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February 26, 2011 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Return To Oz: The Joy That Got Away A documentary about the making of the unofficial 1985 sequel to the iconic movie version of The Wizard of Oz.

"In the summer of 1985, a movie called Return To Oz came and went. Made by Disney, with the producer of Star Wars, the design team of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and marketed as a sequel to one of the most beloved films in history...it was a flop. It's new look, strange characters, and disturbing/somber tone seemed to alienate audiences. Many saw it as a byproduct of the unstable leadership at The Walt Disney Company of the time.

Over the years, Return To Oz began to build a cult following."

FAIR WARNING: Production values are a tad... rough.
posted by Cyrano (89 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember seeing parts of it on TV when I was little. SO damn weird. You can watch it in 11 parts on YouTube starting here.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:13 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Loved the movie. Count me in as one of the cult.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:19 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ditto.
posted by brundlefly at 8:34 PM on February 26, 2011


It's a movie for adults, not for kids. I mean, come on, Dorothy is locked up in an insane asylum at the opening of the movie and is about to receive shock treatments. And I still remember the Princess of Ev's cabinet full of heads, all screaming, "DOROTHY GALE!!!!"
posted by orange swan at 8:37 PM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


I was 7 when it came out. My aunt took me to see it that summer. Oz! Great! Every kid loves Oz!

About halfway through the movie we had to leave because I was completely terrified, and I remember her yelling at the managers until she got a refund. I refused to let anyone even rent the movie for a few more years.

(When I did see the movie eventually -- maybe I was 11 or 12? -- I really enjoyed it, and I watched it again a few years ago and enjoyed it a second time.)
posted by jeather at 8:39 PM on February 26, 2011


Also, can the tags be corrected?
posted by jeather at 8:40 PM on February 26, 2011


Every few years, someone reminds me that this movie exists, and I have nightmares for about a week.

I honestly can't decide which was the worse parenting decision: letting me watch Jaws when I was 4 or letting me watch this movie ever.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:42 PM on February 26, 2011


Re-watching this movie as an adult, I was like, "Ohhh. So that's why I'm so fucked up."

It's a movie for adults, not for kids. I mean, come on, Dorothy is locked up in an insane asylum at the opening of the movie and is about to receive shock treatments.

That was terrifying, but doesn't even begin to cover it. Between the Wheelers and Tic Toc's speech at about 4:30 ("I cannot be sorry or happy, no matter what happens") this clip alone is enough terror for one childhood. But still, can't say I didn't love the fuck out of this movie.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 8:45 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, also, why did you find the shock therapy scene scary? Didn't you notice that the machine had a happy face?
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 8:46 PM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Whoops, meant to link to this.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 8:47 PM on February 26, 2011


its
posted by item at 8:51 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


One word: WHEELERS.

Count me in as one of the cult, too, even if I haven't watched it since I was a kid. (I can still feel the Scarecrow's crackhead eyes on me...) Oz in general pops up in my earliest memories. The first real books I ever read were L. Frank Baum's first 6. I felt so proud hauling around The Emerald City of Oz, which was a huge doorstopper to someone that young. (Tor.com's been chronicling the history of the 40 books, which has been plucking all my nostalgia strings.)

Thanks for the movie links, Rhaomi and Cyrano. Definitely going to revisit this movie as soon as it's not dark outside....
posted by greenland at 8:51 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I loved this movie. It was scary but in a different way than horror movies. The wheelies were terrifying, and felt sad for tiktok, and the whole darn melancholy of everything was somehow so alluring. The headless dancing girls always stuck in my head too.

We didn't have it on tape, but I must have seen it in part or whole a gazillion times as a kid.
posted by sio42 at 8:56 PM on February 26, 2011


I'm surprised I've never heard of this.
posted by Tin Man at 9:03 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I ain't clicking that. You're not re-traumatizing me. (I do remember the girl who played Dorothy was pretty much amazing.)
posted by Neofelis at 9:05 PM on February 26, 2011


I've been rereading the original 14 Oz books in the past couple of weeks. I'd read a couple of them out of order growing up and loved them. I also saw Return to Oz for the first time in the past year. I was really surprised to find out that it's a very faithful adaptation of the 3rd Oz book, creepiness and all. They get weirder as you go, but they maintain the charm of the original. Still, you've got to wonder just what L. Frank Baum was on when he wrote them...
posted by Fuego at 9:12 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember being scared -- but I also remember enjoying it. I think I would have become a fan if we'd had it on VHS.
posted by jb at 9:14 PM on February 26, 2011


I remember when I first found out -- a few years ago -- how many people who are my ageish were terrified by that movie too. I had always been sort of ashamed of running out of the theatre (I believe it was when Dorothy was looking for the right green thing, though I have no idea why I think this was the scene), but I did not make a scene, or even freak out in front of anyone but my aunt.

It's sort of like finding someone else who loves your favourite, all but unknown, book.
posted by jeather at 9:14 PM on February 26, 2011


I very vaguely remember seeing this when I was a kid, so I clicked on Rhaomi's link to check it out again. It was just another reminder that about 80% of people still don't understand aspect ratios. I hate that.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:19 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


heh ... I, too, had forgotten this movie existed.. until 2 days ago, helping a friend move - we're taking stuff out of her storage faciility, she opens up a random box, and three things fall out: her passport , a vibrator, and a VHS copy of Return to Oz.

her: "I've been looking for these!!!" (holding up the passport and vibrator)
me: (silent, on my knees, picking up the VHS)
posted by mannequito at 9:35 PM on February 26, 2011 [19 favorites]



Whoops, meant to link to this

At least half of the horror stories I've done I swear came from trying to capture something like the SHEER SHITTING TERROR I had during that ROOSTER SEIZURE LAUGH at about 0:43 on this clip.
posted by The Whelk at 9:38 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Count me in. I loved, strike that, LOVE this movie. It's scary, all kinds of scary, and melancholy. Also, the Kansas that is depicted in the movie is a flat, muddy hellhole, exactly my experience of it. Instead of the technicolor fantasyland of the first movie, this is a dream turned into a garish nightmare where the rules are turned on their heads and you can only run in slow motion away from the danger.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:52 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Foam Pants' description is EXACTLY why this movie absolutely crushed me as a child. There's no way you could convince me to consume anything related to it now. It, and the similar feelings produced by The Wiz, also kind of soured me against the original books.
posted by amethysts at 9:59 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


My fourth grade teacher had the whole collection of Oz books, and would take a half hour or so out of the day to read part of them. I was probably one of the few 10 year olds to see the movie having read the book first.
posted by LionIndex at 10:20 PM on February 26, 2011


We had a bootleg of this movie on Betamax when I was little. Count me as one of the terrified.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:40 PM on February 26, 2011


All I can think right now is how delicious the trees with lunchboxes always seemed.

It, and the similar feelings produced by The Wiz, also kind of soured me against the original books.

OMG, The Wiz was sheer epic terror.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:42 PM on February 26, 2011


I was ten years old when "Return to Oz" was released, and I was a huge Book!Oz nerd-- I had all the original Baum books, which I reread many, many times. I was not so big in the 1939 movie. I can appreciate it now, but it seemed so sugary to me back then, with a Dorothy that was too old, and who constantly burst into song. Also, it seemed so weirdly 1930s-1940s, especially compared to the very Edwardian, almost steampunk fantasy prevalent in the books.

So when I saw "Return to Oz" I fell in love with it-- it seemed to be exactly the way I pictured the universe, all Edwardiana, scary steampunk, art nouveau and ragtime. It was scary, but I didn't have nightmares from it (but then all the other kids my age were seeing slasher films, so hey). I didn't get why so many people were comparing it to the Judy Garland musical, when, for me, "Return to Oz" was so much more awesome. It had Wheelers! Mombi/Languidere! Ozma! An age-appropriate Dorothy who didn't sing! And a really scary Nome King. It was my kiddie fantasy come to life. Maybe I was a fucked up kid...

Anyway, I was outraged when I saw the Siskel and Ebert review, trashing it, saying it wasn't like the older film and kids shouldn't see it and OMG horror. I wrote them a one-page letter telling them that I was a kid and a Baum fan, and I loved it, and they clearly didn't understand the intent of the film. My parents were very proud of me for writing that letter. They even photocopied it and stuck it on the fridge for everyone to admire. But I never heard back from Siskel and Ebert. Oh well...
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 10:44 PM on February 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


This isn't The Wiz, is it?

We are not in Kansas.
posted by ovvl at 10:54 PM on February 26, 2011


I saw Return to Oz before I saw The Wizard of OZ and it completely colored my view of the latter. I was just a kid and I knew that the only thing on the other side of that Tornado and Yellow Brick Road was a horror show of Wheelers, chicken men, and deadly desserts.

To this day I am the only fag I knew who gets nervous when Somewhere Over the Rainbow is sang. I know what is over there Dorothy. I know what is over there.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:02 PM on February 26, 2011 [26 favorites]


Holy fuck this movie messed with me as a kid. More than Alien. More than Poltergeist.

This was like that episode of G.I. Joe where you're eating breakfast cereal in your pajamas, just happy to be a kid, and then all of a sudden Shipwreck is tied to a table and is being interrogated, and they're giving him some mindbending chemicals, man, and the storyline keeps repeating itself, over and over again, and man, man people's faces, man, peoples faces, they're fuckin' melting.

These movies set me up for some really bad trips later in life.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:03 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's hard for me not to think of the Tick-Tock character when I hear the Ke$ha song of the same name. I imagine him dancing awkwardly and militarily to the song, and during the "oh-oo-oh-oo-oh-oh" parts he wobbles. DON'T FORGET TO WIND HIM UP!
posted by so_gracefully at 11:16 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wheelers terrify us all.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:18 PM on February 26, 2011


Yes! Put me down as someone who had a love/hate relationship with this movie. I can't remember what specific age I was when I saw it: probably 7. I wet my pants when I uncovered the DVD as an adult, and was amazed that when I rewatched it, those iconic scenes with the wheelers and Moomba's hall of heads STILL gave me the creeps. That hall of yelling heads has to be one of the most scary scenes of any movie ever.

I do remember of all things having a book of those paper doll toys dedicated to Dorothy's outfits; it even included a cut-out of her pet chicken Ballina. In retrospect, what would've been a more suitable (and awesome) toy would've been a paper doll toy dedicated to dressing Moomba up in her hundreds of heads.
posted by chronic sublime at 11:19 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I adore this movie. I saw it when I was 10 or so on Showtime when I was home alone, and later read the book and was thrilled to see how faithful the adaptation was. To this day, I will pretty much watch anything with Fairuza Balk in it because of this film. It is so awesomely creepy.
posted by annathea at 11:23 PM on February 26, 2011


My fourth grade teacher had the whole collection of Oz books, and would take a half hour or so out of the day to read part of them.

You, um, didn't go to the 4th grade in a small town in Northeast Nebraska, did you?

The Judy Garland movie was one of those artifacts that was around all of my childhood, and until I was basically an adult I mostly just didn't get it. The books, though, fit right in with all those Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny paperbacks. Which is to say they were amazing.

I've never seen this, though I knew vaguely that it existed, but now I think I will take the time.
posted by brennen at 11:23 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


My best friend and I bonded in high school when we realized that she had been traumatized by the Wheelers and my damage came from the cabinets of goddamn spare heads.

Not that I'm still freaked out or anything.
posted by sugarfish at 11:24 PM on February 26, 2011


Also, one of my coworkers has a lot of green knick-knacks in her office. Sometimes I really want to touch them just in case there's someone trapped inside them.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:25 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Good on this guy for making this documentary and I'm always up for a jumping off point for a strange, odd piece of conversation (oh, Return to Oz, how you made me pee my pants that hot summer matinee I saw you at Radio City Music Hall when I was ten), but WOW this is a clunky doc. Wow. Documentary is probably the wrong descriptor. "Home movie," maybe?

Production values are a tad... rough. Understatement of the millenium.
posted by incessant at 11:31 PM on February 26, 2011


I'm surprised I've never heard of this.

Fucking kids. Look, here's the deal: 1982. That's the deal. The Secret of NIMH and The Dark Crystal and The Last Unicorn and E. Fucking T. If you were a kid in the early 80s, your brain got fucked up hard and good. What's that, spikeleemajortom… Poltergeist you say? 1982. Bladerunner, TRON, Star Trek 2, and the motherfucking Beastmaster? Beastmaster? Nineteen Eighty fucking Two.

And yes, I realize R2O came out three years later. Return to Oz was so good it should have been made in 1982.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:32 PM on February 26, 2011 [76 favorites]


Look, here's the deal: 1982. That's the deal.

Amen. A-FUCKING-men.
posted by incessant at 11:35 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient's comment reminded me that my favourite movie when I was three was Poltergeist. Dude, you are so right about 1982.
posted by annathea at 11:36 PM on February 26, 2011


I really liked all of the messed up Oz bits in Tad William's Otherland books. Sometimes tells me I would like this movie.
posted by flaterik at 11:40 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Loved the film. I also remember this film being promoted on the TV show Blue Peter, because one of the presenters was actually the guy inside tik-tok (he had to contort himself to get inside and walk around). Then I looked him up on wiki and actually it seems like he had a really tragic life.
posted by leibniz at 11:54 PM on February 26, 2011


Peter David, writer of stuff, wrote an excellent essay on why Return to Oz is better than Wizard of Oz (You'll need to scroll down to the paragraph that starts with the phrase "But no sequel, to my knowledge, has ever been as lambasted, torn to shreds, and generally vilified as..."
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:03 AM on February 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


I actually watch this movie every halloween night, have for years. It's a creepy masterpiece as far as I'm concerned.
posted by dead cousin ted at 12:14 AM on February 27, 2011


Also, I was born a year after the movies C_D mentioned but have seen all of them multiple time. Maybe I was more traumatized than I thought. Or maybe I'm just that AWESOME.
posted by dead cousin ted at 12:18 AM on February 27, 2011


*reads Joey Michaels' link*

...SERIOUSLY? The Kansas people had Oz doppelgangers in this movie too, and I completely missed it AGAIN? Waaaagh.

Anyway. I watched it again a couple years ago and was pleasantly surprised by how cool it still is. Especially the Nome King. Everyone who may be looking at this thread but not posting because they have no childhood memories to contribute, please go watch!
posted by jinjo at 12:18 AM on February 27, 2011


I was also upset to the point of frothing hysterics by The Secret of NIMH, yes, thank you Civil Disobedient. Wouldn't have wanted to forget the mouse-themed nightmares, nope. I'll sleep just fine tonight.
posted by Neofelis at 12:19 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was 5. We went to the matinee. I was terrified but I loved it.
posted by dame at 12:23 AM on February 27, 2011


growing up from about 8 years old on (1989 or so), i'd decide if someone was worth being a friend based upon a couple absurd criteria such as "do you love return to oz?" and "queen - great band or greatest band?"
posted by nadawi at 12:28 AM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've seen bits and pieces on tv for years, but never sat down to watch it all the way through. It definitely seemed pretty freaking scary to me, and not really in a good way (says the guy who enjoys watching horror films alone, late at night). I'd like to click on those youtube links, but I'd like to be able to sleep tonight. All of those half remembered scenes from my childhood are telling me it'd be a bad idea to rewatch it.

and fuck yeah, Dark Crystal and Secret of NIMH. Both were huge moments in my young like, both were awesome, but Secret of NIMH was the first time I'd ever seen or heard of another person (the raven) with the name Jeremy. I'd felt like such an outcast because Jeremy was not a common name back then...
posted by Ghidorah at 12:31 AM on February 27, 2011


Ugh, this movie. I've had to insist to several people that yes, Disney did make a movie in the eighties that was a sequel to the Wizard of Oz, but Dorothy's a lot younger with big blue eyes and she has a hen named Billina and everyone back in Kansas thinks she's crazy so she has to get electroshock treatments. No one understands why I love this movie so much. I don't think I do either. I remember when I saw it as a kid I thought it was weird and sacrilegious to the original, but it was still oddly compelling. Watching it since as an adult has only affirmed my faith in 80s fantasy movies: Krull, Labyrinth, Clash of the Titans. But still...why is it so disturbing? How did Disney let this one get made?

As opposed to Poltergeist, which did not age well at all for me.
posted by therewolf at 12:34 AM on February 27, 2011


For me it was always how much it fucked with the original movie that made it so disturbing. I mean, the original movie was pretty fucking scary but this took the cake.

The characters are definitely a big part of that, but also it's like "oh remember the yellow brick road? It's destroyed. You're friends, they're turned to stone. Dorthy is in a crazy house. Everything you know and love about Oz is gone and replaced by evil. Oh yeah, and there's fuckin wheelers everywhere."

I really recommend everyone sit down and watch it, you can torrent it easily. It still stands up.
posted by dead cousin ted at 12:42 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


why is it so disturbing? How did Disney let this one get made?

Oh man, you really want to blow the kids' minds? Show them The Black Hole. That's some dark Disney right there.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:55 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Despite the low production cost occasionally making itself evident, this is a very good and extremely comprehensive video review of the success/failure of Return to Oz. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I had completely forgot it was Fairuza Balk that played Dorothy. Also count me among the people that never realized that E.T. was just The Wizard of Oz told in reverse (E.T. == Dorothy, Eliot == Scarecrow, etc.)

There are so many things I love about R2O that I could pretty easily churn out five or six paragraphs, but seeing as how I've been kinda chatty in this thread already I'll reduce it to one thing: the writers insistence on placing Dorothy in a specific historical context (approximately the turn of the century) gives the "real" world its necessary cruelty that Oz is supposed to counter.

NO. MORE. GAAAMES!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:11 AM on February 27, 2011


About 3 years ago, when the DVD finally came out in Region 4, it was immediately checked out from the video store I worked at, and never returned. Every week I had to ring up the lady that rented it, and leave a message requesting its return. Every time it pissed me off, because all the other customers were missing out on this awesome movie.

She never returned it, she never rented there again, so we never got to fine her. After about 4 months the managers finally gave up and ordered a new copy. I stuck it straight onto the "Highly Recommended" shelf.

Such a great movie. The Nome faces sliding through stone are some of the most brilliant special effects ever.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 1:26 AM on February 27, 2011


It's probably worth mentioning that this film is the sole directing credit of Walter Murch, the greatest editor and sound designer ever to work on American films. Cf: The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The English Patient, American Graffiti, Crumb, The Godfather: Part III, The Talented Mr. Ripley, THX 1138. He's also the guy they came to when the 58-page memo from Orson Welles about how to edit Touch of Evil was found and is responsible for the restorative re-edit of that film.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:29 AM on February 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


I just remember how pleased I was that back in the real world, all the people masquerading as the psych hospital staff (yeah, I'm looking at you Goblin king and Mombie) died in a fire. I cheered! Also I thought that Ozma was beautiful and 20 years old, not sweet and 10 years of age.

Also, thanks for showing me the wheelers... I'm now getting drunk so as to avoid dreaming nasty, nasty nightmares of them!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 1:33 AM on February 27, 2011


I was around 20 when this film came out, so after the initial shock of realizing film was nothing like the original, I thought it pretty awesome. And yes, nothing to my mind will equal the best 80s films, back before cgo and the obsession with sequels. I'm going to remember films like "Return to Oz“, Big Trouble in Little China" and "bUckaroo Banzai", and conveniently forget the crap that makes Michael Bay look brilliant.
posted by happyroach at 1:41 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


From Joey Michaels' Peter David link, too

Peter makes this insightful comment:

Let's face it. The Wizard of Oz makes no sense at all. Of course, neither does Total Recall, but no one's ever going to release a special 50th anniversary videotape edition of Total Recall (call it a hunch).

Lucky for him that videotape became an extinct format. Sadly, I do believe that there will be some sort of special promotion for the 50th anniversary of Total Recall.
posted by mikelieman at 1:46 AM on February 27, 2011


I loved this movie. It was dark, and scary, and bizarre, and truthful.

Dorothy is trapped in a world with rules she doesn't understand, surrounded by people with agendas that she can see are inimical to her, and she's forced to take sides and make plans and struggle to survive with no idea - none- if what she is doing is going to keep her from getting terribly hurt or killed.

Just like growing up, but less sugary than the first movie. God forbid they ever remake it.

I wish someone would make a movie out of The Marvelous Land of Oz, but the only person I would trust to do it would be Guillermo del Toro or maybe Terry Gilliam. And given Gilliam's terrible track record of luck, it should probably be del Toro.
posted by winna at 2:52 AM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I asked my parents to pick this up at the local library because I was sick with the flu. It was not what I was expecting: talking heads, weird robots, it was like Oz on LSD and Oz is already pretty trippy.
posted by Fizz at 3:53 AM on February 27, 2011


Me and my sister watched the shit out of this growing up. She loved it so much that she demanded to be called 'Dorothy Gale' for two weeks.

I enjoyed the darkness and meloncholy of it. It is far superior to the original. Pumpkin head Jack was so sweet, the lunchpail sandwiches did look delicious and by fuck it was terrifying. This is what kids movies should be like. Why arent they making movies like this any more? Screw 3D and CGI , get some muthafukking animatronic puppets up in that shit.

I too bought this the moment it came out and some bastardnhas stolen it. Impending the Wheelers to go get it back.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 4:42 AM on February 27, 2011


What a terrifying and incredible film. Mombi and the wheelers terrified me too, but I loved everything else about it. I was a huge Oz fan as a kid, so it was a matter of time before I saw it. I loved how the creatures looked like the pictures in my books, and it was miles better than that other sequel with Liza Minelli.
posted by Gordafarin at 5:23 AM on February 27, 2011


As a kid I never quite understood why the original movie was so beloved; take away the musical numbers and it's a dark, scary tale set in a weird, unfriendly place. When I was 8-10 or so I read The Marvelous Land of Oz and it reinforced my sense of Oz as really not actually being all that marvelous, not a place I ever want to be magically transported to against my will. Also, the gender-bending at the end is a big, huge WTF. I never ready any of the others.

When Return to Oz came out I was a couple of years past traumatization age (except for that damn hall of heads) and thought it did a pretty good job capturing that sense of hostile weirdness I had gotten from the book.
posted by usonian at 5:43 AM on February 27, 2011


I think Civil_Disobedient nailed it above.

As a kid who spent the early days of youth in the 1980's, "child" films with dark tones or aspects were kind of run of the mill. I can't remember if I saw Return to Oz in the theater or a few years later when it was out on VHS, but I don't recall finding it particularly terrifying. If anything I knew nothing about the premise, so there was disappointment that none of the familiar characters from the first were involved.

In my opinion, the 80's were more of a golden age for awesome kid/family films than the scene of crimes against adolescent minds.

Another dark Disney feature from the 1980's? The Black Cauldron.
posted by Atreides at 6:17 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


BTW, the movie is readily available on DVD (in regions 1 & 2 anyway), and Amazon has it as a streaming rental for $1.99. Just mentioning because there are a few comments that seem to imply the movie is still hard to find, which is thankfully not the case.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:00 AM on February 27, 2011


What Civil_Disobedient said hit home for my line of thinking too. I remember seeing this, and I would have probably been in 3rd grade by the time it came to VHS; I remember loving it, and not being scared at all. But I was the kid who had read all the books, loved Labyrinth, The Black Cauldron, Secret of NIMH, Watership Down, etc. Heavy = where my mind wanted to be, and I think society gave children a fair amount of credit for those kinds of things then.
posted by bizzyb at 7:08 AM on February 27, 2011


I had no idea so many other people had seen this movie! I saw it when I was 5, and I only remember the heads. 20+ years later, I'm still scared to watch it again.
posted by naoko at 7:12 AM on February 27, 2011


I'm a friend of Dorothy . . . as played by Fairuza Balk.
posted by whuppy at 7:26 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Made by Disney, with the producer of Star Wars, the design team of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and marketed as a sequel to one of the most beloved films in history...it was a flop.

Which one of these 4 things was supposed to save it from the other 3?
posted by DU at 7:36 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed watching the movie, thanks for posting it! I remember watching it on TV, but either I got bored or Mom shut it off because I don't remember the Gump at all. I never saw Labyrinth as a kid and I wish, oh I wish, I had some childhood memory of liking it because I thought it was a stinker. It seemed more like a way of showing off puppetry instead of having a storyline. Return to Oz was a far better movie.
posted by Calzephyr at 7:57 AM on February 27, 2011


My greatest fear when I was a kid was people turning into inanimate objects. The jade kick-knack scene freaked me out, and the movie also had a Wheeler turning into sand. Brrr.
posted by painquale at 9:48 AM on February 27, 2011


Thanks for this trip down memory lane! I was a teenager when the movie came out (part of the generation that was scarred for life by the yearly showing of the flying monkeys) but I remember, now, renting it for my kids some 8 years later and then forbidding them to watch it when we got about a third of the way in. I watched it though, over and over. Eeee. It scared me in my early 20s.

My son at about age 6 became completely addicted to the books and I read every single one to him. They are quite possibly the weirdest childrens books ever written and by around the seventh one you start to wonder seriously about L. Frank Baum. Page after page after page of descriptions of "ornaments" - gewgaws, knickknacks and baubles and then, yes, the extremely strange gender bending Ozma/Tip stories. L. Frank Baum was a very peculiar man. Maybe he was writing about the gold/silver standard but somehow, it never quite got through.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:08 AM on February 27, 2011


I was born in 1987 so I didn't see this til the early 90s, and it must have been after all the buzz died down because none of my friends had ever heard of it. I don't remember being scared, but just so profoundly sad that the road had broken and everyone turned to stone. My brother and I were quite puzzled by Dorothy's age discrepancies, though. I was half-convinced I'd hallucinated the whole movie until my brother asked for it for Christmas this last year.

Secret of NIMH totally messed me up, though. And don't forget about All Dogs Go To Heaven and the scene where hell is a fiery ship sinking into lava with demons ripping apart the main character. Dear God, I had nightmares for years. And, on a more mundane level, The Brave Little Toaster gave my brother and me a lifelong fear of vacuum cleaners accidentally rolling over their cords and exploding. My parents never understood why were so terrified to vacuum the carpet.
posted by lilac girl at 1:22 PM on February 27, 2011


Word to Civil Disobedient.

BTW; The same guy picked to helm the Tron reboot is working next on.. a Black Hole reboot. No lie.
posted by cavalier at 2:09 PM on February 27, 2011


Also, l totally wanted to make a rig like the Wheelers had. It was up there with making the stilt arrangement for the striders from "The Dark Crystal" as a dream project.
posted by happyroach at 2:26 PM on February 27, 2011


Fucking kids. Look, here's the deal: 1982. That's the deal. The Secret of NIMH and The Dark Crystal and The Last Unicorn and E. Fucking T. If you were a kid in the early 80s, your brain got fucked up hard and good. What's that, spikeleemajortom… Poltergeist you say? 1982. Bladerunner, TRON, Star Trek 2, and the motherfucking Beastmaster? Beastmaster? Nineteen Eighty fucking Two.

And the others folks have noted. I loved the Black Hole as a 9 year old...

This is basically the answer the question in an the Threads discussion about how being a kid in the 70s/80s, faced with nuclear holocaust, fucked with you.

Wrath of Kahn. Man, I tried to sleep without my head touching the pillow for months after, and I still can't avoid shuddering around slaters.
posted by rodgerd at 3:38 PM on February 27, 2011


On an unrelated note, I, quite mistakenly, showed my then-4 year old daughter LABRYNTH for Halloween last year. Oops.
posted by newdaddy at 9:12 PM on February 27, 2011


It's actually amazing how much good filmmaking came out of Disney in the 1979-198x stretch. The Black Hole is one of my all time favourite films, and Return to Oz is another (and, like one commenter above, set me up for a life-long Fairuza Balk crush).

Sadly, the documentary itself -- interesting as it is, so far -- has utterly atrocious sound. I do not need to hear the jackhammers of the construction crew outside your interviewee's window, but I'd love to hear your interviewee more of the time, thank you very much.
posted by ChrisR at 10:13 PM on February 27, 2011


On an unrelated note, I, quite mistakenly, showed my then-4 year old daughter LABRYNTH for Halloween last year. Oops.

PROTIP: Jurassic Park is NOT the documentary to use to demonstrate that "Not all dinosaurs are our friends"...
posted by mikelieman at 5:40 AM on February 28, 2011


Man, I loved the Oz books. This is the only fandom I have ever gotten obsessive about, and it started at the age of 4. I dressed up as Ozma every year for Halloween throughout most of elementary school in a costume that was taken from the picture in one of the books, and reproduced faithfully by my mother using vintage gauzy dressing gowns and sequins. I spent hours in the driveway with an umbrella on windy days, hoping to get carried away to Oz. I learned to type on an old typewriter by copying page after page from an Oz book propped up next to me. I started writing a book that paid tribute to the Oz series through every recess during the last half of sixth grade. (Not, strangely, fanfiction. I just designed a whole other world based upon the parameters Baum used.)

Needless to say, when I saw the first movie, I was somewhat appalled. Singing? Wtf? Someone who is obviously a teenager playing Dorothy? From a purist's point of view, the Wizard of Oz is a horrible movie. If Harry Potter had been adapted to movie form the way the Wizard of Oz was, I'm not sure the rest of them would've ever gotten made. And something would've probably gotten burned down in protest by nine year olds. However, I saw Return to Oz in the theater when it came out (the second movie I'd ever seen in an actual movie theater) and while I was a little annoyed because it wasn't 100% faithful to the book, it was close enough that my mother only had to listen to a few days of me listing every possible inaccuracy before I deemed it an okay movie. Of course, I also had to get the paper doll/sticker book, because it was Oz paraphernalia. I still have that somewhere.

And now, rereading all of the original L. Frank Baum books (as opposed to the awful ones written by Ruth Plumly Thompson and the others), I'm finding there are way, way more historical puns and references than I got when I read them the first 5-10 times as a kid. I can't decide if this makes me like them less or more.

The worst part of being an Oz fan as a kid was the fact NO ONE else had ever heard of the series, and the most familiarity anyone had with the books was the Judy Garland movie. Which so didn't count. Thanks for this post! It reminded me I need to find a copy of Return to Oz for my very own.
posted by wending my way at 7:53 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


> For me it was always how much it fucked with the original movie that made it so disturbing.

...whereas for me the way the 1939 movie fucked with the book turned it into unwatchable treacle. I was careful to read the books aloud to my kids quite early to inoculate them against MGM-induced dental caries.


> Dorothy is trapped in a world with rules she doesn't understand, surrounded by people with
> agendas that she can see are inimical to her, and she's forced to take sides and make
> plans and struggle to survive with no idea - none- if what she is doing is going to keep
> her from getting terribly hurt or killed.

Bear in mind that when this story opens she has already been to Oz once, and found then that she was equal to whatever it threw at her (wicked witches, flying monkey attacks, etc., not to mention OZ THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE.)


Warning, self-link. I'm dragging this comment up out of the mefi bitbucket because I can't think of any better way to say it:

> Return to Oz had to be on the scariest movies of my childhood. Definitely not for children.
> posted by parmanparman at 9:09 AM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites +] [!]

My parents and grandmother read the Oz books aloud to me before I could read for myself (I am shamelessly bragging about a privileged childhood here) so the Dorothy of the books is the one I imprinted on. The first time I saw poor Judy Garland in the 1939 movie, I came out thinking "That wasn't Dorothy."

It's only secondarily that the Dorothy of the books was a kid (and blond) while Judy Garland was a brown-haired teenager. The major, major difference is that the Dorothy of the books has balls. Whatever it is--tornados, shipwrecks, invisible bears, death-sand deserts, evil gnome kings (who have
her magic slippers, the nerve)--she is ready to deal with it with courage and imagination. Having the charm and manners of a well brought up young lady and (when it's called for) some pretty damned steely determination, Miss Gale remains lo these many years later one of my main touchstones of, what the fellow said, grace under pressure.

Now then, Return to Oz. The stuff that happens in the brief framing "real world" segments, especially at the beginning, was pretty dreadful. But what takes place in Oz (well, Ev actually, since
Return to Oz is mainly an adaptation of Ozma of Oz which takes place in the neighboring land of Ev. Got that?) is as faithful a movie rendition of Baum's magical but often hair-raising world, and the (very) young woman who negotiates it so boldly, as we're likely to see.

Discover Gnome King (grey claymation stone face in threatening cliffside), addressing Dorothy and her companions TikTok (wind-up robot), Jack Pumpkinhead (stick figure with head liable to spoilage), Billina (chicken) and the Gump (flying machine made of lashed-together Victorian furniture and taxidermal moose):

Gnome King: Not THE Dorothy Gale? From Kansas?
Dorothy: Yes, Your Majesty. (Dorothy curtsies) We've come to ask you to release the Scarecrow, and restore the Emerald City. (curtsies again.)
GK: You believe that I have stolen something, Dorothy, and you want me to give it back.
D: Yes, Your Majesty. (curtsies again)
GK: And what if I don't want to give it back?
D: Then (does not curtsey)
I am here, with my army. (waves arm at companions) To conquer you and force you to give it back.

I left the theater thinking "Yep, pretty darned close. That was the place, and that was her."


Bonus: includes the following exchange between Dorothy and Jack Pumpkinhead about TikTok, whose thinking apparatus needs winding and has been getting somewhat incoherent.

Jack Pumpkinhead: But how can he still talk if his brain's run down?
Dorothy: Oh, it happens to people all the time.

If there is a better motto (or epitaph) for the entire internet, I haven't encountered it yet.


Add me to the list of Return to Oz (and Fairuza Balk) fans, though maybe not to the cult roster since I saw it and loved it on first-run release rather than discovering it later.
posted by jfuller at 8:40 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


P.S. in addition to featuring the appropriately charming, steely Miss Balk (whose later screen credits include The Craft and The Island of Dr. Moreau) as the charming, steely Miss Gale, Return also gives us a Gnome King voiced by the very great Nicol Williamson (whose screen credits include Spawn and The Exorcist).
posted by jfuller at 9:01 AM on February 28, 2011


I'm pretty sure Nicol Williamson wasn't in The Exorcist, but he was in Excalibur, which was pretty awesome in its own right.

Put me in Camp Traumatized by the 80's as well. I remember having creepy nightmares about the hall of heads and the Wheelers when I was small, but I also spent hours trying to bring my couch to life so I could go for flying trips, so it wasn't all bad. I re-watched Return to Oz last year thanks to the wonders of Netflix, and I think I was only more disturbed as an adult. The boyfriend and I both had fond memories of it, but we kept looking at each during the movie with a horrified "WTF, I can't believe our parents ever let us watch this!" look on our faces.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:51 AM on February 28, 2011


I never saw Labyrinth as a kid and I wish, oh I wish, I had some childhood memory of liking it because I thought it was a stinker. It seemed more like a way of showing off puppetry instead of having a storyline.

Quiet your lies, heretic. There is one true way to understand Labyrinth. (Warning - website is from like 1965, seriously ancient webz)
posted by FatherDagon at 1:43 PM on February 28, 2011


> I'm pretty sure Nicol Williamson wasn't in The Exorcist

Sorry, Exorcist III. He was Father Morning.
posted by jfuller at 1:47 PM on February 28, 2011


Civil_Disobedient: "Look, here's the deal: 1982. That's the deal. The Secret of NIMH"

Was I the only kid who thought the movie version was far inferior to Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of Nimh?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:11 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


ME. I WROTE A WHOLE ESSAY ON IT IN GRADE SCHOOL WHEN WE WATCHED THE MOVIE AFTER READING THE BOOK I GOT AN A.
posted by The Whelk at 9:04 PM on February 28, 2011


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