Sunday, March 14, 2010

Return to OZ: When Reality Creates Dreams.


As you know, I take great pride in exercising my fondest memories of being scared as a young one. Return to Oz is no exception, as I briefly examined it in a previous "Scary Moments" post in which I talked about the horridness of those pesky Wheelers. This time however, I felt it necessary to revisit the movie as a whole because there has always been something that has bothered me. I feel this a lot of times with fantasy oriented children's movies- and you even see it in the original Wizard of Oz. There is a fine line between the main character's fantasy and reality. By that I mean you could choose to believe that Dorothy really did venture off to Oz, or you could accept the fact that she built that dream world based on different experiences and different images she took in during the time before her accident. Call me cynical or whatever but it really makes me sad to think that that magical journey never happened. Children's fantasies of course are not the only ones to do such a thing, as I can think of many other recent horror movies that follow that same pattern. I guess I shouldn't name them since they are fairly new and I don't want to get anyone's panties in a twist.


In any case, despite the obvious message being that there is nothing wrong with imagination, and that crazy things can happen just in your mind- I'm still kind of sour about the whole thing. Return to Oz, certainly more so than the Wizard of Oz is extremely guilty of giving us every single piece of evidence that would prove Dorothy only made it up. After a careful viewing I found evidence for almost everything that exists- the things I cannot are merely things Dorothy "remembers" from her last trip to Oz. Of course, with Return to Oz things are taken to a more depressing area, as in the beginning Dorothy's remembering of Oz causes Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to take her to a place that specializes in electroshock therapy.
This makes things more depressing because we start to wonder, if Dorothy really is making these places up--could she really be "crazy" after all? The logical answer of course is no- she's just using her imagination which in the 1900s was an idea not yet explored. But let's face it- seeing weird little girls in the mirror, thinking that her chicken can talk? It's all a little too weird if you ask me. But yes, yes, imagination! The point is like most things, there is an ambiguity to what we choose to believe. Like the key that Dorothy finds on the farm,

You could choose to believe that it's just an ordinary key, OR you could choose to believe that the key says OZ. It's all very up in the air which is actually a lot more than I can say for a recent "thriller" also involving psychological themes. Anywho let's start with the beginning and the most obvious parts of Dorothy's dream that are clearly taken from her everyday life, the main characters. This is something that echoes perfectly with the original film- as all the characters there too are based on people that Dorothy met before the tornado.

First we have the doctor

Who tries to give Dorothy Electroshock Therapy only to fail because- surprise an electrical storm happens. Due to this sort of evilness, the doctor obviously becomes a villain in Dorothy's dream. The evil Gnome king.

The man who took over OZ after Dorothy left the first time and her ruby slippers fell off her feet and onto his.

Yeah it's a little drag queenish, don't worry about it. Just like the doctor was trying to destroy Dorothy's mind- so was the Gnome king trying to destroy the land of Oz. Evil, evil man!

Next up- the horrid looking Nurse Wilson.



This minion to the doctor seems horribly evil, with her pointy shoulders, her stone cold looks, and the fact that she's just scary. She also carries a key that is always attached to her.
Just like the evil Princess Mambi in Oz

Who has the pleasure of changing her head whenever she feels like it,

Thanks to her room full of heads and her ruby key that she keeps attached to her at all times.

And since she has 30 heads to choose from, guess what her original head looks like?


Ah yes just like Nurse Wilson!

Next, onto the Wheelers!

These are some of the more clever character's that travel over as they are imprinted both by physical memory and by sound- which is somewhat rare in these instances. The men who wheel around the horrid gurneys with the squeakiest wheels in the whole world.

They are pale and creepy and their 1900s scrubs are extremely long and bothersome.

And the screechy sound of the gurney is all too terrible to forget. It is no surprise that they would come back to haunt Dorothy- and it's no surprise that they are one of the scariest things in the entire movie.



Their wheels make the same noise as the gurneys, and their extremely long coats perfectly resemble the orderlies from the real world. The only thing that trips me up is their completely insane attitude. Perhaps the orderlies experimented with the Electroshock Therapy themselves?


Next up, Dorothy's friends. First, one of the more disturbing inspirations, the actual Electroshock Therapy Machine.



The doctor so nicely explains to Dorothy that it's really not a scary machine at all, because it looks like it has a face! When the lightning storms shuts down the power Dorothy is left alone with the machine and is startled when she realizes that it is still ticking, thanks to the gear that was nice and wound up.

I suppose the doctor's story caused Dorothy to believe him and she went on to imagine the machine as one of her very best friends, Tick Tock.


Who comes with specific gears that require him to be wound up.

Still one of the stranger memories carried over, I suppose it does speak largely to the fact of what a child truly finds terrifying and what they oddly find comforting.

While in the care of this creepy experimental hospital, Dorothy meets a strange young girl with blonde hair.

We are never told who she is, but we know she runs around barefoot, and tells Dorothy about the "damaged" patients screaming in the basement. She helps Dorothy escape and apparently drowns when the wooden crate they hold onto gets weighed down by the current.

Perhaps out of guilt from letting the girl drown, or simply because Dorothy really is in Oz, this girl gets transformed into Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz.



Next up, while in the hospital, Ozma brings Dorothy a jack-o-lantern in celebration of the upcoming Halloween holiday.
This Jack-o-Lantern gets transformed into the poor man's version of a scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead

To drill this point even more home, Jack often laments about his "mother" who we later find out is actually Ozma. Which makes sense in the real world, since Ozma brought the pumpkin to Dorothy in the first place!

Now this next one took a little digging. The final friend is a giant Moose head called a "gump". And at first I thought he was just the odd thing out that couldn't be explained. But then I saw this over the shoulder of Nurse Wilson in one scene,
Well it's a deer head yes, but still the perfect inspiration for Dorothy's couch flying gump.



That does it for friends and enemies, so next I will show you some random instances of things that carried over from the real world into Dorothy's dream world. These are perhaps some of the more interesting finds.

As Aunt Em leaves for the night she leaves Dorothy with her lunch pail. Evil Nurse Wilson says the lunch pail isn't necessary and leaves it on the gurney as she takes Dorothy to her room. Possibly because Nurse Wilson promised Dorothy food that she never got, or because Dorothy really wanted whatever it was in the lunch pail. She ended up receiving that lunch pail later in her dream.

Thanks to the lunch pail trees!

Now here's a rather interesting connection. While staying in the hospital, Dorothy's room number is 31.


And if you remember earlier I said that Princess Mambi had 30 different heads to choose from, which would make her original head number 31. And guess which number cabinet her original head sleeps in?

Of course! Cabinet number 31!

Now here's something really interesting. A reverse instance of imprinting. After Oz goes back to normal, a procession makes it's way through the Emerald City, where Princess Mambi is lead in a big cage.

In the real world, Dorothy finds out after she wakes up that the asylum burnt to the ground, and she later sees Nurse Wilson being lead away by the police in a simliar cage/jail carriage.

I'm not really sure how to decipher this, how can Dorothy's dreams predict the future??! This is the one instance where things don't really make sense. This instance neither supports the it was all dream or the it was all real angle, so what is it's purpose?

Then there are of course tons of other finds, like all the green leafy plants in the asylum that perfectly mirror the green plants in Princess Mambi's room. The typical sofa in the doctor's office, that is mirrored as the sofa Dorothy and her friends use to escape from Mambi's castle. The little trinkets on the doctor's desk, which correspond to the trinkets in his lair that the group has to choose from to find the Scarecrow. The list is endless and like I said, it's very possible to find evidence that supports that everything in Dorothy's return trip to Oz, is also found in her real life--which of course forces us to believe that Dorothy's trip to Oz probably never happened. And yes I do suppose it is a movie, and a fantasy movie at that, so we have to submit to that idea and just take in the fantasy. That however doesn't change the fact that it's kind of weird that they showed us an explanation for EVERYTHING. What is there left to believe?

Whether you choose to believe in Dorothy's fantasy, or choose to go along the route of reality, Return to Oz is still a joy to revisit after all these years. Nostalgia practically pours out of the screen and I just can't get enough. While it probably won't stand up as a good movie to anyone that did not see it when they were younger, you can't deny some of those scarier scenes- and plus it's little Fairuza Balk! You have to love it.

19 comments:

B-Sol said...

I remember this movie being so controversial when it came out, because it took the much brighter and happier Wizard of Oz to a much darker place. It was seen as a very cynical movie.

And yet, I loved the L. Frank Baum books as a kid, and really felt that this movie captured the spirit of those books more closely. Even if there really is no comparison between this and the timeless, beautiful Wizard of Oz film.

It was total bomb at the time, but I enjoyed it a lot. What do I know, I was a creepy kid anyway.

Hey! Look Behind You! said...

The room with the heads was the scariest thing I have ever seen ever!

But your post makes me want to see this again like now

Pax Romano said...

Wow, just WOW! That was one of the best articles I have ever read about Return to Oz. I love films that do what this one does (Oz, Mulholland Drive, etc)to transpose the real world into a dream scape is something that has always fascinated me.

Anyway, great, great posting!

forestofthedead said...

Awesome article. Love this movie except I dislike the whole thing too, where's it's all just a dream. What the heck? Why can't fantasy worlds be real in movies? How about Narnia or the land of Lord of the Rings? It's neat that they have all these connections, I just wish it was just a magical land and not possibly the insanely detailed imagination of a child.

Andre said...

B-Sol- I can certainly see that, although I read that the director was disheartened because he never intended it to be a sequel to the Wizard of Oz, but a stand alone kind of tribute to Frank L. Baum as you suggest, since it takes elements from both Return to Oz and Ozma of Oz. But you are right- the books are dark as well...and even though I may get murdered it reminds me of how people reacted to Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Which was more loyal to the book and darker as well.

Nicki- rent it on Netflix! I also own it so if you find yourself in a desperate state of mind I can help you out. ; )

Thanks Pax! Ya makin' me blush! I was thinking of Mulholland Drive. after that screencap post you did a while back. I think for the most part I do enjoy movies like that, but I prefer there to be a little ambiguity I suppose. Still quite an interesting scavenger hunt in most cases!

Thanks Patrick, I agree- although at least with movies like Wizard of Oz we expect them to dream, like when Dorothy hits her head during the tornado. Movies that provide no warning can be extremely anger inducing- and forgive me for saying somewhat of a waste of time. BUT in terms of children's movies it is an interesting and common plot device that speaks multitudes on the idea of children's imaginations vs real life and adults insistence that dreams and fantasies are all just in out heads. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't...

Zach S. said...

a childhood classic. I kew Faizura had the chops even then. This is probably the closest anyone will ever get to Todd McFarlane's DARK SIDE OF OZ.

kindertrauma said...

Great post Andre, I love how you connected the wheelers and the gurneys...brilliant. Personally, I choose to believe that Oz and the "real" world both exist at the same time and are equally legit. Dorothy can only be in one dimension at any given time but sometimes the two worlds mesh and bleed into each other. In other words I refuse to believe that talking chickens do not exist!-Unk

Emily said...

Great post. I love me some Return to Oz and oddly enough, find that the Oz of this film somehow feels more real compared to Wizard. All your points are way too sound and you're probably right, but there's something about the darker tone that just seems like a real place.

And is it just me, or has every little girl and boy once dreamed of eating from a lunch pail tree?

The Film Connoisseur said...

I liked the way you mentioned all of the similarities between dreamworld and real world, I noticed them as well. Awesome movie, but the fact that its so creepy is probably why it didnt do all that well with audiences upon its premiere.

People want Oz to be happy and cheerful and this was not a happy and cheerful Oz, it was downright frightning! Love this movie though. Love how gothic and dark it is. And I love the stop motion animation in it.

A true cult favorite.

Andre said...

True that Unk. I used to think that as well- the mirror scene at the end of the movie totally sealed the deal. I used to have a dresser/mirror combination like that when I was little and used to be obsessed with acting out that scene. Ahem but anyways I think somewhere down the line I became cynical and thought- what a scream it would be if Dorothy really WAS just crazy the whole time? But you're right talking chickens have to exist--they just gotta!

Emily- YES everything in there looked so perfect. Let's hope they don't put any onions in your lunch pail though!!

Dster Sr. said...

Was this post inspired by our little chat about that book I read this weekend?!!! Excellent post sistah! I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for this one---i used to have nightmares about the Ozma heads all the time!

Drunketh said...

Great examination and post. Return to Oz is the best dark fairytale out there.

JLG said...

Great post! Didn't even think about the gurneys/wheelers.

Richard H. said...

Thanks to your post, I am determined to finally watch Return to Oz. I only heard about it once years ago when a friend casually told me that I just had to watch it because it was so freakish compared to Wizard of Oz. Now, having read your post, I really just have to watch it now! Darn, Netflix's still limited streaming selection!

I wonder if this would make an interesting double feature with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland?

cindy said...

this is a fantastic movie!

as a small child (i'm talking six or seven), i loved this movie and the Wizard of Oz, but even then, i did not regard them as even remotely the same or think of "return" as the sequel. i just loved the dark creepy atmosphere and, after reading the books, i definitely find this movie to be closer to the books.

just such a great movie...still ranks in my top ten and i have a copy on dvd to share with my little one when he is old enough!

Manny said...

There are still some uncertainties- Why were chicken eggs poisonous to Nomes? Why did Bilina have the sudden urge to hide inside Jack's pumpkinhead when they arrived at the Nome King's mountain, and stay there quiet until Jack nearly got swallowed up by the Nome King?
How was this paralleled in Kansas?
How was Princess Mombi's 30 heads (from the dancers) paralleled in real life?
Why was Nurse Wilson extremely mad at Dorothy & 'Ozma' running away during the storm?
She growls "SO!" at them when she sees them running away, as if she has caught them out. It's just like when her analogue Princess Mombi discovers Dorothy trying to escape with the flying Gump. Nurse Wilson sounds like she had an evil agenda from the start....but why? Did she think that Dorothy would give away a secret? What secret? About the damaged patients from the botched electroshock therapies?
Was Dr. Worley actually guilty of the fact he had damaged his patients, so blew up his generators to burn down the evidence and committed suicide to prevent capture? The storm only blew out the power, there was no sign of fire. Strangely enough, the thunderstrikes that blew the power out, were the same as the ones that occurred when a wrong guess was made...
And were the "damaged patients locked in the cellar" represented in Oz? Were they represented by the headless dancers, or the other insane Wheelers?
The Wheelers creep me out as they seem to be child molesters...what does this represent in the real world?
Why did the Nome King accuse the Scarecrow of stealing his emeralds? Was it just misinformation?
Did the Nome King represent environmentalism and conservation in real life? He seemed to oppose mining.
What happened to the Munchkins? And their houses where there was just forest? Were they restored at the end? What about Glinda, the Good Witch of the North?

Anonymous said...

For More Info on where shock therapy comes in and creating the fantasy.
To truly understand what is happening in this movie.

Read the book Undetectable Mind control By Fritz Springmeier.

Alex Davis said...

To the person who said Glinda was the Good Witch of the North she's not she's the Good Witch of the South.Well in the 1939 film she's the witch of the north,but in the books she's the witch of the south.I liked this movie better than the 1939 film.

C.Smith said...

It's possible that everything in Oz has an analogue in Kansas (kind of like the Mirror Universe in Star Trek). Dorothy might keep coming across similar things in Oz and Kansas by mere chance. I don't like to think of Return as just a dream because the end of the movie leaves open the possibility of a sequel - when Dorothy returns to Oz through the mirror for more adventures. It's a shame the film did so poorly as it's haunting and beautifully filmed.