Return to Oz (1985)

7.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Nice designs on Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead

Too dark for younger kids

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Return to Oz

Studio:  Walt Disney Pictures

Genre(s):  Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Family

Release Date(s):  June 21, 1985

MPAA Rating:  PG


Ain’t no party like an Oz party!

Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) cannot forget her time in Oz despite Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) encouraging her that it was all a dream. When Em begins to grow concerned about Dorothy, she takes Dorothy to the city to see Dr. Worley (Nicol Williamson). There Dorothy discovers Dr. Worley and his assistant Nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh) are secretly abusing patients. In a midnight escape with a girl (Emma Ridley), Dorothy finds herself washed away in a river and transported back to Oz. Things aren’t well in Oz. Accompanied by a hen named Billina, Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and a creature called the Gump, Dorothy sets out to rescue her friends from the Nome King and the evil witch Mombi

Directed by Walter Murch and produced by Disney, Return to Oz combines aspects of L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. The movie was met with mix reaction from critics but was criticized for it very, very dark take on the story. It did receive a nomination for visual effects losing to Cocoon.


Wheelers…they creep me out!

Return to Oz takes the happy stories of Oz and puts a really twisted spin on them. The opening set-up for the story does harken back to the 1939 movie by having the people Dorothy meets in the insane asylum be reflected in Oz. Nurse Wilson becomes Mombi, Worley becomes the Nome King, and the girl is Ozma. This wasn’t an aspect of the Baum’s stories but did appear in the film. This is a bit strange in this film however in that it is proven that Oz is real by the end of the film (with Ozma’s appearance).

The asylum part is very dark (shock therapy is creating mental patients…Dorothy barely escapes). Oz however is a dark place too with a woman stealing heads that live in cabinets, people turned to stone, and Wheelers threatening to kill Dorothy. It is a weird direction to take when the filmmakers do make some effort to tie it to the musical version (the movie actually had to buy the rights to use the Ruby Slippers since in the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz story they were silver slippers).


The Nome King has a good poker face

The movie does a good job of making Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead look exactly as you’d expect them to look. They were great creations that really had life. Other effects like the Wheelers and the make-up for the Nome King were top notch. There is some dated Claymation, but for the most part the movie is quite strong in the visuals.

Return to Oz is a strange movie and surprisingly not young kid-friendly. There is a very small age margin for the movie in that younger kids will be too scared by the film but older kids probably don’t want to see an Oz movie thinking it is too babyish. The movie is a fun and introduced Fairuza Balk to audiences. I wish that it had been a bigger success and that there had been one or two more films, but there can always be another return to Oz.

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Related Links:

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wiz (1978)

Legends of Oz:  Dorothy’s Return (2013)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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