This belated sequel to the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939) begins with Dorothy (nine-year-old Fairuza Balk) – six months after her original trip to Oz – being taken by Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) to a horrific Victorian asylum for electric shock treatment to rid her of her fantasies (pictured below).
Dorothy then proceeds to a nightmare version of Oz where the Yellow Brick Road is covered in weeds, Emerald City is deserted and covered in graffiti, and the mad Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh) and the evil Nome King (Nicol Williamson) are destroying everything that makes the magical land beautiful.
The Nome King has turned everyone to stone and Mombi is after more human heads for her collection.
Dorothy swears to restore Oz with the help of some new friends – a mechanical man called Tik Tok (played by Michael Sundin and voiced by Sean Barrett) who looks like a cross between Teddy Roosevelt and R2-D2; Jack Pumpkinhead (played by Stewart Larange and voiced by Brian Henson) – faintly reminiscent of Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow; and the Gump (played by Stephen Norrington and voiced by Lyle Conway), a flying apparatus made up of two sofas and a Moosehead.
The group are chased by some disturbing new villains – watch out for the Wheelers (pictured below right), they’ll haunt you for life! – and the special effects are outstanding, as are the sets, the lighting, the costumes and the characters.
Despite the presence of a talking chicken (Billina), this is a frighteningly grim and sinister fantasy. There is no safety in Oz, no security at home, no joy anywhere and a lack of any warmth or affection.
The events and characters are quite macabre and the heavier and darker tone of the film is perhaps not even suitable for the Disney-target group.
Return to Oz was nominated for five Oscars. It won none and vanished completely for 20 years.
Dr Worley/Nome King
Jack Pumpkinhead (voice)