkinhead (who is a good guy) scared my little sister when we were younger and watching it today, he still creeps her out as a sixteen-year-old!
Dorothy has new, delightful sidekicks who are fun and loveable. The lavish special effects were incredible in 1985 and even today are still awe-inspiring. Dorothy's return to Oz is a bleak one as to her dismay, the yellow brick road is in disrepair, the Emerald City in shambles, and the previous inhabitants have been turned to stone including her friends the tin woodman and the cowardly lion. In the original book Ozma of Oz, Dorothy was in a different city across the deadly desert when the events that take place in this movie happened. The film has a gorgeous soundtrack, great costumes and visuals and excellent acting even though Fairuza Balk does lack the sparkle and spunk Judy Garland brought to the role.
Nonetheless, Return to Oz is a wonderful adventure. There are many exciting parts where the characters are put into peril but they always get out of it. My favorite parts are when Dorothy makes the Gump out of the Powder of Life and the moose head (which is not in the book) and when she has to guess which of the objects in the Nome King's palace are her friends to restore them. See this movie, give it a chance, it is amazing!!!
Super Reviewer
July 18, 2010
Very odd (but not a good odd), not really relevant to anything. I don't understand what any of this really had to do with the Wizard of Oz.
Super Reviewer
½ May 5, 2007
An interesting take, pretty dark
Super Reviewer
August 15, 2007
A little annoying because with a Tim Burton or much more creative director, this movie could have been SO much cooler.
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