Return to Oz
1985
Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) hasn't been the same since she came back from Oz, so a worried Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) sends her niece to a clinic to begin shock therapy. But in the midst of an experiment, Dorothy returns to an unfamiliar land where the Yellow Brick Road lies in ruins. With the help of a walking jack o' lantern, a wind-up robot and a flying sofa, can she take on an evil, many-headed princess and a wicked king made of stone?

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Few of my childhood memories are as vivid as screaming my lungs out in the theater upon Mombi's awakening. That sight, along with the endearing Tick Tock and the Wheeler who turned to sand, have stayed with me long enough to inspire a rental of this film as an adult, just to see it with grown-up eyes. It's awkward in early passages and strikes me as too slow-paced (surely today's kids would sleep through it), but I'm astounded by the amount of effort and imagination it took to bring this world and characters to life. CGI has opened up fabulous possibilities, but it also seems to have made filmmakers lazier: When forced to create a character animatronically, one must get very creative, and here we have a round little robot man operated internally by an upside-down contortionist with his legs folded over his chest. Maybe it's best Jim Henson didn't live to see today's movies. Anyway, lest I turn any further into a curmudgeonly old grump, let me also praise the fine acting by a veteran cast (especially the one newcomer, Fairuza Balk, who centers the film like a pro), and the general fearlessness of the production. This was a sequel to a beloved classic, yet it discarded and distorted many of the characters; and it was a Disney film, yet it contained truly horrific, unnerving passages. It doesn't matter that this film can never be in the same league as its classic predecessor; what's important are the high marks achieved by this film, technically and creatively. It's an underappreciated 80's gem, new wave minions and all.

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