Close your eyes, Click your heels and Return to the Cult Classic!
Return to Oz is a film by Walt Disney Pictures from 1985. It was produced by Paul Maslansky, and directed by Walter Murch from a screenplay by Murch and Gill Dennis. Star Wars veteran Gary Kurtz was executive producer.
It is loosely based on L. Frank Baum's second and third novel of the Oz series of the fourteen classic books Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz originally written by Baum himself. The film was thought by many to be a musical sequel to the classic 1939 film, but has no musical numbers and bears little resemblence to Judy Garlands' Oz other than having the more popular Ruby Slippers appear in the story instead of the original Silver Shoes in the books which pop culture is less familiar with.
During it's release in 1985 it was considered a controversial flop and box office failure. Return to Oz was panned by critics and labeled as "too scary and intense for children". After the picture was shown at Radio City Music Hall, the majority of main stream media sadly forgot about it, "Putting it out of they're heads" as one journalist wrote in a review years later. The film was only appealing for those to whom the film spoke to, being mostly Die-Hard Oz fans and admirers of the fantasy films of the 80's such as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and fans of Jim Henson puppetry which was also used in Return to Oz.
Regardless of it's state of the art puppetry and special effects which it won an award for in 1986, Return to Oz suffered the cruel fate of it’s poor reception not only on the fact that they thought it was too grim and terrifying for children, but also because people had been somewhat brainwashed into believing what the concept of Oz was because of the MGM movie: colorful, cheerful and bright and in the end not even a real place but almost a fever dream of (Judy Garland) Dorothy. In Judys' Oz, it is a mere dreamworld of a of sixteen year old girl playing a twelve year old child. But the real Oz isn’t a dream world, Oz is in the terms of the books just another land, another place that’s abnormal compared to our own where great and marvelous things are possible.
Despite it's unsuccessful theatrical run this little adaptation of Oz it has grown a huge fan base over the decades, has received immense praise for it's faithfulness to Baums original source material. And has now become a true and official "Cult Classic" with fans all across the world, from America to Japan, even having it's own website.
- "In one of the most beloved tales of all time known as 'The Wizard Of Oz', a young and innocent farm girl from Kansas named Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto, had many wonderful adventures with three unforgettable friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion in the Land of Oz. In this story, Dorothy takes a trip over the Rainbow once again and returns to that magical place with Billina; the sassy wise cracking Hen. The two meet many other new friends; Tik-Tok the Mechanical man of Oz's Royal Army, the sweet jack Pumpkinhead and the flying Gump. They band together as they are all up against new evil villains who have stolen the Ruby Slippers, destroyed the yellow brick road, demolished the Emerald City, and have kidnapped the Emerald City's King, the Scarecrow. It's up to Dorothy and her companions to save Oz's apocalyptic state from a villianess head changing Princess, and an evil rock King who rules over the underground minions of Nomes. Thus, unveiling a long lost secret to the Heir of Oz's Imperial Royal Throne. Will Dorothy set things right again, or will all of Oz be doomed forever? "
- ―Return to Oz Synopsis.
RETURN TO OZ...
It has been six long months since the tornado from the first story hit the Kansas prairie and carried the farmhouse away, and a depressed and broken down Uncle Henry (Matt Clark) is trying to build a new one. It is half finished, with winter just around the corner.
The majority of the Gale farm is in ruins. The barnyard has been severely damaged by the storm and is barley standing. And everything around is either gone or in a state of poverty and despair. Thus, having to be put the entire farm and the farmland in mortgage. Billina, the yellow farm hen, (Denise Bryer) isn't laying eggs for Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) to cook to feed the family anymore and complains about Uncle Henry's laziness due to a broken leg. Which is his excuse as to why the new house isn't finished. Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk), once a bright and energetic child has now become melancholy beyond her years. She suffers from insomnia, hasn't slept a night straight through or played with her pet dog, Toto, since her return from the magical Land of Oz. She has nightmares about Oz and no one believes her stories about her amazing fantastical adventures. One day while doing her daily farm chores, she finds a key thanks to Billina the hen in the barn that has "Oz" engraved in it after seeing a magic shooting star the night before. Dorothy is strongly convinced it is from there and that her old friends may all be sending her a sign saying that they are in trouble. Concerned for Dorothy's mental state, a worried Aunt Em takes her to a psychiatric clinic and seeks the help of a professional psychiatrist so she can sleep again. The stern Dr. Worley, (Nicol Williamson) carefully listens to her story about Oz, and after questioning Dorothy several times decides to use an electroshock therapy machine on her to cure her of all her Oz "delusions". Aunt Em sadly kisses her goodbye and tells her that she will back for her the next day, when Dr. Worley is done treating her as his patient. And she even promises to bring Toto when she comes back. The head nurse, Nurse Wilson, (Jean Marsh) a stern faced woman dressed all in black takes Dorothy to an empty dark waiting room after Aunt Em leaves to return to the farm before nightfall.
There she meets a mysterious and pretty young girl (Emma Ridley) around her age, who happened to come out of nowhere. She is dressed in an old fashioned hospital gown of all white with ruddy blonde hair. She asks Dorothy why she was brought to the hospital and gives her a little pumpkin with a carved face as Halloween is right around the corner. Screaming and yelling can be faintly heard in the background somewhere in the hospital.
The strange girl disappears and Dorothy is left all alone in solitude. Hours later Nurse Wilson finally fetches her. She ties her to a stretcher and she is rolled away down the halls of the hospital to a little room where the electroshock machine is held. Just as Dr. Worley is about to use it on her, a terrible thunderstorm hits which causes the power to go out. Dr. Worley and Nurse Wilson leave to check the generator. Dorothy is left all alone in the dark again, and the screams and cries in the distance can be heard more clearly now. Shortly after the girl Dorothy met earlier mysteriously arrives to help her quickly escape, revealing that the screaming she heard wasn't just her imagination but real. Dr. Worley's machine has mentally damaged and driven most of his patients mad and insane. The girl also says that he, along with the help of Nurse Wilson, has locked them all away in a cellar to keep people from knowing the truth and fighting him and Nurse Wilson out of their crimes. However, when the girls leave the room and rush towards the exit, they are seen and caught red handed by Nurse Wilson who glares at them and becomes infuriated. She pursues to chase after them, along with other staff.
The girls run in fear for their lives and flee the hospital grounds, out into the night storm as lightning strikes and thunder fills the sky. They accidentally slip down a muddy landslide and fall into a raging river nearby. They try to hold on to a large brantch but it breaks off and they are pulled into the tide of the river further and further away. Nurse Wilson jumps into the water to try and grab one of them but is unsuccessful.
The mystery girl seemingly drowns as she is pulled underwater, while Dorothy luckily finds an old wooden chicken coop, large enough to fit inside, which was floating nearby. She grabs ahold of it, climbs safely inside, and falls fast asleep as it floats off into the abyss carried by the strong current and into the unknown.
The next day, the storm is over, and a sleeping Dorothy wakes up nice and dry to see Billina at her side in the coop. Strange enough, she can magically talk, and Dorothy realizes that she must be in a fairy land, possibly even Oz.
They notice that they are not in Kansas anymore, and surrounded by nothing but sand and rocks. Dorothy also takes caution and remembers that if she is back in Oz, it's four corners are surrounded by a great and vast deadly desert that separates it from the real world. Anything living that touches it dies and instantly turns to grains of sand. Dorothy climbs out of the coop, balances on rocky stones so she doesn't touch the sand, and hops to the land nearby. It is awaiting them is a grassy green meadow filled with rich trees and little flowers. They finally make it safely on the shore, go exploring, and see if Dorothy can find any of her old friends to reunite with, specifically the Scarecrow who is now the King of Oz since the Wizard has left.
The Nome Messenger, (Pons Maar), who is a look out to spy on Oz and it's inhabitants, sees that everything is going according to plan as Dorothy has returned after all this time. He immediately informs his majesty the Nome King, who rules in a foreign realm that neighbors Oz across the desert. He is glad to hear she has returned but also enraged to find out that she has a pet chicken with her. Back in Oz, and after having a tasty meal from a "Lunch Pail-Tree", Dorothy and Billina eventually reach Munchkinland, only to find it completely deserted, desolate, and very gloomy, surrounded by a thick dark forest instead of the lovely colorful place she remembers.
They find her old farmhouse that the tornado blew away and landed on the Wicked Witch of the East and discover that the Yellow Brick Road has been completely destroyed. The bricks have been pulled out of the ground and removed from it's foundation. The all are either broken in half or lay jumbled up in a mess. Dorothy follows it running as fast as she can with Billina running behind her in a panic. Hours later, they finally arrive to the Emerald City to find that it has had all of its precious emeralds stolen and is in a apocalyptic state of decay by the catastrophe.
Everyone of its citizens has been turned to stone, including the Tin Woodman (Deep Roy), and the Cowardly Lion. And the beautiful dancing slave girls of the city have mysteriously lost they're heads. While wonderng around looking for any possible survivors, Dorothy and Billina are suddenly attacked by the Wheelers, a gang of scary looking, creepy, and Psychotic creatures with wheels instead of hands and feet. They viciously terrorize and bully Dorothy and she runs as they chase after her. They run down a dark alleyway only to reach a dead end with a locked door. Billina reminds Dorothy about the key she found at home, so she can unlock the door and get inside before the Wheelers catch them. Safe inside the tiny dark room, they find a mechanical man made of copper named Tik-Tok (Michael Sundin), (Sean Barrett) and (Timothy Rose), who is the official royal army of Oz and completely runs on clockwork, dependent on being wond up like a toy.
She winds up his thinking, speech, and action. Tik-Tok explains to her that when everything living began to turn to stone, the King Scarecrow placed him there before he disappeared and told him to wait for her. To thank her for winding him back up, he promises to be her obedient servent as long she keeps his clockwork going. So she, Billina, and Tik-Tok then leave the room and go back onto the city grounds. Tik-Tok defeats the Wheelers in a battle. He captures the lead Wheeler, who tells them that the Nome King conquered Oz, stole all of the city's beautiful emeralds after a war, and turned everyone to stone. And that Princess Mombi is the only one left who might know the whereabouts of the Scarecrow.
The lead Wheeler leads them to the Royal Palace of Oz which is now Mombi's castle in the middle of the city. It is also the only standing building in the entire city. Obeying Dorothy's comands, Tik-Tok releases him which he does, and Dorothy enter the castle after knocking on the giant door with no response other than they're own eerie echoes. Once inside they go up a flight of stairs and meet Mombi (Jean Marsh), (Sophie Ward). Who apparently lives alone in isolation. She is found sitting on her royal throne playing angelic music to entertain herself and past the time. Her castle is vast and magnificent in size and struture. The design is breathtaking. It's made out of solid gold with crystal chandeliers that light the entire room up with a glow. The walls, floor, and ceiling are made out of spotless mirrors at every angle, so Mombi can always have her reflection to look at and admire herself all day long. She is lovely indeed as she sits on a gold and red velvet throne dressed in a elegant ballgown. Yet she is lazy, with a terrible temper and keeps 30 changeable, young, and beautiful heads in her private bedchambers, so she can change her appearance to match her mood and look whenever she pleases, having gotten and stolen them all from the dancing slave girls. Dorothy kindly asks her what happened to Oz and all of its people.
Mombi takes Dorothy by the hand and tells Tik-Tok and Billina to stay and wait outside of her rooms. Dorothy is taken down a long hallway of locked cabinets, each constructed of solid gold and glass with a head of an attractive girl inside. Mombi switches her head and picks head #4, which has dark wavy hair in an updo and porcelain skin. She then explains to Dorothy that the Nome King conquered the Emerald City. Then he collected all of his emeralds back, kidnapped the Scarecrow, and took him to his Nome mountain before turning every living thing in Oz to stone. She, looking at Dorothy strangly, then pursues her and says that she isn't beautiful but has a unique look, different from her other heads and has a "certain prettiness". She tells her that she will proceed to lock her away for a few years until her head is fully grown and ready. Then she'll take it to add to her collection. Dorothy objects and cries out for Billina and Tik-Tok to help. They try to stop Mombi, but Tik Tok freezes as his action winds down at the last second stopping him dead in his tracks. Mombi laughs at them cruelly and she takes Dorothy and Billina up a long staircase in a passageway, opened by a secret trapdoor. She locks them in the room in the top of the highest tower filled with old antique decor and dusty furniture covered in cobwebs. Now virtual prisoners, they meet the sweet and gentle Jack Pumpkinhead, (Brian henson) who also was locked away and eventually forgotten about. He is made of tree branches and sticks to form the figure of a man.
He is dressed in mixed-match clothing and has a giant pumpkin for a head. He says that his "Mom" built him to scare Mombi before she vanished. He says she then decided to use her Powder of Life on him, which she got from a magician. This gives Dorothy an idea for how to escape. When Mombi falls asleep later that night and all is silent, Jack unlocks the tower's door and he and Dorothy sneak down to wind up Tik-Tok. He and Jack return to the top of the tower, and with Billina they begin to build a flying machine using two old sofas pushed and tied together, palm tree leaves for wings, and a Gump's head. Dorothy tip-toes into Mombi's bedchamber while she and her heads are asleep. Dorothy carefully unties the black silk ribbon on Mombi's ruby key that she wears around her wrist, even when she is asleep and Dorothy unlocks Cabinet 31 in Mombi's hall of head. Her original head and Powder of Life are in there, surrounded by other magic potions and Voodoo dolls. While reaching for the powder, Dorothy accidentally knocks something over, waking up Mombi who begans screaming, "DOROTHY GALE!!! This wakes up all of the other heads in her collection and they began screaming too. She tries to bite Dorothy's hand when she grabs the container that holds the Powder of Life.
But Dorothy slams the cabinet door in her face. Her headless body awakes too and begans to reach out for Dorothy to stop her. She quickly dodges it, runs off, and returns to the top of the tower. Tik-Tok's thinking has run down, causing him to go bonkers and rant complete nonsense as he speaks jibberish while bouncing around the room, slowing down the process. After Dorothy winds him up again, she says the magic words and uses the powder to bring the Gump to life. They all escape moments after Mombi, with her original head, enters the room. they fly over the ruins of the Emerald city and towards the direction of the Nome King's mountain which is straight ahead.
Mombi makes it outside of the tower at the very bottom to awaken the Wheelers who are sleeping on the stairs and front porch in front of the entrance door. She yells and violently kicks them all to wake up fast. She demands them all to chase after the Gump and sends them off after she points up above at Dorothy and her companions as they fly across the moon into the night sky. They do as they are told, but when the Gump flies over the shores of the land and above the Deadly Desert, right out of Oz, leaving it far behind, five of the Wheelers lose control of their wheels and fall into the sand instantly killing them. The seven remaining ones return to Mombi's castle within the city empty handed. The next day, the Gump begins to fall apart, as the rope holding the sofas together snaps, resulting in him, Dorothy, Tik-Tok, Jack, and Billina crashing down, falling from the sky onto the Nome King's mountain. Jack's head falls off in the process, and Billina hides in it before it is reattached. The Gump's head is tied back to the sofa so he can walk.
The Nome King (Nicol Williamson) suddenly apears right before them on the high cliff above, having his face imprinted and visible to the eye as he is also a part of the mountains' rock wall. Dorothy politely tells him that she and her companions are there to conquer him, he causes an earthquake and makes the ground split apart and break, causing them to fall into his underground throne room of rocks and treasures.
The Nome King explains the situation from his point of view as Dorothy falls deeper and deeper, like Alice down the Rabbit Hole, into the Earth, passing dazzling jewels and other rare gems made for him by his Nomes. Once she finally reaches the bottom she is briefly reunited with the Scarecrow, (Justin Case) but for only less than a mere second before he is transformed within the blink of an eye into an ornament and teleported away by the Nome King to add to his decorated collection room. The Nome King tells Dorothy that the Scarecrow stole his emeralds from him first, and that all the ones in the city really belonged to him first as they were all from his mountain to begin with. And he was just rightfully taking them all back. Dorothy argues that they were already there long before the Scarecrow got his brains and became the King of the city. The Nome King decides to let the group each have three guesses as to which ornament the Scarecrow is, and if they guess right, he will be restored along with everything else in Oz, and they all will be allowed to leave his mountain.
The Gump goes first, mumbles to himself, and complains the whole way. Meanwhile the Nome King sits on his rock throne as he smokes his pipe l and shows hospitality to his guests and caters a yummy refreshment for them all, limestone pie and hot melted silver. When the Gump ends up guessing wrong three times, he is turned into an ornament. Unfortunately on Jack Pumpkinhead's turn, he is also unsuccessful. Each time someone becomes an ornament, the Nome King becomes more and more human like in appearance.
During Tik-Tok's turn, the Nome King reveals to Dorothy that he has gotten a hold of her magical Ruby slippers, which he found and kept as his own. He wears them on his feet as they sparkle in all their brilliance. And he also confesses to her that their magical powers gave him the ability to conquer the Emerald City, destroy Oz, and do as he pleased to its people. He was able to get a hold of them as they fell off of Dorothy's feet and out of the sky one day when she clicked her heels together and said, "There's no place like home!" When she was sent back into the real world, she was so anxious and excited to get back to her family that she did not hold tight enough inside the slippers and they slipped off her feet and landed on the top of the Nome King's mountain and into the wrong hands. She sadly realizes that what happened to Oz is part of her fault. Seconds later the Nome messenger appears to tell the Nome King that Tik-Tok has seemingly wound down before he can make his last guess, and therefore is standing perfectly still in the middle of the room. So he sends Dorothy in to wind him back up, and while she is there, among the ornaments, she can guess for herself. The Nome King sends her in, but also tries to manipulate her into leaving Oz by him using the ruby slippers to wish her back home and tells her that when she goes back, she will never think of Oz again.
Dorothy declines the Nome King's deal and bravely walks into the room with determination to find Tik-Tok and guess correctly. He reveals to her that he never really wound down and wanted to get her in so she could see which ornament he turns into because they might receive a clue from it to guess correctly and win the game. However, when he guesses wrong and disappears, she doesn't see what he turns into. Meanwhile, Mombi arrives at the Nome King's mountain to warn him about Billina. He is furious at her for allowing Dorothy to escape from her castle in the first place. He locks her in a iron prison cage and leaves her all alone to deal with her later for punishment. On her third guess, Dorothy picks the big green jewel she finds laying on a table and it luckily turns into the Scarecrow as she cries out, "Oz!"
She realizes that it is green ornaments she is looking for, as green is the color of Oz. With the Scarecrow's help they restore the Gump to normal. The Nome King is very angry at this and trys to stop the game. He then appears in a giant form just as Dorothy returns Jack Pumpkinhead to normal again too. The Nome King ends the game unfairly and tries to eat the Gump, but Jack, the Scarecrow, and Dorothy grab hold to his antlers and save his head so the Nome King only eats the sofa he was attached to. He then tries to eat Jack, as the group runs away while Nome monsters who all look like demons come out of the walls trying to claw at and catch hold of them. The Nome King finally gets hold of Jack, but Billina lays an egg, which falls down his throat. He explains to them that eggs are poison to Nomes and then he and his Nome subjects all die. He disintegrates in flames of red smoke and fire, leaving a pile of rocks and boulders. Nothing is left but the ruby slippers. Dorothy sees them sparkle under the rubble. She sticks her hand inside to take them back. Suddenly the Nome King's mountain begins to collapse and cave in causing havoc all around with things crashing and tumbling around.
Quickly she uses the Slippers once more to wish everyone in the mountain, including Mombi, over to Oz again, and to restore the Emerald City and its inhabitants to normal. She wishes this out loud, closes her eyes, and clicks her heels together three times.
They are magically teleported back to Oz, in the middle of a grassy meadow and watch the Emerald city restore itself from a far off distance as it glows and sparkles in the night sky. Dorothy realizes that Tik-Tok was never found. But Billina notices a green medal on the Gump's antlers, which turns out to be his disguise as an ornament. After Dorothy returns him to his original form, they all go to the Emerald City which awaits them. The Wheelers apparently turn nice and behave good, as they are no longer Mombi's slaves and are free. They are happy and among those in the coronation while celebrating and cheering in a parade inside the city. Dorothy rides on the Cowardly Lion, smiles, and waves to the citizens she saved. The Tin Woodman and Scarecrow walk on each side. All of the characters of Oz can be seen marching in the parade, such as the Patchwork Girl, lots of Munchkins, Glinda, Polychrome, Button Bright, the Shaggy Man, and other unique Ozians. Everyone asks and begs Dorothy to take the Royal Throne of Oz and become the official child Queen of Oz and stay there forever. The Scarecrow gives her his dented up silver crown that he wears on his head for she may accept the offer. But she decides to not be selfish and do the right thing which is to return to her home in Kansas, Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and, of course, Toto.
Dorothy wishes she could be in both places at the same time when suddenly the same mysterious girl that she met in the hospital and was lost in the river appears in a giant mirror dressed elegantly in a emerald green gauzy bal gown and adorned in precious jewels and crystals. Recognizing her, she walks towards Dorothy gracefully with a friendly smile. Dorothy helps her carefully step out of the mirror and to her side. The curse is then broken. Dorothy tells her how beautiful she is and is glad she did not drown after all. She is revealed to be the long lost Princess Ozma, the imperial and immortal Queen and rightful ruler of Oz. The dancing slave girls, now with their heads rightfully back on, explain her history. Her father was the King of Oz before the Wizard arrived. She was enslaved by Mombi, enchanted, and trapped in the mirror when the Nome King promised her 30 beautiful young heads as a gift if she agreed to his deal. Jack Pumpkinhead suddenly then remembers that it was her who created him, which would make her his real mother. He is so relieved to find his true mother that he passes out and faints as the people around him catch him before he hits the ground. Mombi is still trapped in the iron cage, and Dorothy has her black magic and witchcraft taken away for all eternity.
And Ozma declares that a witch with no magic is a miserable creature indeed. Dorothy gives Ozma the ruby slippers as she places them on her feet while she takes back her kingdom and sits on her royal green and gold velvet throne as the Scarecrow glady resigns as King. She clicks her heels together and uses the slippers to wish Dorothy back to Kansas, telling her she will always look in on her from time to time and send her back to Oz if she ever wishes to return again to visit in the future. Ozma will make it so.
Billina, who throughout the entire adventure was not that fond of Oz, decides not to return to Kansas after all, seeing how nice Oz truly is now that things are good again. Dorothy says goodbye to all of her new and old friends and promises to never forget any of them. She fades away in a bright shining light and up into the atmosphere.
Once Dorothy returns home to Kansas, she wakes up and is found by Toto by the muddy river. He is followed by none other than Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and a Kansas search party. Aunt Em tells he that the hospital was tragically struck by lightning and burned to the ground and Dr. Worley was killed when he ran back in to save his machines. Just then a black jail cart driven by a policeman passes them. To Dorothy's surprise, an angry looking Nurse Wilson is imprisoned in it, similar to Mombi's fate in Oz.
Later, the new farmhouse is finally finished. And Dorothy finally has a room of her own again. Ozma magically comes to visit her in her bedroom. She and Billina appear in Dorothy's vanity mirror smiling. This indicates that her adventures in Oz were not just a delusion or a dream, though Ozma does not want Aunt Em to know, keeping everything between Dorothy and her a secret.
The story ends with Dorothy being much happier again as things seem much more hopeful and brighter. She is seen running out onto the yard, playing and giggling with Toto.
- Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale
- Nicol Williamson as the Nome King & Doctor Worley
- Jean Marsh as Mombi & Nurse Wilson
- Pons Marr as Wheeler/Worker/Messenger
- Piper Laurie as Aunt Em
- Matt Clark as Uncle Henry
- Emma Ridley as Ozma
- Sean Barrett, Tim Rose, and Michael Sundin as Tik-Tok
- Mak Wilson, Denise Bryer as Billina
- Stewart Larange, Brian Henson as Jack Pumpkinhead
- Stephen Norrington, Lyle Conway as the Gump
- Justin Case as the Scarecrow
- Deep Roy as the Tin Woodman
- John Alexander as the Cowardly Lion
- Bruce Boa as the Policeman
- Tansy as Toto
Will Vinton created the Nome King. Special effects were overseen by Zoran Perisic, as director of the model and process unit and visual effects consultant. The coronation scene at the film's end includes Oz characters that do not appear elsewhere in it: the Braided Man, Button-Bright, Cap'n Bill holding the Magic Flower, the Frogman, Glinda, some Munchkins, Notta Bit More, the Patchwork Girl, Polychrome, the Shaggy Man, and even Tommy Kwikstep.
The film was shot in England, on London sound stages plus some exteriors on Salisbury Plain. Freddy Francis, the project's original cinematographer, left after four weeks, unable to agree with director Murch; Francis was replaced by David Watkin. The result was the Francis shot the Kansas material, while Watkin shot Oz. The shoot fell behind schedule, and rumors held that Disney executive Richard Berger wanted to fire Murch. Murch's friends in the business, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg, visited the set to provide encouragement.
Kurtz worried that the script was too dark, and solicited Murch for revisions. Murch was unenthusiastic, but allowed new writers to be brought in to inject humor and a lighter tone. Little of their work survived into the finished product, however.
The Disney studio regime changed twice during the making of the film. By the time it was ready for audiences, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg were in charge of the company. Kurtz later complained that their new regime abandoned the film, neglecting to promote it effectively, since it was not one of their projects. (Still, Kurtz recognized that the main problem with it was its grim and "morose" tone.) It cost $24,000,000 to make, but earned only half that sum at the box office.
The science fiction author Joan D. Vinge wrote a novelization of the film, also called Return to Oz (1985).
- Like some movies, a few minor clips were cut from the film when it was shown on TV, presumably to save time. Though most of these are minor (such as shortening the scene where the Nomes appear, and a bit of dialogue between Dorothy and Mombi in the castle) two semi-critical points are cut out:
- The two lines at the hospital, in which Dorothy asks Ozma about the screaming she was hearing, and her saying that Dr. Worley's patients were damaged and locked in the cellar. This could cause some confusion among those who only saw it on TV as to why they were trying to escape from there in the first place, and as to why Nurse Wilson was arrested at the end.
- Like The Wizard of Oz, characters outside of Oz have counterparts of ones there, which are portrayed by the same actor. Dr. Worley's counterpart is the Nome King, who shares the same cigar and ruby ring, and who says similar lines ("I know just the thing to cheer you up" and "When you wake up, you'll never think of Oz again"). Nurse Wilson's counterpart is Mombi. Their final fates mirror those of the Nome King and Mombi.
- While there are no real plot holes beyond Dorothy's knowledge of the Deadly Desert (though someone could have explained it to her) a few aspects are slightly changed. She seems younger in this film, and many previous characters look slightly different than before. The Cowardly Lion does not stand on two legs in this film either.
- The film bears some slight similarities to Prince Caspian: Beyond taking place in a magical world with talking animals and unique ways to get there, the main villain is a king (whereas the main villain of the first film is a witch) who conquers the land while the main character(s) is gone, and unsure as to whether they will return. Also, Princess Ozma and Prince Caspian are both the rightful rulers who must be restored to the throne.
- In a book adaptation of the film, instead of trying to eat the Gump first, the Nome King eats Mombi and her cage, and Dorothy's wish to restore the Emerald City brings her back to life.
- The majority of the film's plot comes from Ozma of Oz. Dorothy washing ashore in a chicken coop, the Wheelers, a head-swapping princess, Tik-Tok, the Nome King, the ornament room, and Ozma are all culled from the book.
- Several elements of the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz were worked into the film's plot. Jack Pumpkinhead, the Gump, the Powder of Life, and the Scarecrow being king are from Land. Mombi is also from it. She was reassigned to Princess Langwidere's roles, but retained some of her Land ones as well. For instance, she keeps Ozma captive. In the original book, she is Tip's (Ozma transformed into a boy) evil witch guardian. And she also owns Powder of Life which is later stolen by the protagonist. Also in the film, the people in the Emerald City are turned to stone. Though the Nome King does this in the film, it could be a reference to how old Mombi planned to do so to Tip.
- Anonymous, "Return to Oz Revisited: an interview with Gary Kurtz," The Baum Bugle, Vol. 39 No. 2 (Autumn 1995), pp. 4-13.