“Return to Oz” Turns 30 Years Old

Yesterday saw the 30th anniversary of the release of Return to Oz which hit theaters on June 21st, 1985. Directed by Walter Murch, an editor and sound designer, the film stars Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Matt Clark, and introduced Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale.

Based on L. Frank Baum‘s Oz books, Return to Oz draws mainly from The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. The plot begins with Dorothy‘s return to the Land of Oz, and her discovery that the land has been destroyed. Upon her return, Dorothy, alongside her chicken Billina, is befriended by a group of new companions, including Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead, who help her restore Oz to its former glory.

Return to Oz

The movie received mixed reviews from critics, who described the film’s content as too dark and intense for children. “Children are sure to be startled by the film’s bleakness,” said The New York Timess Janet Maslin. Canadian film critic Jay Scott felt the protagonists were too creepy for viewers to 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.” “It’s bleak, creepy, and occasionally terrifying,” added Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader. The film earned $2,844,895 in its opening weekend, finishing in seventh place. The film ultimately grossed $11,137,801 in North America.

Return to Oz Heads

Princess Mombi chooses a new head from her selection beheaded victims . . . a prime example of the film’s “questionable” choices as a children’s story.

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. The film received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film (lost 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 Resort Paris.

Amelie Gillette of the The A.V. Club frequently refers to the film’s dark nature as unsuitable for its intended audience of young children despite it being one of her favorite movies growing up. Despite criticism, however, Return to Oz is considered by fans as a more faithful adaptation of the book series than the 1939 film, and has since established a large cult following. 


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