Dec 9 2010 2:20pm

More Filming in Fairyland: Return to Oz

Dorothy looking through the gates of OzGiven the success of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, it seems perhaps surprising that filmmakers did not immediately rush to make a sequel—especially given that they had at least 13 more stories very readily available, not to mention a still living Royal Historian of Oz, Ruth Plumly Thompson, actively pushing for film versions of her Oz tales. And yet, no sequel appeared for 46 years—apparently a record for film to sequel in Hollywood.

In part, this was because the 1939 film had made only a small profit on its original release. Any sequel would be, like the original film, and enormous financial risk, and if the original film had proved anything, it was that Oz did not come cheaply. (The eventual decision to limit the budget of Return to Oz does show, to the film’s detriment, in several scenes, and even at that, it was not cheap to film.) In part, this was because the original film hardly seemed to call out for a sequel, ending, as it had, with the firm statement that Oz was only a dream, and Dorothy would never be going back. And in part, it was because the books themselves presented problems: certainly, the second book of the series continued the story of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman—but not Dorothy or the Cowardly Lion. The third book brought back Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion, but also added several characters and a back history from the second book that might confuse any movie viewers.

And of course, by the time the 1939 film did start reaping huge profits (thanks to the annual television broadcasts, beginning in the 1950s) it was an established classic that no one wanted to tinker with (er, until this year, when a vocal and highly negative reaction from the internet demonstrated that viewers still don’t want the original tinkered with.) And although the L. Frank Baum books were moving into the public domain, the movie decidedly was not, forcing any filmmaker to pay huge fees for the rights to use certain images and concepts (notably the Ruby Slippers).

So perhaps it’s not so surprising that it took 46 years for a sequel to appear (alas, far too late for the hopes of Ruth Plumly Thompson), financed by Disney, who also paid a small fortune for the rights to use the ruby slippers. What is more surprising is that although it was billed as a sequel (and still is marketed that way, based on the cover) it both is and is not a sequel to the original film—serving more to showcase just how much films, and the vision of Oz, had changed in 46 years.

Return to Oz starts, more or less, to the same place where the earlier film ended: Kansas, except in color. But this time, Dorothy refuses to accept that Oz is just a dream—partly because she keeps coming across odd Oz-like things like keys in the chicken feed.

Time for some electric shock therapy!

Thanks to a bad combination of incompetent doctors, unreliable electricity, major thunderstorms, and Dorothy’s continued inability to respect bad weather and stay indoors, Dorothy ends up, seemingly not electrocuted, but back in Oz, via, somewhat inexplicably, what seems to be the Gulf of Mexico (the timeline and filming of this makes little sense, but it is, after all, Oz), and accompanied, even more inexplicably, by her pet hen from the farm, who had not—I think this is significant—gone with her to the asylum.

But this is not the Oz of the previous movie, nor of the books. Rather, this is a barren, terrifying land, its original inhabitants turned to stone, filled with terrifying Wheelers, a clunky if well meaning robot, and a witch fond of changing her heads. It is even more fearsome than the 1939 movie Oz ever was, if filled with considerably fewer flying monkeys. In this land, no one sings, or dances, or changes colors: indeed, some of the dancers are shown frozen in place, hands uplifted, in a rather horrible parody of scenes from the earlier film. And anyone wanting to know what happened to the Wizard or Glinda or those farmhands is out of luck. (I continue to believe that the movie farmhands headed somewhere safer for small dogs and with fewer cyclones, but I have no evidence for this.)

This second, and far more interesting, part of the film draws from The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and, well, Labyrinth. (The final few Oz scenes also draw from the later Oz books, featuring cameo appearances from several characters who shouldn’t actually be there yet—the Shaggy Man standing next to the brightly colored Patchwork Gil, the Braided Man, Santa Claus, someone I believe and IMDB confirms is a brave attempt to represent Polychrome, the Frogman, and others, even, I must admit, that horrible clown, although I’m kinda hoping the filmmakers just threw in a generic clown. I must admit I squeeed a little and made extensive use of the pause button.)

Abandoning any hope of retelling the two books, the filmmakers instead took characters and a few plot elements from those two books, and created a new tale of a destroyed Emerald City and a Dorothy as a destined savior who must work her way through Oz.

It is, and it isn’t, a sequel to the earlier film, and is, and isn’t, the books: often confusing, often dreamlike, often emotionally powerful. Some elements are definitely meant to reflect the earlier film: the decision, in a film mostly visually based on the John R. Neill illustrations, to give Dorothy Judy Garland’s brown hair (she’s blond in those illustrations); and, of course, the focus on those ruby slippers, here a central plot point again. But, even apart from the decision to eliminate the singing and the dancing of the 1939 film, this film takes a different take on Oz altogether.

Oz here is not an escape, not a place of wonder and brilliance mingled with fear, but a place where the magic and wonder has been frozen and nearly destroyed, where Dorothy, instead of encountering magic, must restore it.

But I can’t quite agree with those who argue that this film’s darker, more violent image of Oz is more true to Baum’s books than the 1939 film. For one, as I noted, that film certainly had more than its fair share of darkness and bleakness; the end of this film actually offers more hope than the 1939 film. For two, even though the film is far closer to the John R. Neill illustrations (in most cases marvelously so), it is less true to the actual characters. Just two brief examples: Jack Pumpkinhead is transformed from a lugubrious, slow, but clearly adult character into a young (if exceedingly tall) child, and Billina, that ever practical but kindly chicken has been made—dare I say it? Annoying.

These character changes have another, perhaps unforeseen impact. At their core, the Oz books featured friendship. No matter what happened to the (usually child) protagonist, or what adventures and dangers might be encountered along the way, the protagonist was certain to find friends in Oz.

Not here. Dorothy’s companions are all inferior in one way or another, forcing her into a leadership role, rather than one of a group of traveling friends. The end of the film, true, does show her reuniting with old friends in Oz (although for budget reasons the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion don’t get to speak), but for the most part, this is a Dorothy isolated and alone. It’s all the more poignant since this is a Dorothy with fewer friends in Kansas; the farmhands and traveling showman have vanished. And because in this film, she is not trying to get home, but rather rescue Oz—her dream.

Because yes, Oz may still be a dream. Or not.

Unlike its predecessors, which put Oz firmly into dream territory (the 1939 film) or reality (the original books), Return to Oz takes a firm middle ground, refusing to reveal whether Oz is real or not. Certain elements—a key, mirrors, final glimpses of Oz, suggest that Oz is quite, quite real. Yet the last scenes, the timing of the electrocution scenes (watch carefully), and the inexplicable appearance of Billina, suggest that Dorothy is only dreaming again, and allowing the people of the asylum (who reappear in Oz, in different roles) to enter her dreams. Given that she’s been electrocuted, hit on the head, and barely escaped a deadly fire, it’s easy to think she might, again, be hallucinating, and this time, more darkly.

The 1939 film managed the neat trick of confronting while simultaneously avoiding the issues of its time. This 1985 film confronts these issues directly, offering dreams that are not bright, not what are expected, and dreams that must be fought for, against the authority of the well meaning. At the same time, the 1985 film, unlike its predecessor, allows the hope of real escape, the belief that bleakness and fear and injustice can be fought against and transformed. At that, despite its generally bleaker outlook and coloring, it is actually more optimistic than the earlier film.

And in many ways the film anticipates what Guillermo del Toro would later explore so brilliantly in Pan’s Labyrinth: the uneasy boundaries between reality and dream, between sanity and insanity, all through the eyes of a firmly believing child.

That exploration, that acknowledgement of thinness of those lines (spoken, I must add, by some of the very real, mundane characters in the first part of the film) helps give this film its many magical moments. It’s well worth checking out by both Oz and fantasy fans alike. (Upstairs, Downstairs fans, on the other hand, should prepare themselves for a severe shock at the sight of Rose taking on such a visibly nasty role.) True, the limited budget shows in far too many shots (particularly after the Scarecrow appears, demonstrating just why MGM was wise not to make their Scarecrow resemble Neill’s illustrations). But the Claymation and puppet work give the fantasy elements a very real, heavy feel, something not quite achieved by most of today’s CGI work. (In the case of the scene with the disembodied heads, perhaps a rather too real, heavy feel.) For the most part, the acting is excellent (the exception is the unfortunate girl playing Ozma, who, in her defense, was not given much to work with and a role that makes little sense). It doesn’t always work (particularly with the generally inexplicable Ozma plot) but it’s almost always visually fascinating. (My viewing partner, though, no Oz fan, hated it.)

Two warnings: one, either the original film was filmed poorly and fuzzily, or this is one of the worst film to DVD transfers ever. I originally assumed something was wrong with the TV, the DVD player or my glasses, but having tested the DVD on different devices and sets of eyes, it’s definitely the DVD. I can only hope that Disney decides to release a cleaner copy, possibly on Bluray.

Second, this film may not be appropriate for small children, with at least three nightmarish scenes: the Wheelers chasing Dorothy and Billina through the ruins of the Emerald City; Dorothy running through a room of disembodied heads (otherwise the most effective scene in the film); and the angry Nome King shaking down the mountain on Dorothy and the gang. If your small inner child or your small children are still having difficulties with Flying Monkeys, you’ve been warned. Older children should be fine.

Mari Ness had to spend some time assuring herself that her head was on her neck and not in a closet after watching this film. She lives, head mostly firmly attached, in central Florida.

DA Ford
1. Ford75
I recently introduced my daughter to this movie, she liked it more than the original.
I remember first watching this movie when it first came out shortly after I'd discovered the treasure trove of Oz books (my Mom had no idea of the number of Oz books there were until I'd happened upon them in elementary school), and liking the idea of how the characters looked like they were supposed to. LOL
Melissa Shumake
2. cherie_2137
just yesterday i was talking about this movie with some friends, and saying how truly terrifying i remembered it being. after reading this, i am definitely going to be giving a re-watch a chance sometime soon.
John Fiala
3. John Fiala
This is a film I'm pretty fond of, and which I like going back to rewatch many times. My copy's still on VHS, and I remember it being pretty good quality, so I'll definately have to be careful about finding a DVD copy - what release do you have?
Chris Greenland
4. greenland
Yeah, seriously, this movie scared the crap out of me as a kid. I actually completely forgot the electroshock stuff, as that was possibly the most traumatizing thing of all.

I love that movies like this exist, though. It's so obviously someone's personal vision, and even though that vision doesn't fit at all with the franchise it's playing in, it got through the entire byzantine process of filmmaking and made it out into the world.
John Fiala
5. Story Cottage
I have always liked the Oz portions of this movie and the meshing of the two books plots. I have lived with the is it real or just a dream aspects which you see in many adaptations of children's fantasy stories. My biggest complaint is how the Nome King was handled visually.
John Fiala
6. ericshanower
Even-handed review of a problematic film.

Some comments: Return to Oz was not the first nationally-released film "sequel" to the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. The Wonderful Land of Oz came out in 1969--terrible, low-budget kiddie fare with papier mache sets, limited acting, and all the negatives of cleaving closely to the source material without the judgment to pull it off. You have to hear the songs to believe them.

Return to Oz can't draw from Labyrinth, can it? Labyrinth came out the next year, 1986.

Director Walter Murch, in a recent public forum, said that the ruby slippers rightsholders had little to say about the use of the ruby slippers in Return to Oz. The "fortune" paid for the use of the ruby slippers, if Murch is recalling correctly, seems to be an urban myth.

You imply that Dorothy actually underwent electroshock in Return to Oz. In all my viewings, I've never seen this. The power goes out just as Worley's about to throw the switch. What am I missing?

A lot of the explanation for Ozma--as an alternate version of Dorothy--was cut from the film just before release, although traces of it remain for attentive viewers. This material remained in the novelization, the graphic novel, and several other items of merchandise associated with the film. Can't say, however, that the cut material helps much to make sense of things.

The biggest problem is the "dream/not dream" argument. If Oz isn't a dream, then why is Ozma so cruel as to send Dorothy back to a muddy riverbank, dazed and dirty, rather than safely home? If Oz is a dream, then Dorothy really does need mental help cuz she's seeing fairy princesses and chickens in her mirror.
Joe Romano
7. Drunes
My daughter and I saw this movie in the theater when it was first released. It was intense, but we both loved it.
Noneo Yourbusiness
8. Longtimefan
Hooray for Mari Ness and her love of Oz for indeed this is a very even handed review of a movie that can poloraize audiences.

It was pretty severe for a kid audience even in 1985. This was however at the time that movies were pushing idealogical boundries on what children could handle as "dramatic threats" and the era that brought about PG-13.

@ 6 Ericshanower

Labrynth and Return to Oz shared many designers from the Henson workshop and had a very probably cross over in ideas and drawings while in pre-production. It is difficult to say with release schedules not always lining up with the finish of a movie to say if one borrows from another when they are within a year of eachother in the theaters.

If anything the Wheelers used a similar stilt technology to the Walkers in Dark Crystal with wheels on the ends of the stilts. There was a decent documentary on the making of Return to Oz. I wonder if it is included on the DVD.

Thank you Mari Ness for sharing your love of all things Oz with us through Tor's website. If there are future projects you are working on with them I will gladly read them.
Bruce E. Durocher II
9. bedii
I have always felt sorry for the director of this film. When it was being made Disney was so afraid that a first-time director would screw up the film that they had George Lucas on set for one week and Coppola the next, just in case they needed to take the film away from him. (Coppola was jovial about it: "It's what they made me do for George's first feature.") Then it came out and got clobbered by Ebert who announced it was unacceptable for children because it was "too frightening," which made me wonder if he'd ever seen "The Wizard of Oz" in a theater with children in the audience. Oh, and I saw "Return to Oz" in original release and it was crystal clear: you've definitely got a bad transfer.
Fake Name
10. ThePendragon
For many years I had vague memories of this movie, chiefly of the witch and her changing heads. Though it's funny because for all of those years I was filled with uncertainty of it's actual existence. I always had these vague memories but couldn't remember what it was called, or when and where I had seen it, and no one knew what I was talking about. For some time I began to doubt if I had ever seen it and began to think maybe I had dreamed it all up. However, about two years ago I decided to settle it and looked around and quickly found it on netflix. I watched it again and loved it. It is an amazing film and one of my favorites. I feel this film has affected me in so many ways over the years even with only the vaguely recalled memories. I can't say I like it more than the original for purely nostalgic reasons, but I like them both equally in very different ways.
Mari Ness
11. MariCats
I'll be breaking up responses into a couple of posts to make things easier for me.

@Ford75. I have to admit, I squeed when I saw Tik-Tok -- looking exactly like Tik-Tok. Ok, he didn't exactly walk the way he does in my imagination, but he looks utterly perfect. And that final Emerald City scene where all of the John R. Neill illustrations come to life was another gleeful moment.

@Cherie_2137 It really does have some terrifying moments - particularly the sequence with Mombi's heads. I don't know that I would classify this as a horror movie, but it certainly skirts the edge of that category.

@John Fiala I have the 2004 DVD release. It's watchable, but an unforgivably bad transfer -- I know this was not one of Disney's high earning films, but still. Disney's done beautiful work with films in considerably worse condition, and this is especially painful to compare to the MGM DVD release of the 1939 film, which was beautifully restored and transferred. You might want to stick with your VHS until/unless Disney releases a Bluray version.

@greenland - I think, and now I rather wish that I had mentioned this in the original post, that although you're quite right to say that this doesn't fit the franchise at all, it's a marvelous example of how one fantasy can directly inspire another, quite different fantastical vision.

@Story Cottage - Yeah, the budget issues certainly show up in the Nome King sequence. I rather wish they'd left the Nome King as the smaller, Santa Claus like figure of Ozma of Oz -- I think it would have worked much better. Or at least tried some other filming technique, because the clear fakery is distracting.
Mari Ness
12. MariCats
@ericshanower - Wait, there's another Oz film WITH TERRIBLE MUSIC that I haven't seen????

This is the first I've heard of this particular film, and I can see I'm going to have to hunt it down if just for the snark value. Much thanks for the alert!

I am, however, terribly disappointed to hear that the entire issue of paying for the Ruby Slippers rights is an urban myth -- it's another one of those tales that sounds as if it ought to be true.

Regarding the electrocution -- after seeing the end of the film, I went back to rewatch that sequence, and although on a first viewing it seemed clear that the power went out before Dorothy was electrocuted, on a second viewing, combined with the doctor's lecture about the connection between energy and dreams, it looks more ambiguous. I think the film means to suggest the possibility that everything from the blackout on is only a vision/hallucination brought on by throwing the switch -- or that Dorothy got her first jolt before the blackout happened, or that she merely hallucinated from the combined effects of getting locked into a room, almost electrocuted, and barely escaping a major fire. I do find it interesting that in this film, she has no desire to go home until she is certain that the beauty and fun of her hallucinations/dreams have been restored.

And like you, I had problems with the end if Oz isn't a dream: nowhere does the film suggest that Ozma (either as the asylum girl or the princess of Oz) would be so deliberately cruel. (And for everything I've said about Ozma in the books, I can't see Ozma, even Thompson's Ozma, ever doing something so cruel to Dorothy or anyone else.) I could only explain it -- and I will admit this is weak -- by thinking that perhaps, after all of that imprisonment in mirrors/a Kansas asylum, Ozma just doesn't have much control over her magic yet.

@Ericshanower and @longtimefan -- Yes, the same workshop was already working on Labyrinth, which was a long time in the making, when they worked on this film, and watching the two films together shows mutual borrowing. Not that the concept of "girl destined to save our kingdom arrives in magical world and must go through a long terrifying journey with puppets to save the kingdom" is particularly unique or original to either film, but the mutual influence probably does help explain why this not exactly Ozzy plot showed up in an Oz movie.

And no, the DVD does not contain the documentary. Or for that matter a Spanish language track or subtitles. It gets more inadequate every time I look at it.
Mari Ness
13. MariCats
@longtimefan and @bedii -- I think it really depends upon the child. Many kids, and certainly older ones, should be just fine -- and of course I know several kids who think it's fun to be scared. A bigger problem might be that the film does not get off to a very fast start, and some kids will get bored in the Kansas sequences.

@ThePendragon -- I must admit to preferring the 1939 film. But like you, this might be childhood nostalgia speaking. The 1939 film had a very cute dog and I LOVED it and HAD to find out what happened, scary as it was. I didn't see this film until I was much older (it didn't come out until I was a teenager) and by then, not only was I of course superior and cynical, but the movie wasn't my Oz from the books.

So I'd definitely say that earlier recollections are coloring my rewatches of both films.
Amy Houser
14. amylikestodraw
I'm a giant fan of this book series and this film.
You're right, Mary - the film "Return to Oz" captures the darker atmosphere of Oz much better than the bubbly musical. The original Oz film was made in a time when musicals were one of the vehicles for delivery of stories that people really responded to, so I can't hold it against the filmmakers, really. It would never have reached as many people and made the books so well known to a larger demographic.

Thanks for the informative article!
John Fiala
15. Stefan Jones
I never saw this film. I read many of the Oz books in elementary school, but the marketing for this film somehow turned me off. After reading this review I believe I'll have to give it a try.

There have been several animated Oz-es. I have vague memories of one that ran in the mid-60s, with diminutive cutesy versions of the characters. They were popular enough to appear on Band-aids! The characters were also used as a introductory / framing device for a childrens' television anthology series that ran in syndication.

There was a movie-length Oz film that I saw as a kid in the 1970s. It ran on TV but might have had theatrical release. Liza Minelli provided the voice of Dorothy. Ah, here we go:

The Journey Back to Oz:
(Weird: Voices and music were done in 1964, and the animation done 10 years later!)

The "This" syndicated digital television network occasional runs an animated, serialized version of the original Oz story. I believe it is Chinese in origin, with graphic tropes borrowed from kiddie-anime. The episodes I saw were really sappy and charmless.
Ian Gazzotti
17. Atrus
I always loved Return to Oz, and it still is one of my favourite movies from my childhood. 11-year old me preferred a lot that this was not a musical, and was pleasantly terrorized by the scenes with Mombi and the head cabinets.
I didn't even know there were other Oz books at the time (I don't know if they've ever been published in Italy) so it was a fresh and original story to me, and it was interesting, years later, to compare it to the original materials.
I also never realized the people at the end were supposed to be characters from the other books, so I shall definitely have to watch that scene again. And the whole movie, while I'm at it. :)
Nick Rogers
18. BookGoblin
There's some confusion about the production overlap between Oz and Labyrinth.

Return to Oz's look and feel was being developed by Charles Bishop based almost entirely on his role as the AD for 'The Dark Crystal' (as well as the TV show 'The Saint' and movies 'Superman II' and 'Moonraker' and he would go on to do 'Young Sherlock Holmes' immediately afterwards) and his department was very specific in it's focus. Disney gave him an initial budget that was more enthusiastic than they would ultimately authorize as time went by.

Labyrinth was a project that was worked on by about a half dozen Art Directors who formed an almost who's who of AD work from the past decade and would rule the sci-fi world into the 21st century. Frank Walsh, Terry Ackland-Snow, Peter Howitt, Roger Cain and Michael White all had impact on the design during it's long gestation.

While they both used resources from the Henson Company puppet shops and model makers, the art design and set units were very different and didn't have a lot of overlap.

I'd say it's a bit unfair to project that Charles Bishop was leveraging Labyrinth material, as he didn't have access to or the desire to use those materials. This was a dream job for him, and he really poured a lot of what made his vision unique into it. A real passion for the gothic and dark elements combined with a faithful implementation of the John R Neill illustrations gave it a wonderful feel, even if the budget cuts towards the end left some of the Gnome King elements in a sad state of realization.

Whereas, Labyrinth looks like what happens when six different cooks all stir Brian and Wendy Froud's pot and nobody ever put a checkbook away.

My other comment is that the Joan D Vinge novelization is built from the exceptional first shooting script, and contains some marvelous nuances left out of the final edit of the movie. If you liked the movie but felt it was a bit flat, hunt down the novelization and you will be richly rewarded.
John Fiala
19. Gardner Dozois
One of my favorite films.

I always assumed that Dorthy's adventures in Oz are hallucinations that she's having while undergoing electroshock therapy. If you look closely at the Doctor's rather steampunkish electroshock machine before he throws the switch, you can see many of the elements encountered later represented in it, and the fact that the Doctor and the Nome King were played by the same actor, and outwardly reasonable and charming yet ultimately menacing in both cases, lends credence to the "hallucination during electroshock" theory, as does the fact (you're right) that Belinda isn't at the mental institution with her. The only question is, when does reality come back in? How does she end up on the riverbank? Why is the nurse being carted off in a police cart, as though she's a criminal or insane? That whole sequence is full of unexplained questions, and deeply unsatisfying.

The actual ending sequence, with Dorothy back at the farm, demonstrates clearly, I think, that Dorothy was mentally disturbed (probably a schizophrenic) from the start, and what the experience with electroshock therapy has done is not cure her, but rather teach her how to MAINTAIN, in an old doper's term. To act normal, no matter what's going on in her head. She still sees vivid hallucinations of Oz, but she's learned to keep her mouth shut about them, and experience them in private.

The movie is scary in places, yes, especially the terrifying Mombi sequence, but it's no darker, really, than the last few HARRY POTTER movies have been, and my guess is that all but the youngest children could handle it. Kids are harder to scare these days.
John Fiala
20. Eric Gjovaag
Lots of stuff to add, so I'll just jump right in:

1) The reason for no sequel for so long? Walt Disney had bought up all the movie rights to the rest of the Baum Oz books, hoping to make his own Oz movie. He came close-ish with The Rainbow Road to Oz, featured on an episode of Disneyland in the '50s (starring the Mousketeers), but he eventually abandoned the project. More Oz movies started getting made only as the earliest books entered public domain.

2) Speaking of other Oz movies/shows you may want to check out (all have been released on DVD), there's Shirley Temple as Tip/Ozma in a TV adaptation of The Land of Oz in 1960; Return to Oz (same title, very different story), a 1964 TV special; the previously mentioned The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969, and the cheapest Oz movie ever made, at least in English) and Journey Back to Oz; and, of course, The Wiz, Tin Man, and The Muppets' Wizard of Oz. Someone also mentioned the series The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on This, which was originally made in Japan (not China). The entire series hasn't been released on DVD in English, but there are film abridgements: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and The Emerald City of Oz. The series is also available, in small chunks, online at

3) I don't recall Notta Bit More being in the coronation scene—and he shouldn't have been since he was (and is) still under copyright, nor was he a Baum character. You may be seeing the Bumpy Man, from The Scarecrow of Oz. Of course, despite lots of freeze frames and behind-the-scenes documentation, Oz fans still can't agree on each and every character appearing in those scenes.

4) The documentary was The Whimsical World of Oz, and covered a lot more about Oz than just Return to Oz, but the last third was clearly aimed at getting posteriors into seats. It was shown on PBS (!) back in 1985, but has never been on any DVD release of Return to Oz.

5) The novelization is really easy to find online, and most stores that have it charge pennies. You'll pay more for shipping.

6) I, personally, didn't find Billina annoying. She had some of the best lines in the film, in fact (but the Gump stole the show, IMHO). I can certainly understand why one would find her grating, however.
John Fiala
21. Gardner Dozois
Apparently Andrew Llyod Webber is doing a new musical stage version of THE WIZARD OF OZ in London, which will use some songs from the movie and add new ones.
John Fiala
22. Stefan Jones

I've read that the Russians really dug Oz, and that in addition to translations there were home-brew additions or hommages to the series. It wouldn't surprise me if there were animated and/or live-action Soviet-era Oz or Oz-like films.
Mari Ness
23. MariCats
@amylikestodraw - To be fair, I don't think the 1939 film was trying to be particularly accurate to the Oz material - otherwise that whole "Oz is just a dream thing" would never have come up, and the art direction for Oz, if loosely based on the Denslow illustrations, never really attempted to look like the book - in contrast to this film where clearly the filmmakers were trying to make all of the supporting characters look like the Neill illustrations.

@Stefan Jones - Right. I should have mentioned the marketing -- my vague memories tell me that the original marketing was awful, and it hasn't improved much since: the DVD cover is STILL advertising this as a direct sequel to the 1939 film, raising some very false expectations. It's an odd failure on the part of the Disney marketing machine, but I guess this film isn't a priority.

I'm very tempted to check out the Journey Back to Oz -- thanks for the info!

@Atrus - I have no idea if anyone in Italy ever published or translated the Oz books. When I lived in Italy in the late 70s, my Oz books either came from the States (the first two) or from the British Penguin editions from London bookshops. I can say that they weren't readily available in Milano in the late 1970s. Maybe Rome?

And yes, many of the people in the end are from the various later Oz books -- I think the easiest to identify are the Patchwork Girl and the Frogman, but there are others, and it was kinda fun to play "catch the Oz character."

@BookGoblin - The thing is, Return to Oz, for all of its inspiration from the Oz illustrations, does not feature an Oz plot or theme (except for the traditional party near the end, but then the follow-up to that is distinctly un-Ozzy), and in look and tone, is far closer to Labyrinth, and to a lesser extent The Dark Crystal. Given that many people were collaborating and discussing (and in at least Brian Henson's case, acting/puppeteering) in both films, some creative overlap was probably inevitable.

I didn't find the movie flat, exactly - I found it problematic, but I am definitely going to look for the novelization (which I missed on the original release) - thanks!

@Gardner Dozois - We thought that the nurse was getting carted off because she was suspected of starting the fire, either deliberately or through neglect?

The more I think about the film, the more I'm inclined to agree with your interpretation - that Dorothy has gone insane, and just learned not to talk about it, probably to avoid further electroshock therapy. The whole confusion of exactly when she left reality, and when she returned, is, I think, part of that whole insanity -- it's left unexplained and unsatisfactory because that's the way that mental illness often is, unexplained and unsatisfactory, never tied up into neat endings.

I have heard about the Andrew Lloyd Webber extravanganza -- hopefully either I will get to London by then, or Webber will send a travelling show to Orlando.
Mari Ness
24. MariCats
Ok, we'll try this again since the internet ate my previous attempt.

@Eric Gjovaag - Fair enough on Disney owning and holding onto the film rights -- but this still comes down to Disney feeling that they did not have enough money to do justice to either the 1939 film or the books. The studio certainly poured money into some films that were not immediate financial successes, but that could only be done for so long and had to be balanced out with cheaply produced films that could be quick earners, and doing Oz properly isn't cheap.

I wasn't impressed with The Wiz or Tin Man, but I must confess to a sneaking fondness for The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (then again I generally have a sneaking fondness for anything featuring the divine Miss Piggy, so I'm a terrible judge here.) I'm going to have to check out the other films -- thanks!

That Emerald City sequence definitely as a clown in it; whether or not it's Notta Bit More is open to interpretation. After some thought I'm going with no, partly because of the copyright issue (which I'd totally forgotten about, thanks!) and mostly because I am happier thinking of the Emerald City as entirely free from Notta Bit More. And there's another character that I thought might be the Bumpy Man but I couldn't be sure. I have to admit I freeze framed a lot to pick out individual characters -- that was a lot of fun.

@Stefan Jones - Russian writer Alexander Melentyevich Volkov wrote several sequels to The Wizard of Oz, in Russian, both reputedly homages and additions to the series. I've never had the chance to read any of them, although English translations are available.
John Fiala
25. Gardner Dozois
Although I like the movie, in a way that's far worse than what's done in the 1939 WIZARD OF OZ--Oz is not a dream she's having, she's just nuts.

Wonder how long it was before a movie could accept a fantasy world as a "really real" place that the character really went to rather than a dream or a hallucination?
John Fiala
26. ericshanower
There are several Russian film versions of both the Baum Oz books and Alexander Volkov's series of books about Magic Land, his version of Oz. Some are live action, some are animated. The best--by far!--that I've seen is a stop-motion animated tv version from the 1970s, Volshebnik Izumrudnogo Goroda. I believe it's on dvd, although I only have it on tape. It's several parts and adapts the first three Volkov books: The Wizard of the Emerald City, Urfin Dzhus and his Wooden Soldiers, and Seven Underground Kings. I've never seen a version with subtitles, but the episodes covering the first book are easily followable by non-Russian speakers who know the story of The Wizard of Oz. The character design and the animation are charming. I recommend it.

Journey Back to Oz has interesting elements--for instance Ethel Merman playing Mombi--but is ultimately disappointing--especially the reactions of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. One of the more surprising characters is Woodenhead, the living merry-go-round horse. That this character is so close to the book character Merry Go Round is evidently a coincidence since this movie and the McGraws' book were seemingly written at approximately the same time.

The Rankin Bass Return to Oz is basically a pale retread of The Wizard of Oz, but has some bright spots and good songs. It was based on the 1960s Tales of the Land of Oz series of tv cartoons mentioned in an above post. Dorothy and the Green Gobbler of Oz aka Thanksgiving in the Land of Oz aka Christmas in Oz, with a lot of the same people involved in the animated Return to Oz, is much more satisfying and Ozzy, even though it's not adapted from any Oz book. But the songs aren't as good as the animated Return to Oz.

The movie version of The Wiz was an embarrassing disservice to the excellent stage show. The two elements transferred from the stage--Mabel King and Ted Ross--are the most (maybe the only) engaging things about the movie--unless you like gold g-strings. And the movie version cut out some of the best songs!

I thought Labyrinth was based on Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak.
John Fiala
27. KipTW
The 1939 Oz is my favorite movie, but I still like this one a lot. I think they got a lot right, and looking right.

My boss at the time had a four-year-old son, who she took to see the movie. I asked how he dealt with the scene where they're going to give her electroshock, and she said he just thought she was wearing headphones.
Jason Erik Lundberg
28. jelundberg
I was nine years old when this came out in the theatres, and it scared the shit out of me. However, after reading this review, I should track it down and give it another chance.
John Fiala
29. Monster A GoGo
There are also the Turkish and Brazilian versions of "The Wizard of Oz". I've seen bootlegs of both for sale (I've ordered the Turkish--not gotten it yet. Contemplating the Brazilian version). Both sound crazy awful-awesome! There was also a Spanish movie called "3 Fantasia" ("Three fantasies") made in 1966 comprised of three short children's stories, one of which was "The Wizard of Oz". Here's a link to info about it (with photos):

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