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.
It 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 long months since the tornado hit the Kansas prairie and carried the farm house away, and a depressed and broken down Uncle Henry is trying to build a new one. The Gale farm is in ruins and in a state of poverty and despair. Billina, the yellow hen, isn't laying eggs for Aunt Em to cook to feed the family anymore. Dorothy has become melancholy, suffers from insomnia, hasn't slept, or played with her pet dog, Toto, since her return from the magical Land of Oz. And no one believes her stories about her amazing adventures. One day, she finds a key in the barn that has "Oz" engraved in it after seeing a magic shooting star the previous night. She is convinced it is from ther and that her friends there may all be in great danger. Worried for Dorothy's mental state, a worried Aunt Em takes her to a hospital and seeks the help of a psychiatrist so she can sleep again. Dr. Worley, after listening to her story about Oz, decides to use an electroshock therapy machine on her to cure her of all her Oz delusions. The head nurse, Nurse Wilson, takes her to a dark waiting room.
There she meets a mysterious and pretty young girl around her age with ruddy blonde hair. Once Nurse Wilson finally fetches her, she ties her to a stretcher and she is rolled away to a 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. Shortly after the other girl Dorothy met earlier mysteriously arrives to help her escape, revealing that Dr. Worley's machine has driven the patients insane and he has locked them in the cellar. However, they are seen and caught by Nurse Wilson who becomes infuriated and pursues to chase after them along with other staff.
The two girls run for their lives, flee the hospital, and run out into the storm. They slip in the mud and fall into the river. The mystery girl seemingly drowns, while Dorothy luckily finds a chicken coop floating nearby. She grabs ahold of it, climbs safely inside, and falls fast asleep.
The next day, Dorothy wakes up to see Billina, who magically has the ability to now talk, and she realizes that she has somehow gotten back to the Land of Oz. They climb out of the coop, go exploring, and see if Dorothy can find any of her old friends to reunite with.
The Nome Messenger sees Dorothy has returned to Oz and immediately informs his majesty the Nome King, the King of the Nomes who rules in a foreign realm that neighbors the Land of Oz. Strangely he is enraged to find out that Dorothy has a chicken with her. After a tasty meal from a lunch pail tree, Dorothy and Billina reach Munchkinland only to find it completely deserted and gloomy. They eventually find her old farm house that landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, and discover that the Yellow Brick Road has been destroyed. Dorothy follows it running as fast as she can with Billina running behind her in a panic. They finally arrive to the Emerald City to find that it has had all of its emeralds stolen and is in apocalyptic ruins. And everyone of its citizens has been turned to stone, including the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion. And the dancing slave girls of the city have lost their heads. 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 reach a dead end with a locked door. Billina reminds Dorothy about the key she found at home, so she opens the door using it. Inside the room, she finds a mechanical man named Tik-Tok who is the royal army of Oz and runs on clockwork. She winds up his thinking, speech, and action. And he explains to her that the Scarecrow placed him there and told him to wait for her. So she, Billina, and Tik-Tok then leave and go back onto the city grounds. Tik-Tok defeats the gang of Wheelers in a battle. He captures the lead Wheeler, who tells them that the Nome King conquered, stole all of the city's emeralds after a war, 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's castle. After Tik-Tok releases him, he and Dorothy enter the castle, which is the only standing building in the entire city. There they meet Mombi who is sitting on her royal throne playing music. She is lovely, yet she keeps 31 different heads to put on so she can change her appearance to match her mood whenever she pleases, having gotten and stolen them all from the dancing girls of the city. Dorothy kindly ask her what happened in Oz and she says that the Nome King stole the emeralds, kidnapped the Scarecrow, and took him to his mountain. She then says that Dorothy 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 take her head to add to her collection. Dorothy objects and screams for Tik-Tok to help. He tries to stop Mombi, but his action winds down at the last second. Mombi locks Dorothy and Billina in the tower in the highest room filled with old antique decor and furniture. Now virtual prisoners, they meet the sweet and gentle Jack Pumpkinhead, who also was locked away in there. He is stick man dressed in mixed-match clothing who has a giant pumpkin for a head. He says that his "mom" built him to scare Mombi, who then decided to use her Powder of Life on him. This gives Dorothy an idea for how to escape. When Mombi falls aleep later that night, Jack unlocks the tower's door and he and Dorothy sneaks down and wind up Tik-Tok's action. He and Jack return to the tower and build a flying machine using a sofa, leaves for wings, and a Gump's head. Dorothy takes Mombi's key while she is asleep and unlocks Cabinet 31, where her original head and Powder of Life are. While reaching for the powder, Dorothy accidentally knocks something over, waking up Mombi who begans screaming. Dorothy quickly runs away and 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 says the magic words and uses the powder to bring the Gump to life. They all escape moments after an angry Mombi, with her original head, enters the room.
Mombi then sends the Wheelers after them, but when the Gump flies over the Deadly Desert, five of them fall into it and instantly turn into sand. The seven remaining ones return to Mombi's castle. The next day, the Gump begins to fall apart, resulting in him, Dorothy, Tik-Tok, Jack, and Billina crashing down 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 the sofa. The Nome King appears before them on the rock wall and makes the ground split apart and break, causing them to fall into his royal throne room of rocks. Dorothy is briefly reunited with the Scarecrow before he is transformed into an ornament by the Nome King and teleported into his ornament collection.The Nome King tells Dorothy that the Scarecrow stole the emeralds from him first, and he was taking them back. Dorothy argues that the emeralds were already there long before the Scarecrow got his brains and became the king of the city. 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 the Emerald City. Tik-Tok seemingly winds down before his last guess, so the Nome King sends Dorothy in to wind him up. 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 his 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 then takes backs the slippers as the Nome King's mountain begins to collapse and cave in causing havoc all around with things crashing and tumbling around. Quickly she uses them to wish everyone in the mountain over to Oz, and to restore the Emerald City and its inhabitants to normal. She clicks her heels together three times.
They discover a green medal on the Gump's antlers, which is Tik-Tok turned into an ornament. After Dorothy returns him to his original form, they all go to the Emerald City. 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 celebrating in the city. Everyone asks and begs Dorothy to be the queen of Oz and stay there forever, but she decides to return to home to Kansas back to Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and Toto. Suddenly the same mysterious girl that was lost in the river appears in the mirror dressed in a gauzy ball gown and adorned in precious jewels, from which Dorothy gets her out. She is revealed to be the long lost Princess Ozma, the child queen and rightful ruler of all of Oz who was enslaved by Mombi, enchanted, and trapped in the mirror when the Nome King promised her 30 heads. Mombi is still trapped in the cage, and Dorothy has her magical powers taken away for all eternity. Dorothy gives Ozma the ruby slippers and she 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. Dorothy says goodbye to all of her friends and fades away in a bright shining light. Once Dorothy returns home to Kansas, she is found by Toto, Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and a search party. Aunt Em tells her that the hospital they went to was tragically struck by lightning and burned down, and Dr. Worley was killed when he ran back in to save his machines. Suddenly a jail cart passes by with Nurse Wilson imprisoned in it, similar to Mombi's fate.
Later, the new house is finally finished. Princess Ozma and Billina appear in Dorothy's bedroom mirror. 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.
- 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 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 hospital, 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 hospital 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 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 Princess Mombi. Their final fates of 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 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'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.
- The Patchwork Girl makes a cameo at the end 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.