Return to Oz

Return to Oz is a 1985 British-American dark fantasy film released by Walt Disney Pictures, directed and written by Walter Murch, co-written by Gill Dennis and produced by Paul Maslansky. It stars Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, and Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale in her first screen role. The film is an unofficial sequel to the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film The Wizard of Oz, and it is based on L. Frank Baum's early 20th century Oz novels, mainly The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907). In the plot, Dorothy returns to the Land of Oz to find it has been conquered by the Nome King, and she must restore it with her new friends Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Princess Ozma.

Return to Oz
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed byWalter Murch
Produced byPaul Maslansky
Screenplay byWalter Murch
Gill Dennis
Story byGill Dennis
Based onThe Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
Music byDavid Shire
CinematographyDavid Watkin
Freddie Francis (uncredited)
Edited byLeslie Hodgson
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • June 21, 1985 (1985-06-21) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$28 million[1]
Box office$11.1 million (USA)

In 1954, Walt Disney Productions bought the film rights to Baum's remaining Oz books to use in the television series Disneyland; this led to the live-action film Rainbow Road to Oz, which was never completed. Murch suggested making another Oz film in 1980. Disney approved the project as they were due to lose the film rights to the series. Though MGM was not involved in the production, Disney had to pay a large fee to use the ruby slippers created for the 1939 film. Return to Oz fell behind schedule during production, and, following a change of Disney management, Murch was briefly fired from the project.

Return to Oz was released in theaters on June 21, 1985. It performed poorly at the box office, grossing $11.1 million in the United States on a $28 million budget, and received mixed reviews, with critics praising the effects and performances but criticizing the dark content and twisted visuals. However, it performed well outside the U.S and has since acquired a cult following.[2][3] It received an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.


In October 1899, Dorothy Gale still talks of her adventure in the Land of Oz, troubling her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, who believe she is fantasizing. In her yard, she finds a key with an Oz insignia. Aunt Em takes her to Dr. J.B. Worley for electrotherapy, leaving her under the care of Nurse Wilson. As Dorothy is about to receive treatment, the asylum is struck by lightning and the power fails. Dorothy is freed from her restraints by a mysterious girl who tells her that Dr Worley's machines damage the patients. They escape, with Nurse Wilson in pursuit, and fall into a river. Dorothy clambers aboard a chicken coop, but the other girl vanishes.

Dorothy wakes up in Oz with her chicken Billina, who can now talk. They find the Emerald City in ruins and its citizens except the Scarecrow have been turned to stone. Cornered by Wheelers, menacing people with wheels instead of hands and feet, they escape into a room as Dorothy opens a door with the Oz key. They meet a mechanical man, Tik-Tok, who defeats the Wheelers and learns from the Lead Wheeler that King Scarecrow has been captured by the Nome King, who is responsible for the Emerald City's destruction.

They encounter Mombi in the royal palace, who decides to imprison Dorothy to take her head for her collection. In a locked room at the top of the palace, Dorothy, Billina, and Tik-Tok meet Jack Pumpkinhead, who explains he was brought to life via Mombi's Powder of Life, which gives them an idea of how to escape. They assemble a creature with furniture, rope, and the head of a moose-like animal called the Gump. Dorothy steals the Powder of Life from Mombi, but awakes her many heads, then rushes back to her friends to use the powder to bring the Gump to life. As he flies them across the Deadly Desert, Mombi sends the Wheelers after them, but half of them are killed by turning into sand by touching the Deadly Desert. The next day the remaining Wheelers take Mombi the safe route (The Nome King's Tunnel) towards the Nome King's Mountain.

A tired Gump crashes on the mountain of the Nome King, who creates an earthquake to bring them all underground. There he tells Dorothy that he has turned the Scarecrow into an ornament and challenges Dorothy and her companions to identify which ornament; if they can't after three guesses, they will become ornaments themselves. After the Gump, Jack and Tik-Tok each fail, the Nome King offers to return Dorothy home using her lost ruby slippers, but Dorothy refuses. She enters the ornament room and gets her first two guesses wrong as Mombi arrives at the mountain with the Wheelers. Mombi then talks to the Nome King.

With her third guess, Dorothy finds the Scarecrow and realizes the people of Oz turn into green ornaments, going on to restore Jack and Gump. Enraged, the Nome King imprisons Mombi for allowing Dorothy's escape, then assumes a giant form in order to prevent the others from leaving. He prepares to eat Jack but Billina, hiding in Jack's head, lays an egg which falls into the Nome King's mouth. As eggs are poisonous to Nomes, the Nome King and all of his kingdom begin to crumble.

As the mountain starts to collapse around them, Dorothy finds the ruby slippers. She quickly puts them on and wishes for the group to be returned to a restored Emerald City. There, they mourn the loss of Tik-Tok until Billina notices a green medal stuck on one of the Gump's antlers. Dorothy restores him. At a celebration, Dorothy is asked to be Queen of Oz but she instead wants to return to Kansas. Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz imprisoned in a mirror by Mombi, is now free to take her place on the throne of Oz. Dorothy hands over the ruby slippers to Ozma, who sends Dorothy home, while Billina remains behind in Oz.

In Kansas, Dorothy's family finds her on a riverbank. Aunt Em reveals that Worley's hospital was struck by lightning and burned down, and Worley died trying to save his machines. They see Nurse Wilson locked in a cage on a police buggy. In the farmhouse, now complete, Dorothy can still see Billina and Ozma in Oz through her bedroom mirror, who tell her she can return to Oz at any time.


Live action

Voice cast



Walter Murch began development of Return to Oz in 1980, during a brain-storming session with Walt Disney Productions production chief Tom Wilhite. Murch told Wilhite he was interested in making an Oz film and Wilhite "sort of straightened up in his chair". Unbeknownst to Murch, Disney owned the rights to the Oz series and wanted to make a new film as the copyright was soon to expire.[4] Five weeks into production, Disney was unhappy with the footage and fired Murch. Filmmaker George Lucas convinced them to reinstate him after reviewing the footage and guaranteeing that he would step in as replacement if any further problems emerged.[4]

Return to Oz is based on the second and third Oz books, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907). The element about Tik-Tok being "The Royal Army of Oz" derives from Tik-Tok of Oz (1914), in which he is made the Royal Army of Oogaboo and also makes frequent cries of "Pick me up!" That book was itself based on a dramatic production, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz (1913). Murch also used the book Wisconsin Death Trip as a historical source for the film.[5]

Murch took a darker take on Baum's source material than the 1939 adaptation, which he knew starting out would be a gamble. Between the development period and actual shooting, there was a change of leadership at the Walt Disney studios (with Wilhite replaced by Richard Berger), and the film's budget increased.[6] Once shooting began, Murch began to fall behind schedule, and there was further pressure from the studio, leading to Murch being fired as director for a short period.[6] High-profile film-makers including George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola supported Murch in discussions with the studio, and Murch was reinstated and finished the film.[4][6]

The film was developed and produced without the involvement of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio behind the 1939 film. No approval was necessary because, by 1985, the Oz books on which it was based were in the public domain, and the subsequent Oz books had been optioned to Disney many years earlier.[7] The ruby slippers were created by MGM specifically for the 1939 film to replace the Silver Shoes of the original stories[8] and, as the slippers remained MGM's intellectual property, a fee was paid.[7]

Leo McKern and Christopher Lloyd were each considered for the role of Dr. J.B. Worley/The Nome King before Nicol Williamson was cast.[7]

Principal photography began on February 20, 1984, and wrapped in October 1984.[9]

Balk and Ridley, the only two child actors on set, had limited working hours per day. Whilst Balk did her own stunts, Ridley had a stand-in. Ridley, who was born in London, had her voice in the film dubbed by Beatrice Murch, daughter of Walter Murch, so that the character of Ozma would have an American-sounding voice.[10]

The Emerald City scenes towards the end of film had to be fully reshot, as the character of Ozma was originally dressed in a gold lace dress which was deemed unsuitable during post-production. The scenes were reshot with the actress wearing a white and green dress.[10] At one point during filming these scenes, Balk collapsed due to the high on-set temperature.[11]



Return to Oz had its world premiere in the United States on June 21, 1985.

Home media

The film has been released to VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray over the years. The initial release, to VHS, Laserdisc, and Beta, occurred in December 1985 shortly after the theatrical release, with the VHS initially priced with a list price of $79.95. Disney reissued it in 1992 with alternate cover art. In 1999, Anchor Bay Entertainment, who had obtained the home video rights to several titles from Disney's live-action catalogue, issued the film on full-screen and letterbox VHS, as well as a DVD release featuring both versions. All three releases featured an intro by Fairuza Balk before the film and an interview featurette with her after it. All three versions went out of print shortly after their release.

In 2004, Disney released their own DVD, which dropped the Anchor Bay disc's fullscreen version and added anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 TVs for the widescreen version, upgraded the audio to 5.1 surround, retained the Anchor Bay disc's extras, and added four TV spots and a theatrical trailer. In 2015, Disney released a 30th Anniversary Edition of the film on Blu-ray exclusively through the Disney Movie Club, featuring a newly remastered and cleaned up transfer and DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound, but none of the bonus features from the 2004 DVD.

It is featured in the "From the Vault" Film section of Disney's streaming platform, Disney+.


Box office

It earned $2,844,895 in its opening weekend, finishing in seventh place.[12] It ultimately grossed $11,137,801 in North America.[13]

Critical response

The film received mixed reviews. The film critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes records 53% positive reviews based on 33 reviews, its critical consensus reads: "Return to Oz taps into the darker side of L. Frank Baum's book series with an intermittently dazzling adventure that never quite recaptures the magic of its classic predecessor."[14] Those who were familiar with the Oz books praised its faithfulness to the source material of L. Frank Baum such as author and critic Harlan Ellison who said, “It ain’t Judy Garland. It ain’t hip-hop. But it’s in the tradition of the original Oz books.”[15] However, many critics described its tone and overall content as slightly too dark and intense for young children. "Children are sure to be startled by its bleakness," said The New York Times' Janet Maslin.[16] Ian Nathan of Empire Magazine gave the film a three out of five stars, saying: "This is not so much a sequel but an homage and not a good one."[17] Canadian film critic Jay Scott felt the protagonists were too creepy and weird for viewers to relate or sympathize with: "Dorothy's friends are as weird as her enemies, which is faithful to the original Oz books but turns out not to be a virtue on film, where the eerie has a tendency to remain eerie no matter how often we're told it's not."[18] "It's bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying," added Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader.[19] Amelie Gillette of The A.V. Club frequently refers to its dark nature as unsuitable for its intended audience of young children[20] although it had been one of her favorite movies growing up.[20]


The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, but lost to Cocoon. Fairuza Balk and Emma Ridley were nominated for Young Artist Awards and multiple Youthies. It received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film (losing to Ladyhawke) and Best Younger Actor for Fairuza Balk (who lost to Barret Oliver for D.A.R.Y.L.).


The film's interpretation of Oz is featured in the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction at Disneyland Park in Paris.



  1. "Disasters Outnumber Movie Hits". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  2. Geraghty, Lincoln (2011). American Hollywood. Intellect Books. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-84150-415-5.
  3. Weiner, David (March 5, 2013). "Flashback Exclusive: A 'Return to Oz'". ET Online. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
  4. Chambers, Bill (May 9, 2000). "A Conversation with Walter Murch". Film Freak Central. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  5. Ondaatje, Michael (2002). The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. p. 6.
  6. "Lakeland Ledger - Google News Archive Search".
  7. Arnold 2013, p. 537.
  8. Wolf 2016, p. 186.
  10. "Return to Oz - Emma Ridley "Ozma" Interview by Ryan Jay". September 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  11. Arnold 2013, p. 536.
  12. "Weekend Box Office Results for June 21-23, 1985 - Box Office Mojo".
  13. "Return to Oz (1985) - Box Office Mojo".
  14. "Return to Oz (1985)".
  16. Maslin, Janet (1985-06-21). "A New 'Oz' Gives Dorothy New Friends". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  18. Scott, Jay. "Return to Oz". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  19. Kehr, Dave. "Return to Oz". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  20. "Childhood Scares". A.V Scares. April 10, 2009. Retrieved January 14, 2012.


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