Return to Oz (1985)
Wrongheadedly hailed as ‘too dark’ for children on its release, that reaction to 1985’s Return to Oz entirely missed the point. If 1939’s The Wizard of Oz was a dream, Return was determinedly a nightmare; throwing Dorothy Gale back into Oz only to find it a sad, ruinous place, with only her pet chicken for company – who, thanks to the magic of Oz, can now talk, it was a film daring to sidestep the blinding affability of the original. The yellow brick road has been torn asunder, and the munchkins are missing; clearly, there’s no room for cheer in this new Oz, and Dorothy – with help from Jack Pumpkinhead and Tik-Tok (twisted, if loveable, variations on Scarecrow and Tin Man) – must stop the Nome King from unleashing any more devastation on the once-happy world.
Return to Oz was loosely based on L. Frank Baum’s second and third Oz books, The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, and initially put into production as Disney’s copyright on the franchise was soon running out, all devised by director Walter Murch. ‘It’s bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying,’ wrote the Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr upon its release; with Dororthy’s friends almost as scary as her enemies, Return to Oz has become a bit of a sleeper hit among Oz fans, especially for a sequel that attempted – and in most ways, accomplished – something radically different from what had gone before.