Return to Oz is a film produced by Walt Disney Pictures in 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.
The movie is based loosely on the books Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz. The film was thought by many to be a sequel to the classic 1939 film, to which it bears little resemblence. It has since become a cult classic.
It has been six months since the tornado of the first film. Uncle Henry is trying to build a new house, and Billina, the chicken, isn't laying eggs anymore. Dorothy Gale has not slept since her return to Kansas, and no one believes her story about Oz, not even after she finds a key that has "Oz" written in it, after seeing a shooting star the previous night. Aunt Em takes Dorothy to a psychiatric clinic so she can sleep again. Dr. Worley, after listening to her story about Oz, decides to use an electro therapy machine on her. The head nurse, Nurse Wilson, takes Dorothy to a waiting room. There she meets a mysterious girl with blonde hair. Once Nurse Wilson takes Dorothy, she ties her down to a stretcher. Just as Dr. Worley is about to use his machine on Dorothy, a thunderstorm causes the power to go out. Worley and Nurse Wilson leave to check the generator. Shortly after the other girl arrives to help Dorothy escape, revealing that Worley's machine has driven the patients insane and he has locked them in the cellar. However, they are seen by Nurse Wilson, who pursues them until the two girls fall into the river. The blonde girl seemingly drowns, while Dorothy finds a chicken coop.
The next day, Dorothy wakes up to see Billina, who can now talk, and realizes she is back in Oz. The Nome Messenger sees them and informs the Nome King, who, strangely, is enraged to find out that Dorothy has a chicken with her. Dorothy finds her old house that landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, and discovers that the Yellow Brick Road has been destroyed. She follows it to find that the Emerald City is in ruins, and everyone there has been turned to stone, including the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. The dancing girls have lost their heads. Dorothy is attacked by the Wheelers, and runs. She reaches a dead end, but opens the door using the key she found. Inside, she finds a mechanical man named Tik-Tok who is the royal army of Oz. She winds up his thinking, his speech, and his action, and he goes with her and defeats the Wheelers in battle. He captures the lead Wheeler, who tells them that the Nome King tool the emeralds in Emerald City and turned everyone to stone, and that Princess Mombi is the only one who knows where the Scarecrow is.
The lead Wheeler leads them to Mombi. After Tik-Tok releases him, he and Dorothy enter Mombi's castle, where she keeps 31 different heads to put on, having gotten them all from the dancing girls. She says that the Nome King took the Scarecrow to his mountain. She then tells Dorothy she will take her head for her collection. Tik-Tok tries to stop Mombi, but his action winds down at the last second. Mombi locks Dorothy and Billina inside the tower, where they meet Jack Pumpkinhead, a stick man with a pumpkin for a head. He says that his "mom" built him to scare Mombi, who then decided to use Powder of Life on him. This gives Dorothy an idea for how to escape. Jack unlocks the door of the castle and he and Dorothy sneak down and wind up Tik-Tok's action. Tik-Tok and Jack return to the tower and build a flying machine using sofas, with leaves for wings and a gump's head. Dorothy takes Mombi's key while she is sleeping and unlocks Cabinet 31, where her original head and Powder of Life are. While reaching for the Powder of Life, Dorothy knocks something over, waking up Mombi's head. Dorothy returns to the tower, where Tik-Tok's thinking has wound down, causing him to speak jibberish and slow down the process. After Dorothy winds him up again, she uses the Powder of Life to bring the Gump to life. They all escape moments after Mombi, with her original head, enters the room.
Mombi sends the Wheelers after them, but when the Gump flies over the Deadly Desert, five of the Wheelers fall into it and turn into sand. The seven remaining Wheelers return to Mombi's castle. The next day, the Gump begins to fall apart, resulting in him, Dorothy, Tik-Tok, Jack, and Billina crashing 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 reattached to a sofa. The Nome King appears before them on the rock wall, and makes the ground break, causing them to fall into his throne room. Dorothy is briefly reunited with the Scarecrow before he is transformed into an ornament by the Nome King and teleported into his ornament collection. He tells Dorothy that the Scarecrow stole the emeralds from him first, and he was taking them back. Dorothy argues that the emeralds were there before the Scarecrow became king. The Nome King decides to let them each have three guesses as to which ornament the Scarecrow is, and if they guess right, he will be restored and they can leave the mountain.
The Gump goes first. When he guesses wrong three times, he is turned into an ornament as well. Jack is just as unsuccessful. Each time someone becomes an ornament, the Nome King becomes more human in appearance. During Tik-Tok's turn, the Nome King reveals to Dorothy that he has her Ruby Slippers, which gave him the power to conquer Emerald City. Tik-Tok seemingly winds down before his last guess, so the Nome King sends Dorothy in to wind him down. He reveals that he never really wound down and wanted to get Dorothy in so she could see what ornament he turned into and receive a clue from it. However, when he guesses wrong and turns into an ornament, she doesn't see what he turns into. Meanwhile, Mombi arrives to warn the Nome King about Billina. On her third guess, the green jewel she picked turns into the Scarecrow. She realizes that it is green ornaments she is looking for, and restores the Gump to normal. The Nome King is furious at this and imprisons Mombi in a cage for letting Dorothy escape. He then appears in a giant form just as Dorothy returns Jack to normal. The Nome King tries to eat the Gump, but they save his head and the Nome King only eats the sofa. He tries to eat Jack next, but Billina lays an egg, which falls down the Nome King's throat. He explains that eggs are poison to Nomes, and then he dies and disintegrates, leaving a pile of rocks and the Ruby Slippers. Dorothy takes the Ruby Slippers as the Nome King's mountain begins to collapse, and she uses them to wish everyone in the mountain over to Oz, and to restore Emerald City and its inhabitants to normal.
They discover a green medal on the Gump's antler, which is Tik-Tok turned into an ornament. After Dorothy returns him to his original form, they all go to Emerald City. The Wheelers apparently turn good, as they are among those celebrating there. Everyone asks Dorothy to be the queen of Oz, but she decides to return to Kansas. The same girl that was lost in the river appears in the mirror, from which Dorothy gets her out. She is revealed to be Ozma, the ruler of Oz who was enslaved by Mombi and trapped in a mirror when the Nome King promised her 30 heads. Mombi is still trapped in a cage, and Dorothy has taken away her magical powers. Ozma takes the Ruby Slippers and uses them to send Dorothy back to Kansas, telling her she will look in on her from time to time and send her back to Oz should she wish to return. Billina, who throughout the entire film was complaining about being away from Kansas, decides not to return.
Once Dorothy returns to Kansas, she is found by Toto, Uncle Henry, Aunt Em, and a search party. Aunt Em tells Dorothy that the clinic was struck by lightning and burned down, and Dr. Worley was killed when he ran back in to save his machines. A jail cart drives by with Nurse Wilson imprisoned in it, similar to Mombi.
Later, the house is finished. Ozma and Billina appear in Dorothy's mirror. This indicates that Dorothy's adventures in Oz were not a dream, though Ozma does not want Aunt Em to know.
- Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale
- Nicol Williamson as Nome King & Doctor Worley
- Jean Marsh as Mombi & Nurse Wilson
- Pons Marr as Wheeler/Worker/Messenger
- Piper Laurie as Aunt Em
- Emma Ridley as Ozma
- Matt Clark as Uncle Henry
- 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
- John Alexander as The Cowardly Lion
- Deep Roy as The Tin Woodman
- Bruce Boa as Policeman
- Tansy as Toto
Will Vinton created the Claymation 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 movie's end includes Oz characters that do not appear elsewhere in the film: 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 Return to Oz. By the time the film was ready for audiences, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg were in charge of the company. Kurtz later complained that their new regime abandoned the Oz film, neglecting to promote it effectively, since it was not one of their projects. (Still, Kurtz recognized that the main problem with the film was its grim and "morose" tone.) The film 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 movie's script, 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 clinic, in which Dorothy asks Ozma about the screaming she was hearing, and Ozma 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 the clinic in the first place, and as to why Nurse Wilson was arrested at the end.
- The headless Mombi smashing cabinet 31 with a chair to get her original head (since she did not have the key).
- Like The Wizard of Oz, characters outside of Oz have counterparts of characters in Oz, 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 Princess Mombi. The final fates of Dr. Worley and Nurse Wilson 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. Dorothy 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.
- This movie 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 (where 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 movie, instead of trying to eat the Gump first, the Nome King eats Mombi and her cage, and Dorothy's wish to restore 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's being king are from Land. Mombi is also from the book. She was reassigned to Princess Langwidere's roles, but retained some of her Land roles 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 a 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 turn Tip into a statue.
- Patchwork Girl makes a cameo in the ending of the film.
- Anonymous, "Return to Oz Revisited: an interview with Gary Kurtz," The Baum Bugle, Vol. 39 No. 2 (Autumn 1995), pp. 4-13.