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Return to Oz

Theatrical poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by Walter Murch
Produced by Paul Maslansky
Written by L. Frank Baum (novels)
Gill Dennis
Walter Murch
Starring Fairuza Balk
Nicol Williamson
Jean Marsh
Piper Laurie
Matt Clark
Music by David Shire
Cinematography David Watkin
Freddie Francis
Editing by Leslie Hodgson
Studio Silver Screen Partners II
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date(s) United States June 21, 1985
United Kingdom July 10, 1985
Running time 113 min.
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $25,000,000
Gross revenue $11,137,801
Preceded by The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)

Return to Oz is a 1985 film which is the semi-sequel to Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz. It was made by Walt Disney Pictures without the involvement of MGM, the studio that made the 1939 film. No approval was necessary, because by 1985, the Oz books on which the film was based were in the public domain. A large fee was paid, however, to use the ruby slippers, which were still the intellectual property of MGM at the time (the rights to the 1939 film and all elements now rest with Time Warner). The film was directed by Walter Murch, did not fare well at the box office and received mixed reviews from critics.

Contents

Plot summary

The movie's plot is a combination of L. Frank Baum's novels Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz, sequels to the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

It has been six months after the events of The Wizard of Oz, and Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) cannot stop thinking about the experience and her friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. One night Dorothy sees a shooting star, and the next morning while checking for eggs from her hen Billina, Dorothy comes across a key that she thinks was sent from Oz on that shooting star. Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) is concerned over Dorothy's inability to sleep since her return and after talking over their money worries with Uncle Henry (Matt Clark) saying she's got a loan from her sister, she sends Dorothy to stay overnight at Dr. Worley (Nicol Williamson)'s clinic in Cottonwood Falls to "cure" her by electro-shock therapy. When waiting in her assigned room that night, Dorothy is visited by a mysterious blonde girl (Emma Ridley) who later helps Dorothy escape from the clinic when she reveals that patients have been driven insane by Worley's treatment. However, they are pursued by Nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh), and the two girls fall into the nearby river; Dorothy manages to climb aboard a chicken coop, but the other girl presumably drowns.

Dorothy awakens to find herself back in Oz with Billina, who can now talk (Denise Bryer). They are in the Deadly Desert which they escape by jumping across rocks. Dorothy steps on a speaking rock who seems familiar with her. They enter the nearby forest, they find the site where Dorothy entered Oz the first time. She becomes suspicious when the Munchkins fail to appear to welcome her. She discovers that the yellow brick road is destroyed. Worried, Dorothy follows it all the way to the ruins of the Emerald City, which has been deprived of all its emeralds. All its civilians, including the Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion, have also been turned to stone. The Scarecrow, who was King of Oz, is missing. The city is policed with Wheelers, humanoids with wheels instead of hands and feet. They chase Dorothy and Billina into a alleyway which seems to be a dead end, until Dorothy discovers a lock in one of the walls. Using the key obtained at the beginning of the film, Dorothy and Billina open the wall and lock themselves into a small room, where they meet the Royal Army of Oz, Tik-Tok, a clockwork robotic man. After hearing his side of the story about what happened, the three come out of the room and make their way to explore, where they're ambushed by Wheelers. Tik-Tok takes care of the Wheelers and holds one of them hostage, allowing Dorothy to ask questions to the Wheeler about what happened. The Wheeler eventually leads them to Princess Mombi's castle, who is now the ruler of the city. Mombi, who is a witch and has 31 interchangeable heads, explains that the Nome King was behind the destruction of the Emerald City and the kidnapping of the Scarecrow. She takes a liking to Dorothy's head and plans to lock her in the attic "for a few years until her head is ready". Dorothy snaps at her and refuses, an angered Mombie then takes Dorothy and Billina to the attic, where they're met with Tik-Tok attempting to stop Mombi, but runs down at the wrong time.

When locked in the attic, they meet Jack Pumpkinhead, a friendly stick man with a pumpkin for a head. He explains that his "mom" created him to scare Mombi, he was to be destroyed when Mombi decided to experiment on him with her Powder of Life, which brought him to life. This gives Dorothy an idea to escape. Dorothy and Jack restore a wound-down Tik-Tok, who helps Jack build a flying machine using sofas, head of a Gump, a green moose-like animal and some broad leaves picked off a plant. Dorothy steals the Ruby key off Mombi's torso to cabinet 31, the home of Mombi's "original head" and the Powder of Life, but wakes up both Mombi's head and her torso. Dorothy flees back into the attic, where they find the flying machine unfinished because of lack of communication from Tik-Tok, whose brain ran down and started talking absolute gibberish. Dorothy brings the Gump to life and the group escapes on it. Mombi wakes up her army of Wheelers and they chase the group from the ground, only for some of them to stumble into the Deadly Desert and turn into sand. They give up the chase and return to Mombi.

After flying all night, the Gump begins to fall apart. Jack loses his head over the side and they later crash-land on the Nome King's mountain, where they're met with the Nome King himself. Dorothy is brought to the Nome King's lair, slowly falling through the air, witnessing all the precious gems that the Nome King owns. He explains to Dorothy that the Scarecrow "stole" the emeralds of the Emerald City, and he only reacted accordingly.

The Nome King takes pity on Dorothy when she cries, with her defending the scarecrow by saying that the emeralds were already there when he became king, so he offers her a chance to set things right. One by one, Dorothy and her friends venture into the King's ornament room, to search for an ornament that the Scarecrow has been transformed into. They each have three guesses, but if they fail, they themselves become transformed into ornaments, which he failed to mention because "they didn't ask". With each failed attempt, the Nome King increasingly becomes more human from his rock-like state. When it's Tik-Tok's turn to guess, Dorothy and the Nome King begin to talk. He reveals that he has the Ruby Slippers, which he says fell from the sky (off of Dorothy's feet when she left Oz) and that it was them that made it possible for him to conquer the Emerald City. Their conversation is interrupted by one of the Nome King servants, who says that Tik-Tok has become immobile. Dorothy is then allowed to go into the room to wind him up to take her turn as well as his.

Dorothy walks in, finding a room full of ornaments. Eventually, she finds Tik-Tok and goes to wind him up, but finds his action is fine. Tik-Tok reveals it was a cunning plan to lure Dorothy into the room by pretending to be immobile, so she can watch him turn into an ornament to give her some sort of a clue what type of ornament everyone is, but the plan fails. Dorothy's last guess frees the Scarecrow from his enchantment, realizing that all the ornaments that contain her friends are colored green, the colour of emeralds. Dorothy's friends are restored one by one, except for Tik-Tok. The Nome King becoming less human with each correct guess and becomes more enraged. His anger eventually leaves him to trap Mombi in a jail cell and to take care of the group himself.

A giant Nome King attacks the group. He tries to eat Jack but Billina, hidden inside Jack's head, lays an egg which falls down the king's throat, killing him. Before he dies, he explains that eggs are poisonous to Nomes (which explains why every antagonist in the film set Billina as their first priority). As he dies, the entire building starts to collapse, seemingly trapping the group inside but Dorothy then finds the Ruby Slippers which she can use to wish them out. After she has taken her shoes off, the temple is close to collapse, Dorothy quickly puts the slippers on and wishes for all her friends to escape the mountain and to restore the Emerald City and all its citizens. They then find themselves in a peaceful field in the moonlight, accompanied by a trapped Mombi. Billina discovers a medal on the Gump's antler. Dorothy releases Tik-Tok from the medal, stuck inside the ornament still.

The citizens of Oz celebrate Dorothy's triumph and ask her to become the Queen of Oz, but she declines in favor of returning to Kansas. The blonde girl from the clinic, seemingly drowned earlier in the story, then appears in a mirror behind Dorothy. It is revealed that she is Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz and the mother of Jack, who was sealed away in a mirror by Mombi when the Nome King promised her 30 heads in return for Ozma's imprisonment. Ozma ascends the throne of Oz and Dorothy gives her the ruby slippers. Ozma uses them to return her home, where she is found by Toto, Uncle Henry, Aunt Em and a small search party. Aunt Em reveals that Dr. Worley's clinic burned down during the night and he died trying to save his machines. A jail cart travels by, with Nurse Wilson, looking suspiciously like Mombi, imprisoned inside.

The film concludes with Dorothy's new house being finished. Ozma and Billina appearing in her bedroom mirror, hinting that her adventures in Oz may not be just a dream.

Cast

Production

Murch began development on the film in 1980, during a brainstorming session with Walt Disney Pictures production chief Tom Wilhite, “it was just a fishing expedition on both of our parts," recalls Murch. "But one of the questions he asked was, ‘What are you interested in that you think we might also be interested in?’, and I said, ‘Another Oz story.’ … And Tom sort of straightened up in his chair because it turned out, unbeknownst to me, that Disney owned the rights to all of the Oz stories. And they were particularly interested in doing something with them because the copyright was going to run out in the next five years.” [1]

Murch took a decidely darker take on Baum's source material than the 1939 original, which he knew starting out would be a gamble.

We knew going in that it was going to be risky, but it had been 45 years since the original film came out, and I thought enough time had passed for a different sensibility to have a chance--to present a somewhat more realistic view about Dorothy and her life on the farm, and have the film not be a musical. Plus there were now whole new ways of doing special effects and creatures that I thought could be used to make something that looked and felt more like the books themselves, rather than the stagy, vaudevillian approach that had been taken in 1939. I definitely felt that if we had tried to really do a sequel, which is to say, do something in the style of an MGM musical, we would have been in even greater trouble, because there's just no way you can reinvent that particular combination of people, technology, and attitude, which really reached a peak in the late 1930s and never recovered after the war.

Walt Disney Pictures was so unhappy with the project's slow progress that after five weeks they fired Murch from the film. George Lucas stuck up for Murch and convinced the studio to keep the director on.[1]

Lucas, who's a friend, heard about what happened and flew to England from Japan, where he was at the time. He met with me and looked at what I had shot, then met with the Disney executives and said "No, this is going to be great, you guys just have to be more patient with this process, let's see what can be done to facilitate it." And he guaranteed the rest of the production--he said that if something else happened, he would step in and take control. That was enough to make the executives at Disney feel more confident about what was going on, and I was back directing again after a few days. It was a fantastic act of generosity and commitment on his part.

Reception

Critics considered Return to Oz a commercial failure when compared to the original 1939 Wizard of Oz and many criticized the film's content as too dark/intense for children. "Children are sure to be startled by the film's bleakness," said The New York Times's Janet Maslin.[2] "It's bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying," added Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader. [3] The film earned only $2,844,895 in its opening weekend, finishing in seventh place. The film ultimately grossed $11,137,801 in North America, making it a financial failure. However, in recent years it has gained a cult following and has become popular among fans of the Oz franchise.[4]

Awards

Received an Academy Award nomination for "Best Visual Effects". Fairuza Balk and Emma Ridley were nominated for Young Artist Awards. The film received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film and Best Younger Actor (Fairuza Balk).

Cultural influence

  • Amelie Gillette of the AV Club frequently refers to the film's dark nature as unsuitable for its intended audience of young children[5] despite it being one of her favorite movies growing up.
  • The film inspired a fan-made documentary titled Return To Oz: The Joy That Got Away, made especially for the Internet.[7][8]

References

External links

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