A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Return to Oz is nowhere near as whimsical nor fantastical (nor fantastic) as the Judy Garland classic. 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.
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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. Dorothy 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's 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.
Talk to your kids 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 Dorothy learns on this journey? Are they different from the first?
How does this Oz movie compare to the original -- and to the L. Frank Baum books?
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