Return to Oz



1985 sequel to American classic is tin-eared and creepy.
  • Review Date: October 29, 2010
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2004
  • Running Time: 109 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Courage can power you through the most frightful situations, especially when friends are in trouble.

Positive role models

The adults in Dorothy’s world don’t seem to care about what she’s thinking and feeling. In fact, Auntie Em doubts her so much she leaves her in a mental ward  to be sorted out. But Dorothy proves resilient; she's also loyal and principled and will go to great lengths to help friends in need.


Adults threaten a child with electroshock therapy so she stops discussing Oz. Kids nearly drown in a river’s raging currents. Heads move and yell, walls connive, and a Nome King is after Dorothy. A gang of monsters chases Dorothy; one threatens to tear her to pieces.  A bunch of heads terrorize her, too.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie, a sequel to the Judy Garland classic, is nowhere near as whimsical nor fantastical (nor fantastic) as the original. It has a gloomier, spookier look and feel, though it does have heart. (Dorothy, as in the first movie, is as sweet as ever.) Children 8 and younger will likely find it disturbing, especially if they’re fans of the original. Some scenes show an Oz that’s fallen apart, dominated by a headless princess and a vengeful, stony king. The way they go after Dorothy is a freaky, nerve-wracking sight to behold.

What's the story?

Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) lives on a farm with her beloved dog, Toto, and her practical Aunt Em, who doesn’t believe there’s such a place as Oz. She is forbidden to discuss Oz, and it appears everyone thinks of the adventure she had during the tornado as nothing more than a hallucination or a figment of her imagination. When Dorothy finds a key in her back yard that she believes was sent to her by her friends from Oz, she’s reminded of what doctors -- psychologists -- told her last time she spoke of the Emerald City. The cure they propose isn’t pretty. Good thing her pals have made it their mission to rescue her, or at least bring her back to Oz. But Oz is not as it was. The yellow brick road is dismantled; so is Oz. A Nome King has taken over, and Dorothy must figure out what happened to her beloved land.

Is it any good?


RETURN TO OZ appears earnest in its efforts to add to the Wizard of Oz mythology, but what a disappointment. The film fails not because it’s poorly acted or made -- Balk is sweet and affecting, and it has decent production values -- but in its execution. Dorothy is treated as if she has a mental illness; at one point, a doctor suggests she be admitted to a clinic and be attached to an “electric machine” to “control these excess currents” that surely must be causing her visions. She’s even belted to a gurney. That Aunt Em would allow this is mortifying.

And that’s just the beginning: The rest of the film offers sequences that are downright scary, with gnomes calcifying, eyeballs stoning over; and Oz completely destroyed. Where is the fun? The gaiety? The special effects are decent, and the film does include plenty of original characters from the books that spawned the original movie. And there are a few lessons, too, such as the importance of returning something that doesn't belong to you. But these don’t make up for the fact that Return to Oz undoes the indelible magic left by the Judy Garland classic.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why Dorothy is drawn to Oz: What's in that world that isn't in her own? Why does she continue her journey even if it's perilous?

  • What are the lessons she learns from this second journey? Are they different from the first?

  • How does this version compare to the original film, and to the L. Frank Baum books?

Movie details

DVD release date:February 3, 2004
Cast:Fairuza Balk, Piper Laurie
Director:Walter Murch
Studio:Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters
Run time:109 minutes
MPAA rating:PG

This review of Return to Oz was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent Written byKenEmerton August 14, 2013

Classic movie from the 80's.

I'm only reviewing because the review this website gives isn't exactly true. The movie IS dark and disturbing, but what they don't understand is that the Judy Garland movie actually TONED DOWN the "Oz" Franchise quite a bit. The original Oz books are very dark and quite violent. If you want a movie that's more true to the Oz books, go with Return to Oz.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written bywowthatsfunny November 10, 2011


Its a great movie a little weird has some bad messages about shock therapy but its a great movie, has some serous scary scenes that may scare some kids but creeps out a lot of people. you should watch it, its good but a little dark well a lot dark
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Teen, 13 years old Written bysusieboo June 27, 2011

Talk about not being in Kansas anymore!

This thing is NOTHING like the original. It's better. This movie has headless princesses, evil kings, shock therapy, these demons called "Wheelers" that gave me nightmares... ...and it was so cool! Mombi and the Nome King are a little scary, as are the Wheelers, but it's a great story nonetheless. I like this Dorothy better, as she's much more like the Dorothy in the books than Judy Garland's version. Compare the plucky, practical, brave young tween in the books and this movie with the screaming, bratty little damsel in distress in the first movie.
What other families should know
Too much violence


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide