A “Return to Oz” is a Return to Disney’s Long-Lost Personality

“Would you like to go for a ride, Dorothy?”

“Why do you have to tie me down…?”

If, like me, you’re growing tired of the Disney monolith, return to the 1980s.

Return to the dark stain in Disney’s past, the one that nearly killed the company until The Little Mermaid saved them. Return to the weird, the awkward, the scary. Return… to Oz.

Directed by three-time Oscar winner Walter Murch, Return to Oz is so wonderful because it would never get made today. And that’s a problem because there’s so much ingenuity dolloped alongside the Henry Selick-storyboarded horror.

Return to Oz borrows liberally from Peter Pan, Narnia, A New Hope and then adds talking chickens, skater clowns and Piper Laurie as Auntie Em.

Since the events of Wizard of Oz, Kansas/America/Disney isn’t the same. The Gale property is in ruin thanks to the tornado and Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are about to take on a second mortgage because of it. They’re also worried about Dorothy (played by Fairuza Balk a decade before The Craft). Dorothy’s depressed, can’t sleep and just won’t shut up about this “Oz” nonsense. Naturally, Em and Henry send Dorothy to an asylum where Jean Marsh’s Nurse Wilson’s terrifying shoulder pads would make Cersei blush. Soon, they’re strapping Dorothy down for some good old-fashioned electroshock therapy and I started singing “Dream Warriors.” (This came out two years before Elm Street 3.)

Thanks to an obviously important blonde girl and Billina the talking chicken, Dorothy escapes to Oz and discovers Oz isn’t doing so hot either. The yellow brick road is rubble. All the emeralds in Emerald City are gone and everyone has been turned to stone.

Luckily, we receive a Tin Man replacement in (no joke) Tik-Tok the Mechanical Man, who can do everything… but live! “I am not alive and never will be, thank God,” he says, lest we feel sorry for him. Similar to America/Tin Man’s hunger for oil, Tik-Tok needs to be wound up every time the plot demands it. I imagine it’s a similar algorithm for TikTok users.

Anyway — Billina, Tik-Tok and Dorothy embark on a journey to find the erstwhile mayor of Oz, Scarecrow, and save Oz from the evil Gnome King. It all makes a tremendous amount of sense, I assure you and I haven’t eaten from the lunch pail tree yet OR mentioned Princess Mombi, who legit owns a cabinet of disembodied heads.

Follow the yellow journalism. Return to a product you’re shocked wasn’t recalled. Return to Oz.

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Andrew Greene

Andrew Greene

A writer & traveler when his cat allows, located in glittering Glendale, CA.