The Return to Oz

Why Disney, why?
March 05, 2005
As I was gently reminded by a reader, The Return to Oz was in fact one of the most terrifying things our innocent 80's eyes encountered. Disney, as I've stated in my other posts, has had a terrible history of making "spooky" kids films that turn out to be not "spooky" but "therapy inducing".

This poster was painted by the ever talented and much sought after Drew Struzan. He's the movie poster god.

The film starts out alright enough. True, Fairuza Balk ain't no Judy Garland but she seemed harmless enough.

Crazy Pants herself

I always thought it was a little strange that Dorothy went from being an anatomically mature woman to a little girl, but oh well.

Somewhere along the line, Dorothy lost this waist, hips and oddly pronounced brow.

So we join Dorothy and she's hanging out at the farm (which looks WAY worse for the wear in this version, as it's been through a tornado) sifting through hay as she happens upon a key.

The only thing stable about this house is for the horses.

The key has what looks like the symbol for Oz on it and so she decides to show this little piece of evidence to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, hoping that it'll help prove that Oz exists. All it does, however, is make Aunt Em schlep her off to an insane asylum. Man, I wish we could just take kids to an asylum whenever they bugged us these days. Ah. Good times.

Just sittin' with a punkin in a room that probably smells of rust and old socks.

So Dorothy lands at an asylum where they use, what else?, shock therapy which is ministered by this "smiley face" machine which the doctor tries to personify only making it more creepy.

"Vee haff vays uff mayking you tokk!"

It would appear that at this asylum they're out of two things: oil and paint. All of the gurneys squeek unpleasantly and the rooms all look rather neglected (as in the pictures above). What's funny is that Dorothy goes into the asylum mostly sane, but the longer she stays there, the more crazy she gets as she starts to see Ozma everywhere.

Dorothy's multiple personality gets her very own body! WEEEE!
At the asylum, lurking and working is the equivalent to Elmyra Gulch's more pointy cousin, Nurse Wilson.

"What do you mean 'shoulder pads with erections'?"

She's truly a cold hearted beeatch and one of the best cold hearted beeatch's in cinematic history. Well, long story short there's yet ANOTHER severe storm (this time some kind of lightning/flood thing) and Dorothy ends up floatin' to Oz in a crate with her sassy, talking chicken Billina.

Effing mouthy poultry!

That Ozma girl takes Billina away from Dorothy at the end. Man, Dorothy and her family could've made a much needed killing off of a talking chicken in rural Kansas. Ozma's one stone cold beeatch. Just like Nurse Wilson!

They soon discover that the Oz they left is more than a little less friendly than before and that if you step on sand, you turn to stone. A whole new Oz, a whole new set of rules. And a whole new set of creepy minions. Replacing the bizarre winged monkeys from the original are the bizarre "Wheelers": barbaric, long-limbed, wheel-extremetied, screeching psychos who delight in chasing Dorothy around Oz. This is indeed a darker Oz, as Dorothy encounters a myriad headless little girl statues that leaves one more than a little unsettled as all of the men statues seem to have retained their heads. Then Dorothy meets the beautiful and powerful, but deeply self-centered and unconcerned Princess Mombi, who starts a-kickin' the creepfactor into high gear. I had left at least three times at this point to go to the bathroom at the theater, certain that if I went to the bathroom and came back enough times, the movie would get less scary. Wrong-ola.

Sure she can play the mandolin, but can she cook?

It's just downhill from that point on. The most frightening scene of all has to be the hall of heads where Mombi sleeps. Horrifying. All of those heads just looking at little Dorothy, following her with their eyes...and when she opens that cupboard and the Princess' head is there, it's just more than a kid can stand. And then Dorothy has to reach IN to the cupboard and wakes the slumbering noggin, only to have it bellow at her "DOOOOORROOOTHYYYY GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALE!" That's when the princess' headless body comes whipping out of her room and down the hallway.

She's too sexy for her head, apparently.

Disgusting. I'm pretty sure that at this point of the film I had brought the bathroom count to five times, wanting to avoid seeing anything frightening at all costs. Thanks to my crap timing (no pun intended, I assure you), I managed to be in the theater ONLY at the scary parts. My father took me home from the theater shortly after the fifth potty break correctly guessing that I was either too scared to stay and watch the movie or too scared to hold my bladder.

I still have to pee whenever I see this face. Weird.

I watched the movie again last year and I have to say that even though it has lost some of its bite, the scary scenes are pretty freakin' scary still. A part I hadn't seen as a child was the bit with the Gnome King and the cave, which was obviously insane and unnecessary and I'm sure the source of much turmoil for kids brave enough to have sat through this fright fest in '85. I also missed the odd and sort of awkward Princess form of Ozma.

Ever since running head first into the front door, Ozma's been unable to remove that OZ shaped doorknocker. Let's all point and laugh.

For some reason, the sensors over at Disney were on vacation for a good part of the 80's (Mr.Boogedy, Watcher in the Woods, Child of Glass) and for this they will pay dearly. Most dearly.

You may remember a similar feeling of dread and horror upon seeing Jean Marsh in her other role as "Bavmorda" in Willow.
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