Return to Oz (1985)

30 Nov

return-to-oz-1985-pic-3

Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Talk about not being in Kansas anymore, Toto.

I know “The Wizard of Oz,” one of the greatest fantasy films of all time, had its dark moments too (and I will never forget the horrific scene involving the flying monkeys and what they do to poor Scarecrow), but look at what its 1985 sequel threw at its young audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if the kids who saw this movie weren’t having nightmares based on the film’s images, or even running from the theater while screaming. We’re talking severed heads (which are very much alive), rocks with moving faces on them, and creepy menaces called Wheelers.

What’s weird is that this movie was clearly intended for children. Its plucky little protagonist and the quirky creatures she befriends along a journey through the fantasy world of Oz (though it doesn’t look as incredible as it did before; the Emerald City is a ruins now and what I guess was originally Munchkinland looks like it was replaced by a nature reserve) to be sure of that. But while it has its suitably silly fantasy-story moments, it has more moments that are bleak, disturbing, and even terrifying that you wonder if they weren’t originally going to make a horror film, or maybe a horror-comedy like a parody of “The Wizard of Oz.”

But on one hand, I think what scares some kids about this movie will delight others. Some people could argue that scaring kids is an irresponsible and somewhat too-easy move to pull in order to keep the movies edgier. But on the other hand, you could argue that kids rather enjoy being scared. That’s because when they’re scared by what’s happening on the screen, there’s the chance they could be further sucked in by what’s happening on the screen. So, I won’t pan “Return to Oz” for being dark. (However, I do wonder what the hell they were thinking when the film opens with Dorothy being locked in an insane asylum and about to undergo shock therapy to cure her insomnia!)

But aside from nifty Claymation effects and an admittedly interesting villain known as the Nome King, there really isn’t much to “Return to Oz.” It’s just Dorothy and her friends off to find the Scarecrow from the original movie and adventures happen to them. I like some of the side characters, like a talking hen and a mechanical assistant called Tik Tok. But there’s also a scary-looking, towering, naïve pumpkin-head who sees Dorothy as a mother-figure, which is kind of creepy. The delight of Oz is barely existent. And when they find the Scarecrow, there’s hardly any time to get reacquainted with the beloved character. Some of the set pieces aren’t taken enough advantage of, such as a sandy desert that swallows those who step onto it. Dorothy is not interesting in the slightest, not that I blame Fairuza Balk because the role is thankless to begin with. The pacing is slow. There’s hardly a development, nor a solid resolution. And to sum it up, “Return to Oz” isn’t a very exciting return, except for the grim scenes that are actually more interesting than anything else in the movie.

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