If you’ve been following the news of Todd McFarlane’s proposed take on “The Wizard of Oz,” something that — judging by his action figures — will be a rather dark tale, you might be nervous about the twisted yellow brick road that awaits Dorothy Gale. If that’s how you’re feeling then you clearly haven’t seen “Return to Oz.”
Starring Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, “Return to Oz” is a rarely-spoken-of 1985 movie serving as a sequel of sorts to the classic 1939 musical film. There’s a reason it’s not discussed very often: it’s pure nightmare fuel. “Return” is one of those movies that absolutely should not, under any circumstances, be shown to children.
So, of course, my parents let me watch it when I was five — and it has lingered in my guts ever since.
“Return to Oz” picks up where its family-friendly predecessor left off: young Dorothy is back from Oz, but nobody believes her experience to be anything more than the repercussions of her apparent coma. She’s taken for electroshock therapy at a psychiatric clinic, but after busting loose and losing consciousness in a nearby forest, she awakens once more in the land of Oz. And my word, how things have changed.
The yellow brick road and the Emerald City it leads to are both ravaged, policed by a menacing force known as the Wheelers. Oz is ruled in totalitarian fashion by the ruthless Princess Mombi and the Gnome King. Dorothy’s only allies are a talking hen named Billina — whose very existence in Oz is unlawful by the Gnome King’s decree — a humanoid ticking clock called Tik-Tok, a scarecrow named Jack Pumpkinhead that thinks Dorothy is his mother, and a mix between a Chez lounge and a flying animal dubbed Gump.
Clearly, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Nor are we in your grandparents’ Oz. Watching “Return to Oz” as a child, hot on the heels of an original “Wizard of Oz” obsession, was more frightening than words can ever explain. Place yourself in my five-year-old shoes as you watch the Wheelers threaten to tear poor Dorothy to shreds, or as she discovers Princess Mombi’s vast collection of severed heads, from which she selects a different head to wear every single day.
Now, many moons later, I can’t get enough of this film. It paints an honest portrayal of a young girl trapped in a land filled with danger and decay. It’s a horrifically mind-bending masterpiece that still holds up to this day. And it’s also probably the reason why Fairuza Balk went crazy and made “The Craft,” so there’s that.
A film like “Return to Oz” exists for a very simple reason: sometimes we need to be put in our place. There’s nothing like expecting the song-and-dance of the MGM classic and then getting a fistful of screeching wheels to the face instead. As far as I’m concerned, Mr. McFarlane has his work cut out for him in topping this.
Unless he brings back the Wheelers. Please, please, please don’t bring back the Wheelers.
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