Return to Oz is a 1985 fantasy adventure film by Walt Disney Pictures. It was produced by Paul Maslansky, directed by Walter Murch from a screenplay by Murch and Gill Dennis. Star Wars veteran Gary Kurtz was executive producer.
- To know more about the film visit www.waltdisneysreturntooz.com
The plot for Return to Oz is loosely based on L. Frank Baum's second and third novels of the fourteen books in the Oz series: The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907), both written by Baum to serve as sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). 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, which pop culture is less familiar with. The film was deliberately intended to approach the Land of Oz and all of its characters and inhabitants in a much more faithful, darker and surreal tone just as Baum envisioned. The imagery, scenery and set/costume design stayed very close to the original book illustrations by John R. Neill and W. W. Denslow.
Close Your Eyes, Click Your Heels And Return To The Cult Classic!
In one of the most beloved tales of all time, a farm girl from Kansas named Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto, had many wonderful adventures with three unforgettable friends in the magical land of Oz, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion before returning home again. In this story, Dorothy returns to that enchanted place with Billina; the sassy wise cracking Hen from Kansas. While searching to find familiar friends, the two meet Tik-Tok the Mechanical man of Oz's Royal Army, the sweet and gentle jack Pumpkinhead and the flying Gump. Together 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 Oz's new King, his Majesty the Scarecrow. It's up to Dorothy and her companions to save Oz from extinction by the hands of a vain head changing Princess, and a cruel Rock King. Thus, possibly unveiling a long-lost secret to the Heir of Oz's Royal Throne.-Return to Oz.
- 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
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. Resulting in the entire farm and the farmland having to be put up in mortgage. Billina, the yellow farm hen, (Voiced by Denise Bryer) isn't laying eggs for Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) to cook to feed the family anymore. Aunt Em also 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 dreams and even 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 Oz and that her old friends may all be sending her a sign saying that they're 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 Therapist 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 barefoot, dressed in an old fashioned hospital gown of all white with 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. Suddenly, screaming and yelling can be faintly heard in the background somewhere in the hospital.
When Dorothy turns her back for a second, the strange girl disappears and when Dorothy turns around to look again, she sees that the girl is gone and she is once again 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 machines have 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 by the strong current 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 like a baby in a cradle 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 the sun shines bright. A sleeping Dorothy wakes up nice and dry to find herself still in the coop that is floating upon a small muddy pond. She also sees 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 once the small pond dried up they both see they are surrounded by nothing but sand and large rocks that stretches out on every side of them. 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, (Voiced by 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 Munchkin Country, aka Munchkinland only to find it completely deserted, desolate, no Munchkins are seen anywhere. And the atmosphere is very gloomy, surrounded by a thick dark forest with branches that hang dead and low. It is like a desolate graveyard instead of the lovely colorful place she remembers on the first trip.
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 come to the end of the dark woods and 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. Plants and vines grow over the ruins creating an eerily abandoned, overgrown and unattended atmosphere. 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 their pretty heads and are now stone as well. 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 has been turned into Mombi's private boudoir. 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 dressing rooms. Dorothy is taken down a long, immense hallway of locked cabinets, each constructed of solid gold and glass with a head of an attractive girl inside who stares emotionless at Dorothy. 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 explains to Dorothy 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. And Dorothy walks across the room and 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. The head lurches forward and tries to bite Dorothy's hand when she grabs the container that holds the Powder of Life.
Dorothy slams the cabinet door in her face. However, to Dorothy's horror Mombi's headless body awakens also 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. He tells them to enter his ornament room and try to find the Scarecrow, and when they think they've found the ornament he's turned into to touch it and call out 'Oz'.
The Gump goes first, mumbles to himself, and complains the whole way down the entrance. Meanwhile the Nome King sits on his rock throne as he smokes his pipe 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 red 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. When she was sent back into the real world, she was so anxious and excited to get back to Kansas, they slipped off her feet and landed on the top of the Nome King's mountain and into the wrong hands. Dorothy sadly realizes that what has 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 as she enters he offers to use the ruby slippers to send Dorothy home instead. He tells her that no-one can help her friends and promises that if she returns to Kansas now she will never think of Oz again, reminding her that "There's no place like home".
Dorothy declines the Nome King's offer and bravely walks into the room with determination to find Tik-Tok and guess correctly. Tik-Tok 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. After saying their goodbyes, Tik-Tok makes his final guess and disappears, however his plan doesn't work as he is transported to a different part of the room with Dorothy not seeing what he was turned into. Meanwhile, Mombi arrives at the Nome King's mountain to warn him about Dorothy only for him to taunt her that he already knows about Dorothy and that she'll soon be taken care of. As Dorothy fails on her first two guesses, Mombi asks what will happen if Dorothy guesses right and learns about Ozma. The Nome King instantly grows angry at the suggestion Ozma may have escaped Mombi too, but when he is assured she hasn't he relaxes and tells Mombi that soon no-one will remember Oz and he will turn fully human. Dorothy closes her eyes and chooses a random ornament, but just before she can take her guess she sees a big green emerald laying on a table and is drawn to that instead. She makes her third guess and is successful, restoring the Scarecrow.
She realizes that it is green ornaments she is looking for, as green is the mascot color of Oz. Meanwhile the Nome King realizes what's happened and becomes consumed with fury. After trapping Mombi in a cage as punishment for letting Dorothy escape, he leaves to deal with her directly. With the Scarecrow's help they restore the Gump to normal. The Nome King appears to stop the game in a giant form as Scarecrow only just manages to stop a green vase from smashing, which Dorothy restores back into Jack. 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 as he is about to eat him he freezes in terror at the sound of Billina clucking. From out of Jack's head an egg Billina laid (her first ever) rolls out and down the Nome King's throat. As he starts to crumble, he expresses his surprises that all this time Dorothy didn't know that eggs are poison to Nomes. He then 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 Dorothy 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 before them. 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 to meet its citizens who eagerly await 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 huge 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 ball 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.
Ozma declares that a witch with no magic is a miserable creature indeed and forgives Mombi. 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 bring her back to Oz if she ever wishes to return again to visit in the future.
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 riverbank. He is followed by none other than Aunt Em, Uncle Henry and a Kansas search party. Aunt Em tells her that the hospital was tragically struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Everybody was rescued except Dr. Worley who 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.
Return To Oz: The Joy That Got Away...
- "...I got home with my Ruby Slippers. You put them on, then you'd click the heels three times, and then you'd say "there's no place like home." I lost them, they fell off, on the way back..."
- ―Dorothy Gale in Return to Oz (1985)
During its release in 1985 it was considered a controversial flop and big box office failure. Return to Oz was panned by 90% of critics who gave it disastrous reviews, labeling it as "too scary and intense and grim for children". After the picture was shown at Radio City Music Hall, the majority of mainstream media sadly forgot about it, "Putting it out of their 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 who had read all fourteen of Baum's sequel Oz books and admirers of the fantasy films of the 80's such as Labyrinth, Legend and The Dark Crystal, all of which had Jim Henson's puppetry that was also used in Return to Oz".
Despite its unsuccessful theatrical run, this Oz adaptation has grown a huge fanbase over the decades, has received immense praise for its dark beauty and overall faithfulness to Baum's 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 its own website and countless internet blogs dedicated to the film.
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).
Return to the Land where the Magic Began!
- 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 smoking pipe 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 between this film and 1939's The Wizard of Oz beyond Dorothy's knowledge of the Deadly Desert -- though someone could have easily explained it to her "off-camera" -- 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.