Take 3: Return to Oz Review

It could be seen through the window of a local video store. It’s VHS cover had a whitish-bluish tint, a sign that the Sun had stolen its colors. After entering the store, the video was located on the right-hand side of an incoming customer’s view. When they made that turn and walked through the first aisle, it could be seen front and center on the shelf. For someone who has never heard of this movie, but had seen its predecessor, they will have so many questions flooding their mind. Why is Dorothy wearing whitish-silvery shoes instead her iconic ruby-red slippers? Why has Toto been replaced with a chicken? Why do the pictures on the back of the VHS cover appear so creepy? These questions may be so overpowering, that the movie could be passed over for another, less odd-looking film. Long after the video store closed its doors, the movie in our discussion has gained a notorious reputation. Whether or not that’s a good thing is open for debate. What reputation has this film garnered? It has been known as one of the creepiest children’s/family-friendly films of all time. If you haven’t guessed already, that film is none other than Return to Oz.

Return to Oz poster
Return to Oz poster created by Walt Disney Pictures, Silver Screen Partners II, and Buena Vista Distribution.  ©Disney•Pixar. All rights reserved. Image found at https://movies.disney.com/return-to-oz.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: When an actor or actress accepts a role that was made famous by another actor or actress, there’s a good chance that comparisons in acting performances will be made. However, that actor or actress could end up portraying that character so well, that they may bring something new to the role. This is the case for Fairuza Balk, who took on the role of Dorothy. What’s so great about her performance is how it wasn’t an impersonation of Judy Garland’s performance. Instead, Fairuza captured the essence of Dorothy’s child-like innocence and demeanor, while bringing a haunted nature to the character. Because Return to Oz takes place six months after the tornado sent Dorothy to Oz, this character is now tainted with trauma. The beginning of the movie presents a good example of this portrayal. Even though Dorothy gets excited when talking about her “friends” from Oz, there are times when she can be seen staring at nothing in particular, like the world around her has disappeared.


The sets: This movie has some of the most magnificent sets I’ve ever seen on film! One that easily comes to mind is Princess Mombi’s castle. The room featuring mirrors wrapped in gold was just exquisite, making the scenes featuring this location appear photogenic. Other scenes were atmospheric, giving the audience the impression that the world on screen had truly come to life. When Dorothy discovers that the Yellow Brick Road has been demolished, that moment created a sense of dread about the fate of Oz. I’d also like to point out that the sets featured outside of Oz looked like an accurate replica of the story’s time-period. From the antique furniture to the machinery, everything reflected the world that The Wizard of Oz had previously established.


The use of Claymation: Claymation isn’t often incorporated into films. When it is, this can lend itself to some interesting film-making. In Return to Oz, Claymation was primarily used for rocks, the Nome King, and his mountain. This creative decision was a unique way to compensate for the limited use and quality of the special effects of the ‘80s. This particular art form did provide some unsettling moments for the protagonists. In some scenes, a face on a red stone background can be seen talking to the Nome King, who is off-screen. When Dorothy and her friends arrive at the Nome King’s mountain, the environment is dark and grey. Little color and light can be seen when the Nome King is around. These examples prove that Claymation can help enhance a film’s tone and a scene’s mood.


References to the predecessor: Return to Oz is the sequel to The Wizard of Oz. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this story made an effort to reference the movie that came before it. For one thing, the tornado that was featured in the previous film is the cause of Dorothy’s trauma. Characters from the predecessor make their appearances, such as Toto and the Cowardly Lion. Familiar places are visited, like the Emerald City and even Dorothy’s house that fell in Oz. Whenever a new place, person, or situation was introduced in the story, Dorothy would admit that she doesn’t remember them or hasn’t heard of them before. All of these things helped the story keep a sense of continuity.

The Wizard of Oz Blogathon Banner
The Wizard of Oz Blogathon banner created by Rebecca from Taking Up Room. Image found at https://takinguproom.wordpress.com/2019/05/24/announcing-the-wizard-of-oz-blogathon/.

What I didn’t like about the film:

Limited or no screen-time for beloved characters: As I just mentioned, characters from the previous film make an appearance in Return to Oz. However, they’re only on screen for a limited amount of time. Because the Nome King turned the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion into stone, they are frozen in place for most of the film. Since the Scarecrow was kidnapped by the Nome King himself, he didn’t appear in the movie until the climax. As for Glinda, the Munchkins, and the Flying Monkeys, they are nowhere to be found. This decision was probably made to let new characters shine and find their own place in the story. But I don’t think this should have been done at the expense of the previous film’s characters.


Some damaging messages: Another thing that I’ve talked about was Dorothy becoming traumatized by the tornado from the previous film. In an effort to help her move forward from the trauma, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry think it’s a good idea to take Dorothy to a psychiatric hospital where she is scheduled to receive electroshock therapy. I understand that this part of the story represents a belief from the late 1800s to early 1900s. However, presenting this idea to an audience in the mid ‘80s or today could give people the wrong message. This message could be interpreted as how not utilizing the power of imagination and make-believe to help traumatized individuals, especially traumatized children, is a good idea. Another scene where the message could be misinterpreted happens at the end of the movie. Princess Ozma tells Dorothy that she can go back to Oz whenever she wants, as long as she keeps it a secret. Messages like holding back on creativity will help one become “normal” and bottling up ideas and feelings is accepted could also be damaging. Prior to the release of Return to Oz, Disney has been known for promoting creativity. They also have incorporated important themes into their stories, such as honesty and respect. I think that the creative team behind this film should have taken a stance on how imagination and make-believe should be a complimentary component of someone’s journey through healing from a traumatic situation.

Seamless pattern with chamomile and poppies flowers
Poppy and chamomile pattern image created by Klyaksun at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/seamless-pattern-with-chamomile-and-poppies-flowers_1308007.htm’>Designed by Klyaksun</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Klyaksun – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

The story from this review’s introduction is my story of how this movie came into my life. Because of something so simple as a VHS cover, I passed on the opportunity to watch this film. Fortunately, because of the Wizard of Oz Blogathon, I was granted that second chance to experience what this movie had to offer. Prior to watching Return to Oz, I had heard about its reputation on countless occasions. Curious enough to find out the truth for myself, I volunteered to review the film for the Blogathon. While there are unsettling moments, they never overshadowed my enjoyment of the movie. In fact, this film was a better sequel than I ever expected! Now that I have finally seen Return to Oz, I feel that, over the years, it has been judged unfairly, to a certain extent. I’m not denying that this movie has things about it that could frighten children. But let’s not forget that Disney films and even the original, The Wizard of Oz, had scary elements to them as well. The idea of someone’s house easily falling on anyone is a terrifying thought. The Wicked Witch of the West had a very unsettling presence throughout The Wizard of Oz. The first Disney animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was so terrifying for some young audience members, that employees at Radio City Music Hall had to change the upholstery on the chairs because of how the children reacted to the scene where Snow White is alone in the forest. My experience of watching Return to Oz shows that you never know what’s in store until you look past the VHS cover.


Overall score: 8.2 out of 10


Have you ever seen Return to Oz? What’s the creepiest children’s/family-friendly film you’ve ever watched? Please tell me in the comment section!


Have fun in Oz!

Sally Silverscreen

When Creativity is Squandered: The Wasted Potential on Hallmark’s Good Witch

If you’ve read my list of the Top 10 Worst Hallmark Movies of All Time, you would know that Good Witch: Spellbound is in the Top 3. I disliked this movie so much, that I chose to stop watching the Good Witch television show. But something caused me to tune in to the most recent episode. What was this, you ask? Well, it was the inclusion of a royal character. This was the first time when a royal character has ever been featured on any of Hallmark’s television shows, so I was curious to see who would portray this character and what kind of subplot they would be given. However, I was hesitant about getting my hopes up. The third season of Good Witch and Good Witch: Spellbound left a bad taste in my mouth, due to the screen-writing that, in my opinion, was terrible. Still, I gave this episode a fair chance and hoped that the creative team behind this show would do something special with this particular “first” in Hallmark history. There were even factors leading up to this episode that led me to believe that this aspect of the episode would be handled with special attention. As you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering why I would talk about this, despite the fact that I no longer watch Good Witch. I feel that my experience is one that can be relatable among my readers and followers. We’ve all felt disappointed, at least once in our lives, about “wasted potential” within a creative project. This post is about just that; me being disappointed about the creative decisions found in this episode of Good Witch. Because this is not an episode re-cap, I will only talk about the subplot involving the royal character, which will include spoilers. I will also document the factors that made me believe that this specific story would be handled better than it was. Now, let’s discuss this episode and the royal disappointment it was.

In this screenshot that I took on my cellphone, there were only four cast members listed on the official cast list for Good Witch’s episode “The Prince”. The cast list was featured on IMDB. This screenshot was taken on June 21st, two days prior to the episode’s release date. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
Recently, when I was visiting Hallmark Channel’s website, I saw an advertisement for the latest episode of Good Witch on their main page. My level of excitement came to fruition when I saw that this episode was called “The Prince”. As I’ve already stated, this was the first time a royal character had ever been featured in any television show from Hallmark. So, I was looking forward to watching Hallmark Channel history in the making. In the commercial for this episode, the actor who was to portray the prince was nowhere to be found. I figured this was because of one of two reasons: a.) because the story would be an afterthought compared to the other stories within the episode or b.) the actor portraying the prince was such a big deal, that the creative team behind Good Witch wanted to keep his identity a secret in an attempt to surprise their audience and fans with their choice of casting. I chalked this decision up to the latter, especially considering the factors that I’m about to share. Leading up to the episode, the actor portraying Henry, who is the titular prince, was not listed on Good Witch’s IMDB cast list. This actor’s name was also not mentioned in the episode’s official synopsis that was featured on Crown Media Family Networks’ website. Speaking of the synopsis, whenever Henry was mentioned in the episode description, the statement was always brief. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:


From the official Good Witch episode guide on Hallmark Channel’s website: “Cassie plays host to Henry, a dashing stranger…”


From the Crown Media Family Networks’ website: “Cassie hosts a guest with a surprising secret”


“When shocking news emerges about the visiting royal, though, he risks hurting someone he’s grown to care for”


Based on everything I’ve just said, I predicted that Henry’s “secret” was that he was Cassie or Abigail’s long-lost brother. That way, the show could have introduced a male family member to the Merriwick family and Grace could have had a new uncle become a part of her life. If this was where the story went, it, possibly, would have encouraged me to give Good Witch a second chance. But, if you remember what I said in the introduction, I was disappointed by the “wasted potential” that was actually featured in this episode.

In this screenshot that I took with my cellphone, the official synopsis that is featured on Crown Media Family Networks’ website discusses the various subplots within this episode. As you can see, the actor portraying the prince was not mentioned in this synopsis. Meanwhile, other actors featured in this episode have their names listed next to their character names. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

Because of the screen-writing associated with Good Witch’s third season and Good Witch: Spellbound, I had a feeling that the screen-writing in “The Prince” would probably be less-than-stellar. I also predicted what would likely happen on the episode. However, I was hoping that the creative team behind this show would prove me wrong. I watched this entire episode with an open mind and I gave it the fairest of chances. When Henry and his story were introduced on-screen, however, I was, unfortunately, proven right. Everything about this story was a blatant rehash of every single royal themed movie that Hallmark has ever made up until this point. You had the same generic British guy from the same generic, fictional European country that has a name ending with the letter “a”. You also had the same generic, romantic relationship between generic British guy and small-town, American woman. As for Henry’s “secret”, it was the same kind of secret that has been included in almost every Hallmark royal themed film: he’s a prince who didn’t want to be treated differently because of his royal title. There was even a part of the subplot about Henry wanting to go against tradition because he fell in love with a woman that’s not from a royal family. As disappointed as I was by this lack of creativity, I honestly can’t say that I’m surprised. This story felt lazily crafted, like the creative team behind Good Witch didn’t even try to apply any amount of creativity or imagination to this story. The entire execution of this concept was very poor, especially considering that this was a “first” in Hallmark television history.

In this screenshot from my cellphone, the official episode synopsis is featured on Good Witch‘s official page on Crown Media Family Networks’ website. From the first line, it’s clear that this sentence about the prince’s subplot is very brief. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
I love Hallmark, hence the reason why I talk about it on 18 Cinema Lane. I want their movies and shows to be the best that they can be. However, when a Hallmark project doesn’t reach its full potential, I will be honest about my feelings and opinions related to that project. This was my intention for bringing up my experience of watching this episode of Good Witch. Henry and his story could have been really good, with the potential for this story to be revisited in future episodes. Unfortunately, all of the potential this particular story had was wasted on a script that was poorly written. It also doesn’t help that it was also competing with about five other subplots. This example of “wasted potential” represents a pattern that has been common among Hallmark’s various projects. It’s understandable that Hallmark has an image that they’d like to uphold. But it feels like Hallmark puts so much focus on upholding this image, that they’re afraid of taking creative risks and thinking outside the box. I’m hoping that the disappointing results of this subplot from “The Prince” encourages the various creative teams at Hallmark to go out of their way to go against the grain and move out of their comfort zone. This doesn’t have to be frequently done, but enough to keep stories on Hallmark interesting and engaging.


Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen