Sunday, January 23, 2011

It ain't your momma's Oz...

Seems like I don't blog as much when I don't have a purpose...like when I do a marathon or Christmas, but I'm still trying to get back here more often then I did last year.  I think there were whole month periods when I didn't write...of course, once show season begins (as it is in full swing right now) I tend to just want to be lazy when I finally get home.  Writing on a blog isn't exactly high exertion, but it does require me to use my mind...which is hard to do once the work day ends.  I'm a lot like my father that way.  When he's at work, he's a demon...remembering hundreds of things at once and getting piles of work done.  However, once he gets home, he shuts down and relaxes.  I do basically the same thing, though sometimes I shut down a little before the work day ends (during my last period planning period...shhh, don't tell anyone).  However, sometimes the use of the brain isn't necessary, such as when reviewing a film that was a childhood favorite in our house.  EVERYONE saw and had a copy of The Wizard of Oz, the famous 1939 version with Judy Garland, but few people knew that there was a sequel of sorts created in 1985...at least until recently, thanks to television and DVD.  This version of Oz was not as well received as that Victor Flemming version was...it was several shades darker, not a musical, and portrayed a more realistic fantasy world than the colorful stageshow that was the original.  People felt like Disney (who made the film) was trying to tarnish their treasured memories, Siskel and Ebert especially - who placed it on their "worst of 1985" list.  However, now that plenty of time has passed, people are more willing to see this sequel as a worthy followup to that version...and some even prefer it to the saccharine tone of it.  So let's cross the Deadly Desert and Return to Oz.

Several months have passed since Dorothy Gale visited the land of Oz and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are trying to get things back to normal.  It isn't easy though, with Henry still nursing a broken leg and a deep depression over losing the old house in the tornado and Em frustrated with Dorothy's continued insistence that Oz is a real place.  Em becomes so worried in fact that she takes Dorothy to a psychologist who specializes in electroshock therapy.  Dorothy is left at the institution with the assurance that she will be healed, but before the treatment can be administered the power goes out and she is rescued by another girl patient.  The two run from the hospital's staff and jump into the river where the other girl disappears and Dorothy climbs aboard a crate.  When she awakens, she finds herself back in Oz with her chicken, Belina.  Things are not well there, however, as Dorothy finds the Yellow Brick Road destroyed and the Emerald City robbed of its emeralds.  It seems an evil mountain dweller known as the Gnome King and his enforcer, Mombi, have taken over the land and turned everyone to stone.  It is up to Dorothy and her new friends Tik-Tok, a clockwork man, Jack, a man made from sticks and a pumpkin, and The Gump, a walking sofa with the head of a green moose, to stop these evil doers and restore Oz to its former glory.

Wow...Dorothy getting shock treatment?  A headless witch with interchangeable heads?  A bad guy who looks like a stone version of Santa Claus?  This certainly isn't the Oz I remembered, and yet it all felt right too, when I saw this as a child.  The characters and situations were taken mainly from L. Frank Baum's books The Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and Tik-Tok of Oz and so they felt right at home in the world already established.  Faruza Balk was a very convincing, and age-appropriate, Dorothy, and the music was grand...even if no one was singing.  To me, this was just another adventure like many others that I liked as a child, such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.  Many 'kids fantasies' were darker then, and its something we encourage in fantasy movies now that wasn't encouraged back then.  That's not to say I wasn't completely terrified by portions of it...headless Mombi and The Wheelers were very frightening indeed.  But it was also well balanced by the comedy from Tik-Tok, Jack, and The Gump.  If anything, it made me take the story more seriously.  I NEEDED Dorothy to succeed, so that all this nightmarish stuff could end.  When I watch it now, I can still see a well-scripted and designed film that I plan to show my own children in the future.  If you have never seen Return to Oz, I highly recommend it.  It is an excellent film and a worthy follow up to all the films based on Baum's first Oz book.

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