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Return to Oz
1985 - PG - 110 Mins.
Director: Walter Murch
Producer: Colin Michael Kitchens, Gary Kurtz, Paul Maslansky
Written By: L. Frank Baum, Gill Dennis, Walter Murch
Starring: Fairuza Balk, Jean Marsh, Nicol Williamson
Review by: Joe Jarvis

Uh oh Dorothy, this isn't the Oz I remembered
Before it became a Judy Garland musical, “The Wizard of Oz” was a successful L. Frank Baum book that led to a whole series of stories about the Land of Oz. Although its title may put ideas into one’s head that this is a sequel to the 1939 movie musical, “Return to Oz” is actually an adaptation of the original book’s sequels, and in my opinion, is just as good as the 1939 classic.

The film is set six months after Dorothy has returned from Oz. Dorothy keeps telling everyone about Oz, but nobody believes her. Dorothy has lost her ruby slippers, so her main evidence of Oz’s existence has gone. She is sent to a mental hospital to cure her mental state, but the people at the hospital are evil, so she tries to run away, but falls in the river instead, getting washed away back to Oz.

Walter Murch’s rendering of Oz is going to shock you if you think it’s going to be a carbon copy of the Oz we saw in the 1939 classic. There are no gay icons skipping down candy cane roads here. This Oz is more like that of a land in a Grimms’ fairy tale. The ruby slippers have been stolen by a stone giant who has used them to take revenge on the population of Oz. The yellow brick road is in pieces, the Emerald city has been reduced to rubble and the new head of state is Mombi, a witch who wears other people’s heads. This Oz is simply breathtaking, being twisted, dark and full of dust and sharp edges, brought perfectly to life with good art direction and excellent cinematography. The score fits the dark feeling, using serious classical music as opposed to a jazzy Cole Porter style soundtrack used in the musical.

But the film’s strong points aren't just in the technical aspects. The pacing is good and the story is full of plot twists and suspense. Fairuza Balk is effective as Dorothy. Younger than what Garland was in the role, Balk seems more innocent which adds to the dark feeling of the movie. The supporting cast is also good - Jean Marsh plays Mombi to perfection. Okay, she may be slightly over the top, but when playing a demon of some sort, we can forgive.

One warning is that this film is rather scary. For some sensitive children, this film may be inappropriate, so you may want to think twice about showing it to children under 7.

I’m not really into dark fantasy, but I loved “Return to Oz”. It had a majestic feel to it, which was apparent throughout and the film has aged better than most fantasy films of its day. “Return to Oz” was lots of fun and is certainly an alternative interpretation of the yellow brick road.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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