UltimateDisney.com's Top 30 Live Action Disney Movies Countdown
20. Return to Oz (1985)
Return to Oz is a truly magical film. Based on the second and third "Oz" books (The Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz), Return to Oz is much darker and more faithful to its literary source than its predecessor, the 1939 Technicolor classic The Wizard of Oz. Directed by Walter Murch, a genious and Academy Award-winning sound editor in his directorial debut, Return to Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale's second trip to Oz. Months after the tornado that sent her to Oz in the first adventure, Dorothy is having trouble sleeping at night and keeps talking about a magical place called Oz that worries her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. She is sent to a psychiatric hospital where she is used as a victim for electro-shock treatment by the eccentric Dr. Worley and sinister Nurse Wilson. With the help of a mysterious girl, Dorothy escapes and is sent back to Oz through a mysterious storm.

Accompanied by her talking chicken Billina, Dorothy learns that Oz is in destruction. The yellow brick road is destroyed, the Emerald City is in ruins, and all of the living creatures in Oz have been turned into stone by the Nome King. In her quest to restore Oz to its former glory and defeat the Nome King, Dorothy meets new friends (Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, a talking Gump, and the Scarecrow) and encounters some enemies (The Wheelers and Princess Mombi, who has a collection of beautiful heads locked in cabinents).

One of the major factors that makes Return to Oz such a great film is its story. A sort of mismash of the second and third Oz books, the screenplay keeps the action interesting, whimsical, and magical. The casting is also terrific. Fairuza Balk (an actress of the proper age) stars as Dorothy and manages, even at her tender age, to carry the film as the only human main character. The supporting cast (Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, and Matt Clark) are also stellar in their small but effective roles. The special effects are another one of the movie's strong points. The 1985 film's effects still impress today. The anamatronics, the claymations, and even the matte shots all come across wonderfully, adding to the film's already strong sense of wonder.

Return to Oz was a flop at the box office and was generally despised by critics. Looking at the film, it's not hard to see why. It has no real audience. Generally too "kiddie" for adults and too dark for children, the movie's only real target were fans of the Oz stories. Unfortunately, the majority of those people are emotionally attached to The Wizard of Oz, (which has become a major franchise since its initial release) and it was too shocking for them to see Oz as the scary and ruined place that is portrayed in this movie...but this is, in fact, just as Oz was like in the books. Luckily, the small fan following for Return to Oz is a dedicated bunch, and the movie has been released both on an Anchor Bay disc (now out of print and had many extra materials removed due to Buena Vista's interference) and, more recently, Disney DVD. Hopefully Return to Oz will eventually receive the recognition that it truly deserves, and larger audiences will finally see the film for what it really is: a spectacular, wonderful achievement in movie making and story telling.

-Jason Harang

Everybody remembers The Wizard of Oz, right? That famous last line as Judy Garland says "And you were there, and you were there...". Everyone laughed. It was so cute. But Dorothy didn't let it go. She keep going on about Oz. So they have her committed. After all, you can only talk about Munchkins for so long before they start to think you are crazy. Or on drugs (kids these days, huh?). This sounds like a strange parody, right? No, it is just one of Disney's darker, more interesting live-action ventures.

While some may fume at the idea of updating one of the classic films of the twentieth century, L. Frank Baum - the author of the original novel - had written quite a number of books in the "Oz" series, involving many of the chracters you see in the film (most notably, Tik-Tok). The Disney film - which includes many dark elements (what other Disney film do you know of that has a room full of articulate heads?!?), and certainly impacted on me as a child - has a very distinct visual sytle, with that almost warped perspective on childhood icons that made "The Nightmare Before Christmas" such a successful venture. The only difference was this did it 8 years earlier.

While this may not go down in Disney history as the most notable film ever produced by critical standards, it is certainly one of the most impressionable and visually striking.

-Richard Gray

Return to Oz is unfairly one of the most underrated live-action Disney films created simply because the general public was too confused to appreciate it. Contrary to popular belief, Return to Oz is *NOT* a sequel to the MGM musical The Wizard of Oz. Rather, it is a sequel to the original novel from which the MGM film was based upon. L. Frank Baum's Oz novel was much darker than the general public thinks it to be, and Disney's sequel reflects this. There are no songs, the characters from the original are all MIA (till the end), and iconic pieces such as the Emerald City and the yellow brick road are in shambles. What makes Return to Oz so wonderful is, finally, we get to see the closest representation of Baum's ideas than what has ever been depicted before. Oz has an appropiate twisted feel to it and isn't as joyful and glamorous as we have come to know it. The special effects may not exactly hold up well today, but the spirit, art direction, and performances make this an enchanting alternate way to view the land of Oz outside the beloved musical.

-Kelvin Cedeno

There's one main reason why I loved this movie when I was a kid (and continue to love it). That reason: it scared the living day lights out of me. All those guys with the wheels for hands! And the lady with all those heads in the cabinet! What more can I say? All kids need a good scaring and this film is the one to show them.

-Matthew Broomfield

A sequel or not?
Because Dorothy is young
Ozma rocks my world

One of the best things going for Return to Oz is that it is so unlike The Wizard of Oz. At first, I wasn't ready for the dark tone, truly mystical worlds, absurd humour and bizarre characters. Only basing what I knew of the Oz stories on the "Wiz" film, Return set me off balance. There's no happy musical numbers, no cuddly characters, nothing familiar, nothing to make me really feel everything will be alright. It's scary and wonderful.

-Lee R.

DVD Details
Among the twenty-two films that Disney allowed Anchor Bay to release on DVD a few years ago was Return to Oz. Anchor Bay's DVD presented in both 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen and formatted fullscreen versions, and a remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. In terms of bonus features, there was an introduction by and interview with the film's young star Fairuza Balk, now grown-up. Disney's own DVD release of Return to Oz supplants the Anchor Bay disc (now out-of-print), adds anamorphic enhancement, the theatrical trailer and two TV ads, and loses the fullscreen transfer of the film.
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