Remember when kids' movies were allowed to be scary? I don't think there was a freakier time than the late 1980's, because you had stuff like The Witches, The Dark Crystal, and, perhaps one of the most frightening, Return to Oz. The sequel to the Technicolor classic was weird and terrifying, and it turns 30 today.
If you are unfamiliar with Return to Oz, let me enlighten you. It's been less than a year since Dorothy has returned for Oz, and the poor thing can't sleep. She constantly dreams of Oz, so Aunt Em and Uncle Henry send her to a doctor who specializes in electroshock therapy. That's right. Dorothy gets the Diana Goodman treatment. She breaks out of the hospital during a rainstorm and from a maniacal nurse with pointy shoulder pads that just won't quit. Dorothy escapes down a river and wakes up back in the magical Land of Oz.
Unfortunately for Dorothy, Oz is all jacked up when she returns. The Yellow Brick Road has been destroyed, and she has to eat a lunch from a pail in a tree. I personally wouldn't have trust that, but, hey, she was hungry. That's not the most disturbing thing, though. The Emerald City has also been left in ruins, and the Cowardly Lion and Tin Man have been turned to stone. A group of minions called The Wheelers are wreaking havoc over Munchinland, and, boy, are those guys creepy as all hell. They still give me nightmares. They whirl around with wheels in place of their hands and feet, but they keep steel masquerade masks on the tops of their heads.
Oh, not afraid of The Wheelers? How about Princess Mombi, the glamorous terror-in-waiting who can exchange her head out whenever the mood strikes? The most disturbing sequence has to be when Dorothy runs out of the hall of heads while all the heads are screaming.
Did I mention that there are talking chickens, smiling slabs of rock, and a flying sofa with a talking moose head? If you didn't think the screaming heads and Wheelers were scary enough, the finale involves Dorothy trying to locate the Scarecrow in a room full of enchanted objects. If she guesses wrong three consecutive times, The Nome King will turn her into an object for his collection. This clearly isn't your mother's The Wizard of Oz. Return was adapted from the second and third L. Frank Baum's Oz book series, and it took elements from several other sources.
It was deemed a financial failure, but it managed to net a Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination. I was kind of obsessed with it as a kid. When we first meet Mombi, she's actually pretty, and the production design is a perfect example of a big-budget family movie from that time.
Why don't we have movies that scare kids anymore? I watched Return so many times, and I was freaked out almost every time. The Wicked Witch of the West caused me to flee the room, and Angelica Huston's Grand High Witch had me closing my eyes for the majority of The Witches (maybe I just have a fear of witches?). Things are too fluffy nowadays. We can't remotely scare kids in a movie today, because letters and angry emails would flood the studios' emails.
Desperate pleas for better kid movies aside, you should find a way to see Return to Oz. It's creepy, silly, and absolutely a part of my childhood.