Now Streaming: RETURN TO OZ, Much Darker
Something that has been largely forgotten in the Walt Disney Pictures library is 1985's Return to Oz. If you are a millennial and you grew up in the 80s, you should know about this movie, despite the fact that it bombed hard at the box office.
The story works as a spiritual sequel to the original The Wizard of Oz (1939). Making her film debut, Fairuza Balk, just 10 years old during filming, stars as the curious Kansas girl Dorothy, who is sent to a sanatorium to help her get rid of her dreams of Oz that have haunted her ever since she returned from the land.
When Dorothy escapes from the sanatorium, she falls into a stream and floats to the magical land of Oz, picking up where she goes to see her old friends Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion. Things go awry when she finds her friends turned to
stone and the Scarecrow missing.
The film may not get any points for its use of color but it has a lovely and unique sense of
nostalgia that makes people wonder why it wasn't appreciated to its fullest when it came out. Directed by Walter Murch, an Academy Award-winning sound designer and editor making his feature directorial debut, the film has a darker approach to it that utilizes more of the novels by L. Frank Baum, and even some of Lewis Carroll's work, to create its somewhat bland yet interesting landscape of Oz.
The look of Oz is very dreary and depressing when compared to the 1939 film, but it certainly makes up for it with its sense of adventure and fun. Balk proves to be a bold actress in the movie and never shies away from any problem that arises in the story.
The practical effects and claymation have aged pretty well with some incredible ingenuity and attention to detail. Seeing how Jack Pumpkinhead and Tik-Tok are made practically, it's easy to watch a real-life object in motion rather than an artificial CG facsimile of what it was originally trying to imitate in the first place.
Regardless, this film is a nostalgia ride into a blissful time of innocence and care-free wonder. It's just a shame it doesn't get the recognition that it deserves.
Released in movie theaters 38 years ago this week, the film is now streaming on Disney Plus.