Return to Oz (1985)

Genres - Children's/Family, Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Children's Fantasy, Escape Film, Fantasy Adventure  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Andrea LeVasseur

A dark fantasy-adventure, Return to Oz follows in the tone of the original L. Frank Baum books, Ozma of Oz and Land of Oz, rather than posing as a sequel to the classic of all family films, The Wizard of Oz. While seeming pretty creepy for younger viewers, older audiences may just be disturbed at the faded post-apocalyptic settings and bleak story when compared to the cheery and bright Technicolor of the 1939 Judy Garland Hollywood version. Opting for depressing and evil characters in lieu of the beloved simple types of the first is only one example of how a comparison puts this new version at a disadvantage. However, Return to Oz is stylistically compelling, doing its best to cinematically render Baum's original character drawings of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. Will Vinton (creator of the stop-motion California Raisins) did some award-winning work on some of the creatures and special effects. By avoiding the musical genre trappings and casting a Dorothy (Fairuza Balk, in her first screen role) of actual kid age, it doesn't seem to patronize the youth audience with sugar-coated moralizing. Not known for his work in family entertainment anyway, writer/director Walter Murch previously worked as an editor and sound designer for Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. By offering a family-friendly way into a nightmare fantasy, Return to Oz is one of the few creature-laden '80s movies that allowed curious kids to venture into the dark side.