19 August 2005 | ptb-8
Yep, dark and disturbing
After reading about 40 of the other comments here, all of whom say RETURN TO OZ is dark and disturbing, I will make a different comment. In the early 80s Disney certainly were off the cash trail with a range of films, each expertly produced, that were box office disasters. One may recall SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, TRON, THE BLACK CAULDRON, ONE MAGIC Christmas and a few others that had much to offer any thinking crowd,and each had special effects that were quite astonishing. Disney were in a very bleak period and the films, attempting to reflect perhaps a more mature or even grown up perspective chose, oh dear I have to say it: a dark and disturbing theme. At the time of release every critic bleated at the grim and melancholy tone of RETURN TO OZ, and sadly themselves neglected to celebrate the original book look, a choice Disney execs applauded themselves for. One Exec infamously said to us theatre owners: "We're going for the Frank L Baum book illustrations and nothing like that 1939 vaudeville thing". Oh dear, I thought at the time. You mean the world's most popular kids film? Well. $27 million dollars later in production costs returned maybe a quarter in theatre film rentals and RETURN TO OZ for all its merit and lavish production care and superb scary special effects....was consigned to the Disney dud bin. At the time I was irritated by the fixed goony expressions on Jack Pumpkinhead and the Scarecrow (loved Tik-tok, though, a fascinating and completely compelling design and movement piece) This time around I didn't mind it and actually appreciated the fact that they were 'book' expressions. Viewed 20 years later on a Disney DVD of dubious quality, I have to say it is a film more suited to these dark and disturbing times and if released today would certainly get a better reception and better crits...and possibly make a lot of money. I think the world is tuned into this type of family film more now than in the Flashdance 80s. The production values of RETURN TO OZ are simply breathtaking. Scene after scene perfectly realised: the green walled horror of the psychiatric asylum in reel one, the amazing claymation of the Gnome King, and especially the glittering halls of Mombi's castle. One genuinely screamworthy scene in the hall of Heads with a headless Queen rushing about in a nightmarish vision is almost only for adults, so intense is it's genuine horror. The glittering climax of a restored Emerald City is a triumph of green and silver/gold set design, I defy any viewer not to rewind it several times just to see each and every part. Yes nominated for 5 Oscars, it won none and vanished for 20 years. The no-marquee name Fairuza Balk didn't help the public embrace, no matter how exquisite she is. At least she wasn't named Soleil Moon Fry. In the same class as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, RETURN TO OZ now deserves its place there as part of a trilogy of superbly crafted fantasy for smart kids and astonished adults. That 'vaudeville thing' it certainly isn't. But not a failure either. The DVD is lacking trailers and production material that should and could be included. Bad Disney! Good film! I also defy any viewer not to shriek with laughter at the Gnome King revealing he is wearing the ruby slippers, a sly joke well presented.