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Film: Return to Oz
Nomes, Shock Therapy, and Wheelers, oh my!

Mysterious Girl: Why did they bring you here, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Because I can't sleep, and I talk about a place that I've been to, but nobody believes that it exists.

Return to Oz is a Walt Disney film (yes, that Disney) made in 1985, which was supposed to be both a semi-sequel to the MGM The Wizard of Oz and a more accurate adaptation of the more obscure original printed-page L. Frank Baum books. For the most part, those who never watched any trailers or commercials for the movie expected a cheerful musical with bright sets and visuals and dancing, friendly Munchkins.

Boy, were they wrong.

The story starts six months after the tornado, with Dorothy unable to sleep because of her adventures in Oz. Her Aunt Em takes her to Dr. Worley, the head of a psychiatric clinic who specializes in electro-shock therapy. Before she can receive the "treatment", Dorothy escapes with one of the patients, who is lost when she and Dorothy fall into the river. When Dorothy wakes up, she is in the land of Oz, somehow joined by her chicken Billina.

However, Oz has changed: The Emerald City is in ruins, now ruled by the head-switching witch Princess Mombi. Dorothy's friend Scarecrow, the rightful ruler of the City, has been kidnapped, the citizens have been turned into stone, and the streets are patrolled by Wheelers. Now Dorothy, along with Billina and their new friends Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Gump, must go to the Nome King's Mountain to confront the Nome King and his minions, rescue the Scarecrow, and restore Oz.

Though the film was decried by critics for being too scary for children and did poorly at the box office, Return to Oz has gained a cult following. It also tends to be popular with fans of the original Oz books by L. Frank Baum; much of the plot is loosely adapted from his first two sequels to The Wizard of Oz, and the visual look and tone of the film is modeled closely on the original in-book illustrations. It is important to note that the original Oz series really could get this strange, and the famous MGM film is much Lighter and Softer.

Not to be confused with the 1964 Rankin/Bass Productions animated TV movie of the same name, nor with Filmation's rather dreary 1974 Animated Film, Journey Back to Oz.

Return to Oz has examples of the following:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Of Ozma and Marvelous Land of Oz with a ton of Nightmare Fuel.
  • Affably Evil: The Nome King is quite courteous, even giving Dorothy and co. limestone pie and melted silver to eat. And when he is about to die, he gently puts down Jack and Billina without any further trouble, when a common response would be to take his enemies down with him.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Despite the Nome King probably getting what he deserved, it's quite painful seeing him dying slowly after the egg poisoned him.
  • And Starring: Fairuza Balk (!) as Dorothy.
  • And You Were There
  • Batman Gambit: The Nome King challenges Dorothy and her friends to find the Scarecrow. If they fail, they'll all become ornaments, and the Nome King will become human.
    • While attempting the challenge, Tik Tok pretends to "wind down" in order to get Dorothy in the room with him; his plan is to make a random guess. That way, Dorothy can see what he turns into, hoping it would give her a clue as to what the others were transformed into. The first part works.
  • Battle Butler: Tik-Tok. He even calls himself Oz's "army". This looks patently ridiculous at first glance, with him appearing to be a clumsy copper boiler with a head, two spindly arms, and thick legs that make him slower than a glacier... and then you see him single-handedly wipe the floor with a LARGE pack of Wheelers who are pure terror until this point in the story. Then, as the rest of the Wheelers flee, he grabs one in a chokehold and mercilessly interrogates him.
  • Bedlam House: At first, it looks like the mental hospital where Dorothy goes will avert this, as it looks nice, clean, and respectable, and Dr. Worley seems awfully friendly and helpful. And then you hear the wailing, which is later revealed to be patients who have been "damaged" and locked in the cellar.
  • Beneath the Earth: The Nome King's lair.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A Wheeler yells at Dorothy "that chickens are not allowed anywhere in Oz," and never explains why. Later, when Dorothy and the others reach the Nome Kingdom, Billina is inside Jack's head and unintentionally stays in there, leaving the Nome King to think the chicken vanished. After Dorothy solves the King's game, he goes berserk and attempts to eat Dorothy and her friends one by one. When he is about to eat Jack, Jack's pumpkin lid falls off and ...
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Billina sticks her head out. She lays an egg out of fright, which rolls out of Jack's head and right into the King's open mouth. It turns out that eggs are poisonous to nomes, and the King dies, crumbling into rocks.
  • Claymation: The rock nomes are animated using genuine Claymation effects.
  • Clock Punk: Tik-Tok, the mechanical man. He even has wind-ups that activate his thoughts, action and speech separately.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Jack Pumpkinhead.
  • Composite Character: Specifically, Princess Mombi combines Old Mombi from the second Oz book with the multiple head wearing Princess Langwidere of Ev in Book Three.
  • Continuity Nod: At least four occur for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz:
    • Jack asks Dorothy how Tik-Tok can talk when his brain stopped functioning, to which she answers "It happens to people all the time, Jack." In the 1939 film, the Scarecrow points out that "some people without brains do an awful lot of talking".
    • The magic shoes are originally called Silver Shoes in the novels. In Return To Oz, they remained Ruby Slippers.
    • In the 1939 film, minus her aunt and uncle, most of the characters Dorothy meets in Oz are counterparts of people she knows in Kansas. Here, Mombi and the Nome King are Ozian counterparts of Nurse Wilson and Dr. Worley. Further, the mysterious girl resembles Princess Ozma, the tiny jack-o'-lantern the girl gives Dorothy (obviously) resembles Jack Pumpkinhead, the shock-machine could stand for Tik-Tok, and the orderlies are all Wheelers.
    • The Nome King quotes "There's no place like home", tempting Dorothy into letting him send her home (but abandoning her friends and Oz in the bargain), instead of playing his guessing game.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster seen above shows Dorothy's old companions (the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man) along with her and the other main characters. The Lion and the Tin Man spend most of the film as statues and the Scarecrow is the only one of the three to have any lines. Some of the earlier drafts of the story had more involvement from the other two; the Lion was even going to turn up as an ornament in the climax. But it was not to be.
    • The 2004 DVD case shows Dorothy, Billina, Tik-Tok, Jack, the Gump, and the Tin Man traveling down a neatly paved yellow brick road surrounded by lush, green trees and grass.
  • Darker and Edgier: Much, much more than the 1939 movie. To be fair, this is a bad case of Adaptation Displacement: More people are familiar with the musical film, and are unaware that it is actually Lighter and Softer than the original book series; Return is much closer to the books in tone.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Billina and the Gump.
  • Disney Death: Tik-Tok.
  • Distressed Damsel: Princess Ozma.
  • The Ditz: Jack Pumpkinhead.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole
  • The Dragon: Princess Mombi, as well as her counterpart Nurse Wilson in the real world.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Played straight with Princess Ozma, averted with Mombi.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: When the Nome King goes Juggernaut on us, his voice gets considerably deeper.
  • Exploring the Evil Lair
  • Expy: Dorothy's new companions are not quite so different from her first companions from her first visit in Oz. Billina = Toto, Tik-Tok = the Tin Man, Jack = the Scarecrow, and the Gump = the Cowardly Lion. It verges into Suspiciously Similar Substitute territory, since these characters were also in The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, which the movie was largely based on.
  • Extreme Omnivore: The Nome King eats the Gump's couch body and also tries to eat Jack PumpkinHead. Too bad for him that Billina was in Jack's headnote .
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • The witch trying to take Dorothy's head, and the desert that turns you into sand.
    • Who could forget the Nome King, though, who, after swallowing an egg, which is poison to nomes, sloowly falls apart, eventually becoming a skeleton-like stone before collapsing entirely? And his human-like eye turns into a rock, giving him a creepy blank stare as he's dying... It's no wonder they cut this scene down when it was on TV!
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence
  • Fate Worse than Death: What Mombi did to the beautiful ladies; they are still alive and conscious and are kept by her. Mombi's final fate is also arguably this. As Ozma stated:
    "I forgive Mombi. Dorothy has punished her by removing her magical powers, and a witch without magic is a miserable creature indeed."note 
  • Five-Man Band:
  • The Film of the Book: Combines elements from The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, the first two sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  • The Fool: Jack Pumpkinhead.
  • Giant Flyer: The Gump.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: All the ornaments that the Scarecrow, the Gump, Jack, Billina, and Tik-Tok have been turned into.
  • Grotesque Gallery: The Wheelers, definitely. To a lesser extent, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Gump, and perhaps the hall of disembodied heads.
  • It's All About Me: "It sounds fair to me. And what I think is all that matters."
  • I Would Say If I Could Say: The Gump's reaction to free falling after he breaks apart? "If I had a stomach, I know I'd be sick!"
  • Infant Immortality: Partial aversion variation. Dorothy spends a lot of the film believing the girl who helped her escape the hospital (but was really the Princess Ozma) drowned in the river. We also see the statue of a little girl in the Emerald City, showing Mombi wasn't above using her powers on children. She also tells the young Dorothy that she plans to wait a few years until she grows a bit older before cutting off her head for her collection.
  • The Juggernaut
  • Kick the Dog: See Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. Strangely enough, it's by the same guy who petted the dog...
  • Light Is Not Good: The ornament room is brightly lit and filled with beautiful trinkets. And if you guess wrong, you end up there... forever.
  • Load-Bearing Boss
  • Losing Your Head: This happens to Jack Pumpkinhead.
    • Princess Mombi and her hall of heads, that can be installed and removed as desired. When she retires for the night, she retires headless.
  • Magical Land: Obviously.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Nurse Wilson says things that Princess Mombi later echoes. And Mombi's eventual fate is repeated in Kansas by Nurse Wilson.
    • So is the Nome King with Dr. Worley, in both ways. Both are portrayed by the same actor, just like Nurse Wilson and Princess Mombi. This reflects how in the original, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion were all representative of three of the (film only) farmhands from Dorothy's home in Kansas.
    • Likewise for the Wheelers. The same actors play the orderlies at the hospital, and the carts and gurneys they push make the same squeaking noise the Wheelers' wheels make.
    • The Nome King invokes one of the MGM film's most famous lines... and twists it in an attempt to emotionally manipulate Dorothy.
  • Mid-Battle Tea Break: The Nome King has this during the trial of ornaments during Gump's turn.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Gump again. He was built in a hurry out of what was lying around the room Dorothy, Tik-Tok, and Jack were stuck in.
  • Mooks: The Wheelers are Princess Mombi's common henchmen, show up multiple times through the story, and at least one dies onscreen.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: "Beware of the Wheelers." Averted when Tiktok mops the floor with them almost effortlessly.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: The scene where Dorothy has to rescue her friends (who've been turned into ornaments) by finding the ornament versions of themselves — in a large room filled with various ornaments. The trick is to pick the emerald green ones.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Ruby Slippers fell off Dorothy's feet when she went home... into the hands of the Nome King, making it possible for him to take over the Emerald City. And she didn't know any of this until she came back and met the Nome King, poor kid.
    Dorothy: My ruby slippers—
    The Nome King: No, no, no... My ruby slippers. They just fell out of the sky one day — you were so anxious to get home! They're very powerful: they made it possible for me to conquer the Emerald City... thank you.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: "Shall we have some... refreshment while we wait?"
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Four of them, actually.
  • The Nth Doctor: Princess Mombi, whenever she switches heads. The 'main' one is Jean Marsh.
    • Fittingly, the blonde one is Sarah Sutton, a companion of the fifth Doctor.
    • Even better, Jean Marsh herself was also a companion of the First Doctor (Sara Kingdom).
  • Offered the Crown: At the end of the film, there's a huge party in the Emerald City and everybody is practically begging Dorothy to "be the Queen of Oz!" She refuses, and Oz is instead ruled by Ozma, the rightful heir.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: During the coda, back in Kansas, Dorothy touches her bedroom mirror and is surprised to see a vision of Ozma and Billina. Refreshingly, this is done in a way so that book purists who prefer Oz to be real and movie fans who prefer Oz to be a dream reflection can both interpret it how they wish.
  • Pardon My Klingon: The Nome King fumes "Hippikaloric!" when he realizes that the ornament puzzle has been solved. It must be a dreadful word, because we don't know what it means.
  • Pet the Dog: The Nome King actually comforts a crying Dorothy, and offers her a way to rescue the Scarecrow. That way is a Death Trap, though.
    • Further, he even offers to send her back to Kansas! Granted, this would mean leaving her friends to be ornaments forever, and the Nome King did mention he wants to make everyone forget about Oz, but still, offering her an escape when she's on the cusp of walking into his death trap is surprisingly decent.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Princess Ozma, and Mombi.
  • Plot Hole: Dorothy arrives in a similar location to where she first was dropped in Oz - she finds the old house pretty soon. Yet when she finds the remains of the Yellow Brick Road, it seems to take her no time at all to reach the Emerald City. Except in her previous adventure, it took her days to follow the road all the way to the city. Some fans speculate this was the director twisting the "dream" conceit of the MGM film. If Oz is Dorothy's dream, then all the important places are near or far according to dream logic.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Various aspects of Books 2 and 3 of the Oz series were changed, condensed, or otherwise modified to work for this film.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The main characters are quite the diverse bunch.
  • Rightful Princess Returns: Princess Ozma, who was trapped by Mombi.
  • Robot Buddy: General Tik-Tok.
  • Rock Monster: The Nome King is a rock monster.
  • Shout-Out: The band Scissor Sisters made a song called "Return To Oz" based on this film.
  • Sore Loser: The Nome King after Dorothy solves his puzzle.
  • Swiss Army Appendage: Princess Mombi and her heads.
  • Taken for Granite: The citizens of the Emerald City have all been turned to stone, and some no longer have heads.
  • Talking Animal: Billina and the Gump, sort of.
  • Tears from a Stone: Tik-Tok sheds a tear for Dorothy, knowing full well what kind of fate both of them may end up sharing.
  • Vain Sorceress: Princess Mombi.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Nome King, upon realizing that Dorothy has just beaten him at his own game.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Nome King says that eggs are NOT part of a nutritious breakfast!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the mysterious girl who rescues Dorothy? They never say if they found her after the rainstorm. Unless you assume she's Ozma for real.
    • Or that she was a figment (either of imagination or magic) only Dorothy could see in the real world. The head nurse only said "So!" when she found her/them, after all.
      • She untied Dorothy from the stretcher (that eerily resembles the Wheelers), so even if only Dorothy could see her, she can at least physically act in the real world.
      • Auntie Em did say everyone but the doctor was rescued...
      • The novelization by Joan D. Vinge has Aunt Em sadly telling Dorothy the mysterious girl remains missing. Interpret that how you will.
      • Either she was real, but drowned in the river during the escape, and Dorothy imagined her as Ozma to delude herself that she survived, or she was a construct for Ozma's soul while being trapped in the mirror (a window to our world, like in the finale), so when Dorothy freed her, the body simply disappeared.
      • It's you. I was afraid you had drowned." This more or less confirms that Ozma was in fact the girl in question.
    • Also, the Munchkins from the destroyed Munchkin village could count as well. Seriously, what happened to them? (Keep in mind that the climactic parade features people dressed as characters from all 14 of Baum's Oz books, including some Munchkin characters. One could assume the others are somewhere there in the crowd.)
    • Alongside this — why was the Head Nurse being carted off to jail at the end? Although the implication earlier was that the Electroshock Therapy wasn't always successful, it's never actually stated why she was arrested.
      • Remember those patients the mysterious girl mentioned? The ones that were locked in the cellar because they were "damaged". It's entirely possible that the authorities found them during the fire. Since the doctor is no longer around to prosecute, they arrested Nurse Wilson and possibly the other staff members, who were probably in on it too.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Mombi asks the Nome King why he doesn't turn our heroes into ornaments. The Nome King's response? "It's more fun this way!"
    • Which later reveals him as a Bad Boss once Dorothy starts winning the game by freeing four of five of her missing friends-as-ornaments. The Nome King starts yelling at Mombi for being the one responsible for this debacle because she "let her escape!"

Red SonjaFilms of the 1980sRevolution 1985

alternative title(s): Return To Oz
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