My boyfriend and I have accidentally started re-watching children’s films from the 1980s. It started with the whirlwind of emotions that is The NeverEnding Story, followed swiftly by the David Bowie masterpiece that is Labyrinth. The most recent of our surreal and terribly-animated screenings was Return to Oz, released in 1985 and based on some of the lesser known books in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series.
Six months after the ‘twister’ incident, Dorothy Gale has become an insomniac obsessed with her memories of Oz. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry decide to take her to a creepy Cuckoos-Nest-esque psychiatric hospital, and she is prescribed a few doses of electroshock therapy. Before the therapy begins however, there is a power cut and she manages to escape with the help of a random girl who brings her pumpkins. They get lost in the storm outside, and she wakes up with her pet chicken Billina in the merry old land of Oz.
In a scene reminiscent of the second Narnia novel Prince Caspian: Return to Narnia, Dorothy discovers that the once glorious kingdom of Oz is a wasteland. The Yellow Brick Road has crumbled into pieces, and the Emerald City is nothing more than ruins. The grounds are littered with stone statues of unlucky citizens of Oz, and the old king the Scarecrow has been overthrown by the Nome King.
She soon endeavors to find the Scarecrow and restore Oz to its full glory, together with her new friends: Tik-Tok, a clockwork brass robot, Jack Pumpkinhead, who keeps calling Dorothy his mother, and the Gump, a disturbing creature made by sticking a dead moose head onto a sofa and then sprinkling it with powder to bring it to life. Dr Moreau springs to mind…
They battle the evil Princess Mombi, who steals people’s heads and keeps them in cabinets. Then they find the King Nome and battle him. He is actually made of rocks and is bitterly angry because the people who first built the Emerald City ripped all the emeralds from under his mountain. He makes a fair point, and also reminds me of the Gorillaz song Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head. In the end the random girl who brought her pumpkins is actually the Princess Ozma, and everything is well again.
This is an extremely dark, un-rose-tinted sequel to The Wizard of Oz, but it’s really rather cool in an eerie, disturbing way. The Nome King villain is not just greedy or malicious for the sake of it; he actually just wants his emeralds back. When the citizens of Oz are celebrating and the Scarecrow is re-coronated at the end, one can’t help looking at the sparkling walls of the city and wondering if perhaps its a gleaming reflection of environmental exploitation and capitalism…
But let’s not think of it like that! Dorothy returns to Kansas safe in the knowledge that she may return to Oz whenever she pleases. She is blissfully reunited with Toto, and the house that was blown away in 1939 has been rebuilt and restored.