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.

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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

Why North Carolina’s Land of Oz should Host a Screening of The Wizard of Oz

One day, when I was on Pinterest, I came across a post that mentioned a theme park called Land of Oz. In this post, it was written that even though the park closed down in the early ‘80s, it was open on special occasions. I’ve read, watched videos, and seen photos of abandoned theme parks from all over the world. The fact that Land of Oz was only partially abandoned fascinated me, as I’ve heard about theme parks that were either completely abandoned, demolished, or restored. When I did more research about North Carolina’s precious gem, I learned that the park hosts a few events throughout the year. Their most popular event is Autumn at Oz, which, according to the park’s website and as of this post’s publication, now has two out of three sold out tiered ticket sections! While looking through the website, I noticed that there were no planned screenings of The Wizard of Oz. On the list of scheduled events during Autumn at Oz, there will be a movie exhibit in honor of the film’s eightieth anniversary. However, because of the anniversary, it seems like a screening of the film would be an obvious choice. This list is dedicated to explaining why North Carolina’s Land of Oz should host a movie screening of The Wizard of Oz. If it weren’t for the cultural impact of this film, this theme park wouldn’t exist. So, paying recognition to the thing that started it all would be a good thing for Land of Oz to do.

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/.

Plenty of Opportunities

Land of Oz is a privately-owned space that hosts a few events throughout the year. These events give enthusiasts, families, and locals an excuse to explore this semi-abandoned amusement park and experience the festivities that are offered. Because of how broad the topic of The Wizard of Oz is, there are so many event ideas that could be implemented, including a screening of the film. With this, Land of Oz could provide another opportunity to open their doors to new and returning faces. It would also be a good way for the people associated with Land of Oz to make money, so that Land of Oz can continue to host events. If the people involved with Land of Oz chose not the host a screening of The Wizard of Oz as a stand-alone event, they could incorporate it into one of their existing events. For example, the screening could be included on the list of events for Autumn at Oz. For the guests, this screening would give them an opportunity to visit one of North Carolina’s most unique locations. While returning guests would be more than happy to come back to the “yellow brick road”, the screening could encourage new guests to visit the park. If the event were successful, the number of customers would continue to grow.

 

Taking Advantage of Nostalgia

At several theaters and through Fathom Events, screenings of pre-released films have become a common staple in the world of cinema. This is to capitalize on nostalgia and introduce people to films that are new to them. Everyone has that one movie that they hold close to their heart. For a large number of people, that film would be The Wizard of Oz. Hosting a screening of this film would let them relive memories and create new experiences. People who have never seen the film can witness it in an environment that makes the world of Oz seem like it’s coming to life around them. Fathom Events held a few screenings of The Wizard of Oz back in January. That’s because the people associated with Fathom Events realized the two aforementioned purposes that would make a film screening work. This screening would also show guests just how vast this cinematic property is. The film itself is not the “end all, be all” when it comes to this story. Land of Oz is just one example of how The Wizard of Oz can be incorporated into various media and outlets.

Child Carousel
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A Charitable Contribution

Sometimes, movie screenings are held in an effort to raise money for a local non-profit. Events like this can be organized by larger groups or businesses. If Land of Oz wanted to get involved in helping their community, there are plenty of worthy causes to choose from. While guests are attending the park for the screening of The Wizard of Oz, they can become educated about the non-profit that they are choosing to support. Supporters will be enthusiastic about having their favorite charity represented by a business that cares about the cause like they do. This would be a win-win-win situation for Land of Oz. First, they would be given a chance to help out their fellow neighbor. Next, by assisting a local non-profit, they could create a positive image for themselves. Finally, a fundraiser and movie screening of The Wizard of Oz held at the Land of Oz would be great advertising for the business.

 

More Than Just a Screening

In my review of Jurassic Park, I shared that I had attended my very first Fathom Event screening. Within the introduction, I stated that the screening itself fell short of my expectations. This is because I was led to believe that the screening would be an event, complete with giveaways and announcers getting the audience excited about the film. For a screening of The Wizard of Oz, Land of Oz could create a whole event out of it. On their website, the park hosts an event during Autumn at Oz called Dining with Dorothy. People who purchase a ticket to this experience will get to share a meal with Dorothy herself. This specific event could also be included with the movie screening, if the people involved with Land of Oz chose to do so. There could also be contests and various activities, such as trivia and carnival games. Since Land of Oz has never hosted an event like this, the sky would be the limit! Through “trial and error” and listening to guest feedback, the event can grow as time goes on.

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Reaching the Emerald City

So, now that I’ve explained the reasons why North Carolina’s Land of Oz should host a movie screening of The Wizard of Oz, it’s time for me to summarize all of the main points that I’ve made. If the people associated with Land of Oz were to organize an event like this, I think there would be a lot of positives involved. It can be beneficial for both the business and its customers. Local non-profits could also benefit from this kind of event, as a portion of the money can go toward the charity of Land of Oz’s choice. Based on everything I’ve said, a movie screening of The Wizard of Oz held at Land of Oz has so much potential. The event could be stand-alone or incorporated with another event. The incentives that Land of Oz could use to encourage people to attend would be quite interesting. Looking back on what I know about this theme park, it seems like it has a growing fanbase. With new ideas and opportunities, that fanbase can continue to expand.

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

 

If you want to learn more about Land of Oz, visit their website at https://www.landofoznc.com/.