Return to Oz

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Return to Oz
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by Walter Murch
Produced by Paul Maslansky
Written by Gill Dennis
Walter Murch
Based on The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz 
by L. Frank Baum
Music by David Shire
Cinematography David Watkin
Freddie Francis
Edited by Leslie Hodgson
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • June 21, 1985 (1985-06-21) (United States)
  • July 10, 1985 (1985-07-10) (United Kingdom)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $28 million[1]
Box office $11,137,801 (USA)

Return to Oz is a 1985 fantasy adventure film based on L. Frank Baum's Oz novels, mainly The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. The film begins with Dorothy's return to the Land of Oz, and her discovery that the land has been destroyed. Upon her return, Dorothy, alongside her chicken Billina, is befriended by a group of new companions, including Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead, who help her restore Oz to its former glory.

Directed by Walter Murch, an editor and sound designer, Return to Oz stars Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Matt Clark, and introduces Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale. Released on June 21, 1985, it performed poorly at the box office and received mixed reviews from critics. However, Return to Oz is considered by fans as a more faithful adaptation of the book series than the 1939 MGM film, and has since acquired a large cult following.[2][3] The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.


In October 1899, six months after returning home from the Land of Oz, Dorothy Gale has become melancholic. Her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry take her to Dr. Worley, known for his electrotherapy treatments, and leave her under the care of Nurse Wilson. During a thunderstorm, the lab suffers a blackout and Dorothy is saved by a mysterious girl. They escape with Nurse Wilson in pursuit, and fall into a river. Dorothy clambers aboard a chicken coop, but the other girl appears to have vanished underwater.

Upon awakening, Dorothy finds herself back in Oz with her chicken Billina, who can now talk. They find the Emerald City in ruins and its citizens (including the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion) turned to stone. Pursued by Wheelers (humans who have wheels instead of hands and feet), Dorothy and Billina hide in a room accessed by a glyph key Billina earlier had found. They meet a mechanical man, Tik-Tok, who explains that King Scarecrow has been captured by the Nome King, who is responsible for the Emerald City's destruction. The three visit princess Mombi in hopes of getting more information, but she is working with the Nome King and imprisons them.

Dorothy, Billina, and Tik-Tok meet Jack Pumpkinhead, who explains he was brought to life via Mombi's Powder of Life. Dorothy uses the Powder of Life to vivify the Gump, the head of a moose-like animal whose body they put together using two sofas, palm leaves, a broom, and rope. Using the Gump as transport, the group escapes and flies across the Deadly Desert to reach the Nome King's mountain. In his underground domain, the Nome King tells Dorothy that the Scarecrow stole the emeralds from him to build the Emerald City, and should be punished. He does not listen when Dorothy protests that the emeralds preceded the Scarecrow at the city. The Scarecrow has been turned into an ornament, and the group has three guesses each to identify which one he is, or they will be turned into ornaments themselves. The Gump, Jack and Tik Tok each fail and are turned into ornaments. The king gives Dorothy the chance to go home unscathed since he has her discarded ruby slippers, but Dorothy refuses to use them to leave her companions.

On Dorothy's last guess, she locates the Scarecrow, having deduced that people from Oz turn into green ornaments. The hunt for green ornaments yields Jack and Gump, but the enraged Nome King, who has trapped Mombi in a cage, confronts Dorothy and company in a monstrous form where he eats the Gump's couch body. He tries to eat Jack, but Billina, hiding in Jack's head, lays an egg in fright and it falls into the Nome King's mouth. Eggs are poisonous to Nomes and the King and his kingdom crumble to pieces. Dorothy finds the ruby slippers and wishes she and her friends be returned to a restored Emerald City. There, they mourn the loss of Tik Tok until Billina notices a green medal stuck to one of the Gump's antlers; Dorothy uses one more "guess" and Tik Tok materializes.

At a celebration, Dorothy is asked to be Queen of Oz but refuses, realizing she must return to Kansas eventually. She then spots the girl who helped her escape the hospital: she is Princess Ozma, Jack's long-lost creator, and the rightful ruler of Oz, who had been enchanted by Mombi at the Nome King's request. Ozma forgives the non-longer-magical Mombi. She takes her place on the throne and Dorothy hands over the ruby slippers. Billina opts to stay in Oz. Ozma sends Dorothy home, promising that Dorothy is welcome to return whenever she likes.

Back in Kansas, her family finds Dorothy on a riverbank. Aunt Em reveals that Worley's hospital was struck by lightning and burned down, Dr. Worley dying in the fire trying to save his machines. They see Nurse Wilson, arrested and locked in a cage on a horse buggy. Upon returning to the farmhouse, Dorothy sees Billina and Ozma peering at her through her bedroom mirror. When Dorothy entreats Aunt Em to come to her room to see Ozma, Ozma silently instructs her to keep her and Oz a secret.



Walter Murch began development on the film in 1980, during a brainstorming session with Walt Disney Productions production chief Tom Wilhite. “It was just a fishing expedition on both of our parts," Murch remembered. "But one of the questions he asked was, ‘What are you interested in that you think we might also be interested in?’, and I said, ‘Another Oz story.’ … And Tom sort of straightened up in his chair because it turned out, unbeknownst to me, that Disney owned the rights to all of the Oz stories. And they were particularly interested in doing something with them because the copyright was going to run out in the next five years.”[4]

The film is based on the second and third Oz books, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907). The element about Tik-Tok being "The Royal Army of Oz" derives from Tik-Tok of Oz (1914), in which he is made the Royal Army of Oogaboo, and also makes frequent cries of "Pick me up!" That book was itself based on a dramatic production, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz (1913). Murch also used the book Wisconsin Death Trip as an historical source for the film.[5]

Murch took a decidedly darker take on Baum's source material than the 1939 adaptation, which he knew starting out would be a gamble. Between the development period and actual shooting, there was a change of leadership at the Walt Disney studios (with Wilhite being replaced by Richard Berger), and the movie's budget increased.[6] Once shooting began, Murch began to fall behind schedule, and there was further pressure from the studio, leading to Murch being fired as director for a short period.[6] George Lucas and other high profile filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola supported Murch in discussions with the studio, and Murch was reinstated and finished the film.[4][6]

The film was developed and produced without the involvement of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio behind the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. No approval was necessary, because by 1985, the Oz books on which the film was based were in the public domain, and the subsequent Oz books had been optioned to Disney many years earlier. A large fee was paid, however, to use the ruby slippers, which were still the intellectual property of MGM at the time (as the ruby slippers had been created specifically for the 1939 film to replace the Silver Shoes of the original stories).


The movie received mixed reviews from critics, who described the film's content as too dark and intense for children. "Children are sure to be startled by the film's bleakness," said The New York Times's Janet Maslin.[7] Canadian film critic Jay Scott felt the protagonists were too creepy for viewers to sympathize with: "Dorothy's friends are as weird as her enemies, which is faithful to the original Oz books but turns out not to be a virtue on film, where the eerie has a tendency to remain eerie no matter how often we're told it's not."[8] "It's bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying," added Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader.[9] The film earned $2,844,895 in its opening weekend, finishing in seventh place.[10] The film ultimately grossed $11,137,801 in North America.[11] Return to Oz currently holds a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews.

The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, but lost to Cocoon. Fairuza Balk and Emma Ridley were nominated for Young Artist Awards. The film received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film (lost to Ladyhawke) and Best Younger Actor for Fairuza Balk (who lost to Barret Oliver for D.A.R.Y.L.).

The film’s interpretation of Oz is featured in the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction at Disneyland Resort Paris. Amelie Gillette of the The A.V. Club frequently refers to the film's dark nature as unsuitable for its intended audience of young children[12] despite it being one of her favorite movies growing up.


The film has been released to VHS, beta, laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray over the years. The initial release, to VHS, laserdisc, and Beta, occurred in 1985 shortly after the theatrical release, with the VHS initially priced with a list price of $79.95. Disney reissued the VHS in 1992 with alternate cover art. In 1999, Anchor Bay Entertainment, who had obtained the home video rights to several titles from Disney's live-action catalogue, issued the film on full-screen and letterbox VHS, as well as a DVD release featuring both versions. All three releases featured an intro by Fairuza Balk before the film and an interview featurette with Balk after the film. All three versions went out of print shortly after their release.

In 2004, Disney released their own DVD, which dropped the Anchor Bay disc's fullscreen version and added anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 TV's for the widescreen version, upgraded the audio to 5.1 surround, retained the Anchor Bay disc's extras, and added four TV spots and a theatrical trailer. In 2015, Disney released a 30th Anniversary Edition of the film on Blu-Ray exclusively through the Disney Movie Club, featuring a newly remastered and cleaned up transfer and DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound, but none of the bonus features from the 2004 DVD.


  1. ^ "Disasters Outnumber Movie Hits". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 2012-06-05. 
  2. ^ Geraghty, Lincoln (2011). American Hollywood. Intellect Books. p. 187. ISBN 9-781-84150415-5. 
  3. ^ "Flashback Exclusive: A 'Return to Oz'". ET Online. March 5, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Chambers, Bill. "A Conversation with Walter Murch". Film Freak Central. Retrieved 2010-01-13. 
  5. ^ Ondaatje, Michael (2002). The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. p. 6. 
  6. ^ a b c Lakeland Ledger - Jun 23, 1985, page 65, retrieved 11-August-2012
  7. ^ Maslin, Janet (1985-06-21). "A New 'Oz' Gives Dorothy New Friends". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-13. 
  8. ^ Scott, Jay. "Return to Oz". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-01-13. 
  9. ^ Kehr, Dave. "Return to Oz". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-01-13. 
  10. ^ June 21-23, 1985 Weekend
  11. ^ Return to Oz @ Box Office Mojo
  12. ^ "Childhood Scares". A.V Scares. April 10, 2009. Retrieved January 14, 2012. 

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