Return to Oz
By Doug Thomas
You don't fool with Mother Nature, spit into the wind, remake Casablanca, or trash the land of Oz. Perhaps that is why the 1985 live-action sequel split critics and audiences alike. The 1939 classic musical is so beloved that it's almost impossible to imagine seeing Dorothy in shock therapy, a crumbled yellow brick road, the ruins of Emerald City, and the Tin Man turned into stone. But L. Frank Baum, the author of the original Oz books, portrayed just that with his continuing stories of Dorothy. When you get by these tough facts, the film version is solid entertainment for the over-7 set.
Dorothy (a 10-year-old Fairuza Balk in her debut) is back in Kansas, where Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) is at the end of her rope: her niece is not sleeping and going on about a place called Oz. Therapy may be the answer, but luckily the scary clinic goes dark before Dorothy can be, er, cured (but the lead-up will scare the munchkins out of most kids). She wakes up in the land of Oz, now in tatters, and searches for its king, the Scarecrow. A new set of friends, including a tin soldier, a talking chicken, and a pumpkin man, help her against new villains, including Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh)--complete with a set of detachable heads--and the evil Nome King (Nicol Williamson with a great assist from Will Vinton's Claymation). The sole directorial effort of Oscar-winning editor Walter Murch is stuffed with marvelous effects that foreshadow later works by Tim Burton and the Henson non-Muppet films.
Return to Oz received an Academy Awards nomination for Special Visual Effects (Will Vinton, Ian Wingrove, Zoran Perisic, Michael Lloyd).