Movie Title: Return to Oz
Director: Walter Murch
Date Released: June 21st, 1985
Date Seen: Countless times as a kid, again November 20th, 2012
Part 1 – Spoiler Free Quickie Review
I got this movie because I remembered it from when I was younger as being creepy and yet I still loved it. The extent of my “remembering” was a hallway full of heads, the guessing game… and the shock therapy. As I watched the movie it all came back. I love it. I think because I like the darker kids movies. It is a movie for kids – the plot is very basic – but not young kids. I mean, the wheelers are super creepy to me, and there’s a woman who removes her heads and trades them out for other heads. So I wouldn’t recommend it for young kids. But, still, great watch. Especially if you know the Oz stories – and I imagine even more fun if you have read the books.
I love this movie for all the puppets. Only real one CGI (if you can even call it that) thing in the movie. All the other characters are puppets or people. It has a very Labyrinth feel to it with the puppets. That really adds a lot to the movie. They have more emotion that way it seems, just being real, and having the characters actually talking to someone.
Fun movie, watch it, especially if you remember it from when you were good. The acting is what you’d expect, mediocre, but it’s a fun entertaining plot with some nice puppet charm.
Part 2 – In Depth Spoiler Ridden Review/Synopsis
Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) is staring up at the stars, late at night. Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) tries to get her to go to sleep. Dorothy says she’s trying to fall asleep but just can’t. In the other room, Uncle Henry (Matt Clark) looks at an article, cut out of the paper, advertising a Dr. Worley (Nichol Williamson) specializing in “electric medicine”. Aunt Em comes out, and Uncle Henry says he doesn’t think they should be sending Dorothy to this doctor – especially when they can’t afford it. We learn Aunt Em’s sister is loaning them the money and she thinks that Dorothy really needs it – she hasn’t been the same since the tornado, 6 months ago. She keeps talking about Oz, a talking tin man, etc. Dorothy overhears all this in the next room. She sees a shooting star and points it out to Toto.
The next day, out in the barn, Dorothy is messing around with a hen, Billina, trying to find its egg, but finds a key – in the hay – that she thinks is from Oz. She shows it to Aunt Em. Aunt Em says that it’s just a key from the old house, but Dorothy is adamant that the key is from Oz (it looks kind of remotely like an O and a Z). Aunt Em tells Dorothy she told her not to talk about Oz anymore, and she knows why Dorothy is going to have to go to the doctor, and starts whining about all their problems (new house not finished, Uncle Henry has an on the mend broken leg… etc.). Dorothy and Aunt Em get ready and head out in their horse and buggy to the doctors house – past their tiny town (Pop 17) of Franklin. Toto follows them a bit of the way, but Dorothy tells him to stay home.
At the VERY nice doctors office, Dr. Worley asks Dorothy about Oz. Clearly, we have a little darker version of Oz, as her story of the tin man involves him chopping off his own body parts over and over until he was only left of tin. So probably more in tune with the actual books (I’ve never read them). Dr. Worley listens for a bit, and then stops her and shows her his “electric machine” that is going to help her get better. He talks about how this is the wave of the future. It’s almost 1900 and this will really take off. He points out that the machine looks like a face and that it won’t hurt at all. While Dr. Worley keeps talking about the technology, Dorothy sees a face of a girl in the machine, and looks behind her and sees a pretty girl. Aunt Em leaves Dorothy there, to stay a while. Aunt Em thought it would be a quick visit, but nope, she has to stay there for a while. She’s having some doubts already….. The head nurse, Nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh), takes Dorothy to her room. She is super scary looking. Black dress, crazy shoulder accents, all the way up the neck. Terrifying to any young girl. Nurse Wilson leaves Dorothy in her room, saying that they will come back and get her when they need her. Dorothy looks out the window to see Aunt Em ride away. The girl from earlier, appears again. Although we never heard the door open. She gives Dorothy a little jackolatern, and asks Dorothy why she is there. Dorothy explains it’s because she can’t sleep. They hear some moans, and the girl says she has to leave. Dorothy turns for a second and the girl is gone (again with no apparent door sound).
Dorothy sits in her room, clearly lonely and scared. It’s started storming outside. She has to figure out how to turn the light on. She then just sits on the bed and waits. She hears a scary screeching sound approach her room. The door opens, two men in coats are there, with a stretcher. Nurse Wilson asks her if she’d like to go for a ride. She gets on the stretcher and Nurse Wilson tells her to lie down – they strap her to the bed. Nurse Wilson says it’s so you don’t fall off. Dorothy says she made it all the way from the farm without falling off the buggy, and Nurse Wilson just kind of ignores her. In the room, the doctor tests his machine out – pretty scary sounding. They put a set of weird headphones on Dorothy – wind up the machine, are about to flip the on switch – and the power goes out because of the storm. They leave to go try and fix stuff – and just leave Dorothy tied to the bed, watching a little windy thing on the electric machine turn down. Screams and moans are suddenly heard even louder than normal. The girl from earlier appears and unties Dorothy and says that they must escape. Dorothy asks what the sounds are, and the girl says that it’s the moans of people “damaged” and that are locked in the cellar. The girls get out of the house, but not before Nurse Wilson sees them. They run out of the house, and start running through the woods, now with the staff behind them. The girl falls into a heavily moving river – Dorothy tries to save her, but Nurse Wilson appears behind her. She jumps into the water too and the two girls are left floating down the river. Nurse Wilson tries to go in after them but can’t get to them. At some point the girls get separated, and Dorothy jumps inside of a wooden crate – and just floats away…..
Dorothy wakes up to a voice – it’s her hen, Billina talking to her! She says she’s trying to lay her egg, but she doesn’t like how wet she is. She asks Dorothy how big the pond is – and Dorothy stands up, they’re in just like a desert wasteland, with one little stretch of water… which starts to dry out under them. Dorothy realizes, talking chicken, all the water going away… must mean they’re in Oz. Billina starts to get out of the crate, and Dorothy makes her stop – because if they are in Oz, they must be in the deadly desert… last time she was in Oz, she flew over it. Anything living that touches it turns to sand. She steps on rocks with Billina all the way out of the desert to the beautiful grassy area over yonder. They head off to find something to eat for breakfast and then plan to go to the Emerald City – to see the Scarecrow, the now king of Oz. The whole time, some rocks keep having faces appear on them and are watching the two of them. Even when they find a lunch pail tree, a rock is still watching them. Dorothy picks a couple of ripe lunch pails, finds a ham sandwich and starts to eat it. Billina makes a joke about she’s glad it wasn’t fried chicken. Ha.
The rock appears on a new, scary, red walk face – telling someone about how “she” is back. The voice, a mans says “good”… the rock face then hesitates to tell him about how she has a chicken with her. The voice says “A CHICKEN?!” then we cut to Dorothy again. Dorothy and Billina are walking along, no one to be found, and find their old house, the one that brought Dorothy to Oz the first time. It’s in the middle of a forrest… Dorothy is all confused, and has no idea where the munchkins are. It’s seriously overgrown and horrible – then she notices the yellow brick road… torn up, destroyed, and in shambles. She runs along it freaking out, with Billina clucking along behind her trying to figure out what is going on. The rock face tells the King (that’s who I’m guessing the voice is) that they have discovered the road and are heading towards the emerald city. The king says that’s good, because they won’t get past “Mombi”.
Dorothy comes across the Emerald City… or what used to be the Emerald City. It’s in complete and utter ruin. Buildings are over grown, destroyed, etc. And the weirdest part – all the people are stone. It’s like they turned to stone mid action (mid reading book, mid walking up steps, etc.). One thing on a wall, spray painted, says “BEWARE THE WHEELERS”. Billina asks what a wheeler is and Dorothy says she doesn’t know, she doesn’t remember them. We see some shadows of some things moving…. we don’t get a good glimpse of them… yet. We do hear some scary wheel noises though. They keep exploring, find one circle of stone women dancing… but headless… yikes… then the worst discovery – a stone tin man and a stone lion. OH NO! Then, Billina yelps and we see the wheelers. Creepy little mother fuckers, with wheels for hands and feet and creepy makeup and these scary masks that they sometimes have down. I found a couple of pictures of them…
They’re especially creepy because the main one has a demented laugh. Ugh. They chase Dorothy and Billina into a dead end and start creeping up on her – but they notice a weird hole in the wall. Dorothy puts her key into it, and it opens. The wheelers say that they have to come out eventually and they’ll be waiting for them when they do. Dorothy says she hasn’t done anything – but he points out that she has a stolen lunch pail and a chicken. The Nome King doesn’t allow ANY chickens. She asks who the Nome King is, and the wheelers wheel away laughing at her. Inside the room, there is a big fat copper man. He isn’t turned on or anything though. He has a stamp though that says ‘The Royal Army of Oz”. Dorothy finds some directons on his back. Apparently he does “everything but live”. He has three wind ups on him. She decides to wind all of his knobs – the thinking knob and the speech knob, first. He opens his eyes and takes a minute to get going. He introduces himself as Tik-Tok and asks if she is Dorothy Gale. He says that Scarecrow locked him in this room, to wait for her, when things started going bad. Which was? All living things turning to stone. He walked until his walking knob ran out, yelled until his speaking knob ran out, and then thought until his thought knob ran out. So he doesn’t know what has happened because that is the last thing he remembers. He says if Dorothy found the key in Kansas, then Scarecrow must have sent it to her somehow. Billina asks Tik-Tok why he didn’t turn to stone, and he says because he isn’t really living, just like it says on his back. Dorothy says the first thing that they have to do is escape – the wheelers are right outside. Tik-Tok tips his hat to her and says he will do everything in his power to protect her, just make sure his think knob is extra tight and he will formulate a plan. At this point, I could see the puppeteer behind Tik-Tok for a good number of seconds. You can see his head behind Tik-Tok’s and him tilting him forward to tip his hat. Ah well, still well done for 1985.
Tik-Tok walks out, lunch pail in hand, with Dorothy following holding onto Billina tightly in her arms. The wheelers attack, and Tik-Tok tells Dorothy to run up the stairs and he will deal with them. He spins his arms and punches them all out with the lunch pail. Well, that was easy. He grabs the leader one, and all the others run (well, wheel) off. Dorothy asks the leader one what all happened. He explains that the Nome King took over the emerald city – took all the emeralds. And only one person knows what happened to the Scarecrow…. and that’s… “Princess Mombi”. He takes forever to get her name out and is clearly scared of her. They have the wheeler take them to where she is – what looks like the ruins of the old palace. The wheeler begs in fear to let him go – and Dorothy tells Tik-Tok to let the wheeler go. He goes off, and Dorothy and Tik-Tok enter the palace. Up some stairs they find a very nice room. Gold and mirrors everywhere. They find a beautiful woman playing a guitar. They ask if she is Princess Mombi and she asks them to help her get up. She says she needs to “put on something more suitable” – and leads Dorothy with her to change. Tik-Tok and Billina are left in the other room. They go through these beautiful room and then come across a hallway – of heads. The woman takes off her current head – and puts on “head number 4″…. Dorothy looks startled but nearly says that it is a beautiful head. She asks about the scarecrow and Mombi asks for her name. She finds out it’s “Dorothy Gale” and tells her that King Nome took scarecrow and turned everyone to stone. Then she says that she thinks in a few years Dorothy will have a good head – and so she thinks she’ll lock her in the tower for a few years until she (Dorothy) matures and then take her head. She starts to drag Dorothy away – who screams – and Billina and Tik-Tok come to her rescue. Unfortunately, Billina gets grabbed, like a hen does, with her feet… and Tik-Tok runs out of action wind up. Oh shit. Mombi throws Billina and Dorothy into a tower. It has a bunch of old stuff, and isn’t very pretty. Dorothy looks out the window – and sees a far off mountain – the Nome King’s mountain.
In the tower, in the old stuff, Dorothy finds a painting – of the scarecrow, tin man, and the lion. She gets all sad. Then she hears a voice – it’s a big pumpkin headed being. He says that he thought for a second that she was his mom coming back. She introduces herself, and he himself as Jack Pumpkinhead. He doesn’t seem to be all put together. He asks Dorothy to help put him back together, and check his head out for soft spots. He explains that his mom made him to try and scare Mombi. And it worked, for a bit, but then Mombi got pissed and so his mom disappeared and Mombi was going to just get rid of Jack – but decided to test out a new “life” powder she had gotten on him. It worked, obviously, because now he’s alive, but she got annoyed with him and threw up up in the tower saying she was going to make a pie out of him. He says she was wearing head 22 at the time though, and probably hasn’t worn it since then – and thus hasn’t remembered that he’s up here. Dorothy asks if she has anymore of that powder. Jack says if she does, it’s in cabinet 31, along with Mombi’s original head. Dorothy concocts a plan to get them out out.
Jack reaches through the door and unhooks the latch (not a great security system for prisoners if you ask me). They sneak downstairs, and Mombi is nowhere to be seen. At the most opportune moment ever (not), Jack asks Dorothy if he can call her Mom, even if it isn’t true. She agrees. They get to Tik-Tok and tell him to be quiet and they wind Tik-Tok back up. Jack goes with Tik-Tok and explains the plan to him (but we don’t hear it). They go and start building this weird “creature” out of couches, palm leaves (For wings), a broom for a tail, and a moose head looking thing for a face. At one point, Tik-Tok’s think knob runs out, and it’s actually pretty funny. Dorothy sneaks back into the rooms where Mombi took her earlier. The body is sleeping, with no head attached. Dorothy carefully sneaks up and unties the key from around her wrist. She wanders down the hallway of heads, which are all sleeping, and opens up cabinet 31. Inside – we see the original head is the same as Nurse Wilson. Omg. Dorothy starts to grab the “life powder” and the head wakes up, and starts screaming that she is a thief, and wakes up all the other heads and the body. Dorothy shuts the cabinet, takes the key with her, and starts running. The body starts heading towards getting a head on. Dorothy starts trying to get back up to the tower but can’t find her way. A kind of glowing blue light (That looks strangely familiar…) shows her the way. She gets upstairs and finds that the thing they were building isn’t finished. They say it’s because Tik-Tok went berserk. She yells that it’s because his think knob ran out, Billina says duh, and Jack asks “then how could he still talk but not think?” she says “it happens all the time!” ahahahha. She quickly winds up Tik-Tok and starts sprinkling the powder on their moose creation thing – reads the magic words on the can – and he comes alive. They escape the castle just in time for Mombi to come running in and see them escaping. She goes outside and wakes up the wheelers and sends them to get Dorothy and the chicken. She then goes inside and plays her little guitar – and also kind of laughs at the blue figure in the mirrors, which she calls Ozma. She says no one knows where she is and no one even knows who she is so she’ll never escape… and then does an evil laugh. The blue figure just looks like a kind of shadow to us. Can’t see who it really is but I’m pretty sure I know… (the blonde girl that helped Dorothy escape the shock place).
Dorothy and Billina go to sleep in the “thing” they created, Gump – with Jack watching over them – they plan on flying as far as they can and find a safe place to land in the morning. The wheelers chase them as far as the deadly desert – but can’t go any farther, or else they turn to sand. We see some ropes on Gump start to come undone, but it seems ok for the time being. The next morning though, they are fucked. At one point, Jack’s head falls off – and they fly down trying to get it. In the course of action, the thing they are riding on falls apart and they all start tumbling down to earth. Luckily though, they are above the mountain and not the desert, so they didn’t die. Another part here you could see strings on Dorothy as she fell. Oh well. They pick themselves up, put Gump’s head back on the sofa so he can at least walk, and start to go on.
Inside the mountain, the rock face has been called by the Nome King. He asks what the noise is – the rock face goes and discovers that Dorothy and everyone is there. He tells the Nome King this, and also that there’s no sign of the chicken. Strange. Dorothy and the group are greeted by a big rock face asking them why they are there and who they are. We see Billina hiding inside of Jack’s head. She introduces herself and says she wants him to release the scarecrow and restore the emerald city. He says “so, you think, I have stolen something, and when people steal something, they should give it back, right?” yeah… “well, what if they don’t want to give it back?!” and then he starts laughing. The rock face then causes a cave in under their feet and Dorothy falls into the mountain. She floats ala Alice in Wonderland through the mountain. He explains that all the precious stones in the world are his – and thus, the emeralds, were always his – and thus, who really did the stealing? She finally lands, sees the scarecrow for only a moment – and then he disappears. The rock face (which now looks familiar… like Dr. Worley!), is the Nome King (but the other rock faces were just helper rocks… I guess). He says that he just turned scarecrow into an ornament for his castle. He’d been planning on doing it for a long time… but just now remembered, as Dorothy showed up. She goes to slap his rock face, but he goes away. Dorothy screams that scarecrow never stole anything, they were there when he came…..
Dorothy starts crying and repeating those lines over and over. The Nome King, as a rock, pats her on the back, and says that he didn’t realize Scarecrow meant so much to her. He has something to cheer her up – and in slide in Gump, Tik-Tok, and Jack. The Nome King says they can play a little game, and that this way maybe they can get Scarecrow back. They can go and inspect his ornament collection. They each have 3 chances to guess which one is Scarecrow. They have to touch an item and say “Oz”. If they are right, Scarecrow will appear and they can leave. He asks if that sounds fair, not too much of a risk, and after a bit of debating – they accept. Mostly because they are all terrified of him and what they know he can do (just kill them or turn them to stone, etc.). The Nome king is happy and opens up a wall leading to his ornament room. Gump goes first. He says that he should have quit while they were ahead. The Nome King feeds them limestone pies and melted silver (which is actually kind of good according to Dorothy) while they wait. Suddenly, a big flash goes off – and they all fall down. The wall opens up again, and Dorothy waits for Gump to come back out – but he doesn’t. Oh shit. She asks the king about it, who says that he didn’t guess correctly so he turned into an ornament. Dorothy says that’s not fair, and the King says she never asked. And this is the “risk” he was talking about. They can either continue or go into his furnace. So next is Jack. Dorothy gives him a hug, tells him to be careful, and whispers to Billina to be careful too.
Now we flash to Mombi – the wheelers have returned without Dorothy. She says that they have to go to the mountain. And so she goes off on her chariot – of wheelers. It’s pretty funny.
Now we see that Jack has failed as well – and we flash to the king. Now it’s obvious – he is becoming less rock and more human as each person loses. Tik-Tok goes into the room for his turn, after Dorothy winds up his thought a bit more. The king asks Dorothy why she really came. Was it for the ruby slippers – which he shows her that he is wearing. He says that they are his – duh, as evidenced by the Rubies – and they really helped him conquer the emerald city. About that time, a small rock face appears and whispers something to the king. Apparently, Tik-Tok is in the middle of the room not guessing anything and standing completely still. His action has run out. The king allows Dorothy to go into the room and wind him up, and go ahead and look around and start guessing herself. She starts to head down the hallway, but is slow. The King says that she doesn’t have to go down there if she doesn’t want to – she can stay here, and he will use the ruby slippers and send her back home – then she’ll never think of Oz again. She asks about her friends, and he says she won’t even remember then – so obviously she doesn’t stay – and heads down to the ornament room. There’s just a bunch of random crap in there. Vases, candlesticks, jewelry boxes, easels, sea shells, benches, bowls, etc. Really really random shit. She finds Tik-Tok – and discovers that he is all wound up. He tells her to pretend to wind him up. He explains that this was his ploy to get her in the room. He has one guess left, and if he guesses incorrectly, he will turn into an ornament. Dorothy can watch and see what he turns into to see if that gives her a clue as to what the scarecrow might be. She hugs him, and he starts crying tears of oil. He touches a cup, light flashes, and no new ornament is obviously present.
Dorothy, the worst guesser ever, picks the most stupid things ever. First she picks just a silver urn thing (wrong, duh), and then picks a rock. Idiot. For her last guess, she spins around and les her drunken spin guide her to a bird thing. She opens her eyes, and actually picks up a green emerald thing – uses her guess – and it’s RIGHT! Scarecrow appears. In the other room, we’ve seen Mombi arrive to tell the King about Dorothy. He laughs at her and says that he already knows – and Dorothy only has one guess left, and then, he’ll be fully human when she messes up (since no one else will remember Oz). Mombi points out the “well what if she gets it right… and finds out the truth… and about Ozma!” and about that time, Dorothy guesses right, and the King is more rock-like again. For some reason, Dorothy now connects that since scarecrow was a green ornament – then maybe everyone from Oz is green. Somehow, that screwed up relationship is true. So they just go around looking for green ornaments, and making them back into people. First she gets Gump back. They keep looking – while the king throws a freaking hissy fit. He locks Mombi in a cage and then starts breaking through the walls of the ornament room. He appears in the ornament room as a huge rock monster. They manage to find a green vase and get Jack back. The king grabs Gump, but they manage to pull off his head – and the king eats the sofa. They start running, and eventually the king catches Jack and holds him upside down about to eat him – luckily though, Billina finally has her egg – straight into the King’s mouth – and that is apparently Nome king kyroptonite….. and he dies. Seriously. That just happened. In the rubble of the rock king, Dorothy finds the ruby slippers and manages to put them on – she wishes for all the people to return to Oz, the emerald city to be restored, and everyone to be brought back to life.
They get transported back outside of Oz, see it appear to come back to life, and then notice they don’t have Tik-Tok. But luckily, Gump has a green ornament (medal of honor) stuck to him. It’s Tik-Tok. Also transported back was Mombi, in her cage. The next scene is a parade through Oz, with Tik-Tok all shined up, Billina with a key to oz around her neck, etc. At the end of the parade, everyone is telling Dorothy to be the queen of Oz. She says that she wishes she could stay, or be in both places at the same time, but she has to get back to Kansas. About that time, behind her, appears Ozma – now in her real clothes – and the blond girl from the beginning, as we expected. Dorothy helps her “step through the glass” by grabbing her hands. She asks her name, says it’s Ozma, and Jack screams ‘MY REAL MOM!’ and faints.
About that time we hear a voice or two – the women who we saw their heads on Mombi earlier – now leading her cage. They say that Ozma is queen and rightful ruler of Oz. Her father was king of Oz before the Wizard. Ozma grew up as Mombi’s slave. The Nome King promised Mombi 30 heads in exchange for keeping Ozma a secret – so she put her in the mirror. Ozma says she forgives Mombi, because Dorothy removed Mombi’s magical powers, and thus Mombi having to live as a powerless witch is going to suck major balls (ok, maybe she said it in slightly different terms). Ozma says that she will send Dorothy back, but she will check in on her time to time. She is ready to leave, says goodbye to everyone, including Billina, who wants to stay there. The room gets all bright, and next we know, Dorothy is back in Kansas, lying, cold, dirty, next to a creek bed outside the doctors office.
We hear some barking – and Toto shows up. She led Uncle Henry to Dorothy. Then a search party appears with blankets, and of course Aunt Em is there. She says that the office was hit by lighting and burned to the ground. Everyone escaped, except Dr. Worley, who went back for his machines. As she tells Dorothy this, a police carriage comes by with Nurse Wilson in the back. What for? We don’t know. I’d like to think it was the fashion police wagon.
What must be a bit of time later – the farm looks awesome – the house is now rebuilt, etc. Apparently the life/death scare kicked Uncle Henry into high gear. In the mirror, Dorothy sees Ozma and Billina for a minute. She calls Aunt Em, but then says never mind (realizing the last time she talked about her delusions she got sent to that hell hole)… aunt Em comes up anyway, and tells Dorothy that she should go outside and play. The end.
I love this movie. Do I care that you can see strings and puppeteers? Not really, that’s part of the charm. Do I care that sometimes the lines are crappy? No. It’s a fun watch, and going back after god knows how many years I still found myself loving this movie and being creeped out. So it’s a win for me.