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Return to Oz (1985): An adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907)

Compared to the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz (1985) is, well, a horse of a different color.

The film received mixed reviews when it debuted. Fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz series heralded the film for a faithfulness the 1939 film lacked.

Others who adored the lighthearted 1939 musical scoffed at this scary sequel. According to Common Sense media, a website with rankings and reviews for parents looking “to make smart media choices,” both parents and kids find the film so disturbing, they both recommend children be at least 10 years old before watching it.

I recently watched the film for the first time in many years. As for being “more faithful” to canon, Return to Oz is, in many regards. But it’s not a sequel as much as an adaptation. It weaves characters and events from two L. Frank Baum books – The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907), the second and third books, respectively, in the Oz series – into this one, 113-minute film.

Of course, it’s dark. The Oz books are dark. But the things that make this 1985 film really dark actually did not come from the books. The Gilded Age-electroshock therapy? Yeah, not in these books. A mysterious girl appearing to have drowned in the storm after helping Dorothy? Dorothy returning to Oz only to find the place laid to waste? The Nome King offering to send Dorothy home and to erase her memories of Oz? Again, didn’t happen in these books. Dorothy doesn’t even appear in The Marvelous Land of Oz, and was in the Land of Ev and the Nome King’s domain for most of Ozma of Oz.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of how the plots match. Or don’t.


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