Creepy Kids’ Movies #2 (con’t): Return to Oz:
The Wheelers, the Nome King and changes to OZ
Before I first saw Return to Oz as a kid, I only knew three things: it wasn’t a musical (which I was ok with), it was made by Disney and some members of the Jim Henson Company (which I both loved!), and that it looked very different then The Wizard to Oz. Once it started, I disturbed by the insane asylum beginning, but I was still going with it because once Dorothy got to Oz, everything has to be better. I mean remember how colorful and fun Oz was in the last movie, even when it was a little scary? So, things had to get better once Dorothy got to Oz… right? Even if I didn’t get the hint from the asylum scenes, I should have suspected something when Dorothy’s balloon landed in a desert that can kill you… but she was with a talking chicken, so, really, how bad could the rest of the movie be… then gets to Emerald City…
Oh My God! Dorothy arrives at Emerald City only to find it destroyed, and the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are turned to stone! PLUS, Oz no longer seems to have the lush colors it had in The Wizard of Oz (an issue Disney would later get right in Oz the Great and Powerful.) It’s as if the makers of Return to Oz said, “Remember everything and everyone you loved in The Wizard of Oz movie? Well, it’s all gone! They’re all dead!” Now, I had previously seen the original Clash of the Titans and vividly remembered the Medusa scene, so what I knew was that once someone turns to stone, there’s no turning them back. (It turns out, I was wrong, but it was pretty traumatizing at first!)
If all that wasn’t enough, the Wheelers arrive! These guys are creepy as hell! They wore these frightening helmets with faces in them, spoke in a creepy, high-pitched voice, and proceed to chase Dorothy around the city. Looking back on it, I don’t know why I was so afraid of them… I mean they have wheels for hands and feet. What could they have really done if they had actually caught Dorothy? Well, I believe at the time, I thought maybe the Wheelers were the ones who turned everyone to stone, so I was afraid of them making contact with Dorothy!
The movie continues the theme of turning people into inanimate objects later in the movie when Dorothy and friends meet the Nome King. However, this time, instead of turning people into statues, he turns them into trinkets in an over-sized “treasure” room. The Nome King disturbed me because he would look at Dorothy with these confident, uncaring eyes as he sent Dorothy’s friends one at a time into another room/cave, never to be seen again, before sending Dorothy in next. It turns out each person was turned into knick-knacks after making incorrect guesses inside the other room. The whole scene disturbed me so much that for weeks after seeing this movie, I wandered around my house picking green items and saying, “Oz!” (Similar to how Dorothy tries to turn her friends back to normal.)
The only thing that should have been reassuring is that the Scarecrow returns in this movie for a little bit, but he looks very different. Whereas the in The Wizard of Oz, Scarecrow looks very human, he looks very different in Return to Oz. This time, the moviemakers make him look a little more like a large puppet. As a result, his unblinking eyes would just stare at everyone, making the overall affect quite unsettling, rather than reassuring.
So, with the inclusion of an insane asylum (complete with shock therapy), a creepier Scarecrow, people turning to stone or knick-knacks, and the Wheelers, it is clear to see why I’ve included this movie on my list of Creepy Kids’ Movies. However, the creepiest, part of the movie I have yet to address. So… more to come!