Return to Oz

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Return to Oz
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed byWalter Murch
Screenplay byWalter Murch
Gill Dennis
Story byGill Dennis
Based onThe Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
Produced byPaul Maslansky
CinematographyDavid Watkin
Freddie Francis (uncredited)
Edited byLeslie Hodgson
Music byDavid Shire
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • June 21, 1985 (1985-06-21) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$28 million[1]
Box office$11.1 million (USA)

Return to Oz is a 1985 fantasy film released by Walt Disney Pictures, directed and written by Walter Murch, co-written by Gill Dennis and produced by Paul Maslansky. It stars Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, and Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale in her first screen role. The film is an unofficial sequel to the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film The Wizard of Oz, and it is based on L. Frank Baum's early 20th century Oz novels, mainly The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907). In the plot, Dorothy returns to the Land of Oz to find it has been conquered by the Nome King; she must restore it with her new friends Billina, Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Gump, and Princess Ozma.

In 1954, Walt Disney Productions bought the film rights to Baum's remaining Oz books to use in the television series Disneyland; this led to the live-action film Rainbow Road to Oz, which was never completed. Murch suggested making another Oz film in 1980. Disney approved the project as they were due to lose the film rights to the series. Though MGM was not involved in the production, Disney had to pay a large fee to use the ruby slippers created for the 1939 film. Return to Oz fell behind schedule during production, and, following a change of Disney management, Murch was briefly fired.

Return to Oz was released in theaters on June 21, 1985. It performed poorly at the box office, grossing $11.1 million in the United States on a $28 million budget, and received mixed reviews, with critics praising the effects and performances but criticizing the dark content and twisted visuals. However, it performed well outside the U.S and has since acquired a cult following.[2][3] It received an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.


In 1899, Dorothy Gale still talks of the Land of Oz, troubling Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, who believe she is fantasizing. After she finds a key with an Oz insignia, Aunt Em takes her to Dr. Worley for electrotherapy but as Dorothy is about to receive treatment, the asylum is struck by lightning and the power fails. Dorothy is freed by a mysterious girl who tells her that Dr Worley's machines damage the patients. They escape, but are pursued by Nurse Wilson and chased into a river. Dorothy clambers aboard a floating chicken coop, but loses the other girl.

Dorothy wakes up in Oz with her chicken Billina, who can now talk. They follow a damaged Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, now in ruins and its citizens turned to stone. They are attacked by Wheelers, menacing people with wheels instead of hands and feet, but are saved by a mechanical man, Tik-Tok. The lead Wheeler tells that King Scarecrow has been captured by the Nome King, who is responsible for the Emerald City's destruction. Dorothy, Billina and Tik-Tok are taken to Mombi, Princess of Oz, who collects heads and decides to imprison them in order to take Dorothy's.

Locked in a room at the top of Mombi's castle, they meet Jack Pumpkinhead, who explains he was brought to life via Mombi's Powder of Life. To escape they assemble a flying creature with the head of the Gump, a moose-like animal. Dorothy steals the powder from Mombi, but awakes her many heads. A girl in a mirror guides Dorothy back to her friends, where Dorothy uses the powder to bring The Gump to life and he flies them across the Deadly Desert. Unable to cross the desert without turning into sand, Mombi takes the Wheelers underground in pursuit of Dorothy.

The Gump crashes on the Nome King's mountain where, in his underground domain, Dorothy is reunited with Scarecrow before the Nome King turns him into an ornament. He allows Dorothy and her companions three guesses each to identify which ornament, but if they fail they will also become ornaments, with each failure making him more human. After the Gump, Jack and Tik-Tok each fail, the Nome King reveals to Dorothy he has her lost ruby slippers, which he used to conquer Oz, and offers to use them to send her home, but Dorothy refuses.

While Dorothy makes her guesses in the ornament room, Mombi arrives and, furious at having allowed Dorothy to escape, The Nome King imprisons her in a cage. On her last guess, Dorothy finds Scarecrow and realizes that people from Oz turn into green objects, going on to restore Jack and Gump. Enraged, The Nome King grows to gigantic size and prepares to consume them all. He is about to eat Jack when Billina, hiding in Jack's head, lays an egg which falls into the Nome King's mouth, fatally poisoning him and causing his subterranean kingdom crumble.

As the ornament room collapses around them, Dorothy finds the ruby slippers. She quickly puts them on and wishes for the group to be returned to a restored Emerald City. There, Billina notices a green medal stuck on one of the Gump's antlers, which turns out to be Tik-Tok, who is restored. The people of Oz ask Dorothy to be their Queen but she wants to return to Kansas. The girl in the mirror - Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz who was imprisoned by Mombi - appears and Dorothy uses the key she found in Kansas to free her.

Dorothy hands over the ruby slippers to Ozma, who uses them to send Dorothy home, promising that she is welcome to return, while Billina stays behind. Dorothy's family finds her on a riverbank back in Kansas. Aunt Em tells her the hospital was struck by lightning and burned down, while Worley died trying to save his machines and Nurse Wilson is seen arrested. Back home in her bedroom, Dorothy talks to Billina and Ozma in her mirror, then goes outside to play with Toto.


Live action[edit]

Voice cast[edit]



Walter Murch began development of Return to Oz in 1980, during a brainstorming session with Walt Disney Productions production chief Tom Wilhite. Murch told Wilhite he was interested in making an Oz film and Wilhite "sort of straightened up in his chair". Unbeknownst to Murch, Disney owned the rights to the Oz series and wanted to make a new film as the copyright was soon to expire.[4]

Return to Oz 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 a historical source for the film.[5]

Murch took a darker take on Baum's source material than the 1939 adaptation, which he knew would be a gamble. Between the development period and actual shooting, there was a change of leadership at the Walt Disney studios (with Wilhite replaced by Richard Berger), and the film's budget increased.[6]


In casting the relatively unknown Fairuza Balk, who was chosen from around 1,000 children auditioned across eight cities, Murch said he "wanted to find somebody who might be Judy Garland's cousin once removed."[7] Leo McKern and Christopher Lloyd were each considered for the role of Dr. J.B. Worley/The Nome King before Nicol Williamson was cast.[8]


Once shooting began, Murch began to fall behind schedule, and there was further pressure from the studio. Five weeks into production, Disney was unhappy with the footage.[4] By then, mostly the Kansas scenes had been shot, however Murch was looking unwell and was fired from the role without protestation. Murch later recalled the experience, saying "had I fought back... they might have said OK, but I couldn't fight back. I felt what the soul feels after it's left the body after a car accident — pain but tremendous relief."[7] High-profile film-makers including George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola supported Murch in discussions with the studio, and Murch was reinstated and finished the film.[4][6] Lucas guaranteed that he would step in as replacement if any further problems emerged.[4]

The film was developed and produced without the involvement of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio behind the 1939 film. No approval was necessary because, by 1985, the Oz books on which it was based were in the public domain, and the subsequent Oz books had been optioned to Disney many years earlier.[8] The ruby slippers were created by MGM specifically for the 1939 film to replace the Silver Shoes of the original stories[9] and, as the slippers remained MGM's intellectual property, a fee was paid.[8]

Principal photography began on February 20, 1984, and wrapped in October 1984.[10]

Balk and Ridley, the only two child actors on set, had limited working hours per day. Balk, who was in around 98% of all scenes, was permitted to work no more than three-and-a-half hours each day.[7] Whilst Balk did her own stunts, Ridley had a stand-in. Ridley, who was born in London, had her voice in the film dubbed by Beatrice Murch, daughter of Walter Murch, so that the character of Ozma would have an American-sounding voice.[11]

Various scenes, in particular those with the Nome King, used clay animation to achieve the desired effect. When interviewed in 2020, director and animator Doug Aberle explained the process involved in animating the Nome King and other characters with clay, including the technical difficulties encountered. Each section, such as the outside rocks with faces on, was allocated to an animator. Nome King scenes in the throne room were animated progressively, with the character initially made entirely of clay, progressing gradually closer to human form until finally portrayed by Nicol Williamson in live action. Towards the end of the film when the Nome King crumbles, Aberle explains how it took him four attempts to animate this accurately.[12]

The Emerald City scenes towards the end of film had to be fully reshot, as the character of Ozma was originally dressed in a gold lace dress which was deemed unsuitable during post-production. The scenes were reshot with the actress wearing a white and green dress.[11] At one point during filming these scenes, Balk collapsed due to the high on-set temperature.[13]



Return to Oz had its world premiere in the United States on June 21, 1985.

Home media[edit]

The film has been released to VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray over the years. The initial release, to VHS, Laserdisc, and Beta, occurred in December 1985 shortly after the theatrical release, with the VHS initially priced with a list price of $79.95. Disney reissued it 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 her after it. 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 TVs 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.

It is featured in the "From the Vault" Film section of Disney's streaming platform, Disney+.


Box office[edit]

It earned $2,844,895 in its opening weekend, finishing in seventh place.[14] It ultimately grossed $11,137,801 in North America.[15]

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed reviews. The film critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes records 54% positive reviews based on 35 reviews, its critical consensus reads: "Return to Oz taps into the darker side of L. Frank Baum's book series with an intermittently dazzling adventure that never quite recaptures the magic of its classic predecessor."[16] Those who were familiar with the Oz books praised its faithfulness to the source material of L. Frank Baum such as author and critic Harlan Ellison who said, “It ain’t Judy Garland. It ain’t hip-hop. But it’s in the tradition of the original Oz books.”[17] However, many critics described its tone and overall content as slightly too dark and intense for young children. "Children are sure to be startled by its bleakness," said The New York Times' Janet Maslin.[18] Ian Nathan of Empire Magazine gave the film a three out of five stars, saying: "This is not so much a sequel but an homage and not a good one."[19] Canadian film critic Jay Scott felt the protagonists were too creepy and weird for viewers to relate or 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."[20] "It's bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying," added Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader.[21] Amelie Gillette of The A.V. Club frequently refers to its dark nature as unsuitable for its intended audience of young children[22] although it had been one of her favorite movies growing up.[22]

Neil Gaiman reviewed Return to Oz for Imagine magazine, and stated that "Terrifying and visionary, funny and exciting, Return to Oz is one of the very best fantasy films I've ever seen."[23]


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 and multiple Youthies. It received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film (losing 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 Park in Paris.



  1. ^ "Disasters Outnumber Movie Hits". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  2. ^ Geraghty, Lincoln (2011). American Hollywood. Intellect Books. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-84150-415-5.
  3. ^ Weiner, David (March 5, 2013). "Flashback Exclusive: A 'Return to Oz'". ET Online. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Chambers, Bill (May 9, 2000). "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 "Lakeland Ledger - Google News Archive Search".
  7. ^ a b c "Return To Oz: New Disney Movie Has A Tough Act To Follow". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. 21 June 1985. p. 19.
  8. ^ a b c Arnold 2013, p. 537.
  9. ^ Wolf 2016, p. 186.
  10. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (June 16, 1985). "AFTER 46 YEARS, HOLLYWOOD REVISITS OZ" – via
  11. ^ a b "Return to Oz - Emma Ridley "Ozma" Interview by Ryan Jay". September 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  12. ^ "Return to Oz : I Killed The Nome King : Claymation Documentary 2020 Edition : Doug Aberle". March 2020. Retrieved 1 August 2021.
  13. ^ Arnold 2013, p. 536.
  14. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for June 21-23, 1985 - Box Office Mojo".
  15. ^ "Return to Oz (1985) - Box Office Mojo".
  16. ^ "Return to Oz (1985)".
  17. ^ "Harlan Ellison's Watching 2" – via
  18. ^ Maslin, Janet (1985-06-21). "A New 'Oz' Gives Dorothy New Friends". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  19. ^ "Return To Oz". Empire.
  20. ^ Scott, Jay. "Return to Oz". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  21. ^ Kehr, Dave. "Return to Oz". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  22. ^ a b "Childhood Scares". A.V Scares. April 10, 2009. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  23. ^ Gaiman, Neil (August 1985). "Fantasy Media". Imagine (review). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd. (29): 45.


External links[edit]