“Remembering Return to Oz” is a 90-minute exploration of Disney’s often overlooked “Return to Oz” released in 1985. The documentary features interviews with many of the people involved in the production. This includes its director Walter Murch and a rare on-camera interview with star Fairuza Balk.
It’s a little bit confusing, but there are actually two versions of the documentary. The one I review here was released for the festival circuit where it won awards. Another longer, but rougher, director’s cut is also available. There are differences between the others with some interviews only existing in one version and not the other.
“Return to Oz,” an ‘unofficial’ sequel to one of the most cherished Hollywood movies of all time, is treasured by many. In fact, it’s become something of a cult classic with new fans discovering it every year. If you subscriber to the Disney+ streaming service, you can even can watch it right now.
Disney’s history with feature films from the world of Oz is not great. I think many people would rather forget “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
Inside “Return to Oz”
The story of “Return to Oz” returns to young Dorothy Gale who is not holding up well after her return to Kansas. In her return to the land of Oz, she encounters a mechanical wind up named Tik-Tok, a Pumpkinhead named Jack, and a flying couch with a talking moose head.
There’s also a wonderful Nome King featuring some rocking claymation animation from Will Vinton of the California Raisin fame. (One of Will Vinton’s final interviews was for this documentary.)
Yeah. It was a bit eclectic. But hey! That’s the 80s for you.
At Return‘s core is the story of how children are forced to learn one of life’s hardest lessons — that sometimes the adults aren’t there to help you and you’ll have to save the day by yourself.
The production of “Return to Oz” was pretty wild. It had to deal with change over of the executive team at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, cost and time overruns, the firing and rehiring of its director, and other Hollywood politics.
I was fascinated by the story of how George Lucas had to intervene to save the film from Disney’s management, who wanted to stop production in the middle of filming.
Producers were also committed to honoring the stories from L. Frank Baum’s books, in particular the second and third of the series. That meant it was a darker fairytale and not a musical, which would come as a shock to any fans of 1939’s “Wizard of Oz” who went to see the movie.
About the documentary
Documentary producer Aaron Pacentine said, “I really hope that fans of ‘Return to Oz’ will realize that this film is not only a passion project for myself (and the director Aaron Schultz) but produced out of the love and respect I have for the 1985 film, and all the cast and crew.”
“I don’t think the film would be as good as it is today without the director Walter Murch, Paul Maslansky, and finally Fairuza Balk being a part of this very special film,” added Pacentine.
Watch the trailer for “Remembering: Return to Oz” here:
As a fan of “Return to Oz,” I was happy to get this window into the making of the movie. You could tell the project meant a lot to Pacetine and director Aaron Schultz.
While there are a few behind the scenes photos, particularly during a song at the end, it would have been nice to see some concept art, more on-set photos, and looks at props and characters used to illustrate other portions of the documentary’s tale. That’s not really the producer’s fault though.
If you’re not familiar with how documentaries get made, they often have to pay for the rights to use photos, music, and other intellectual property from the rights owner, in this case Disney. As you can imagine, that gets expensive quickly. So we’ll be happy with the photos from various cast and crew members they were able to get.
The documentary has already won several awards including Honorable Mention, DaVinci International Film Festival; Best Fan Film at L.A. Sci-Fi & Horror Festival; and Best Documentary Film at the ONYKO Film Awards.
The producer says it is possible that “Remembering Return to Oz” will get picked up by a streaming service or show up on Amazon. However, you don’t have to wait for that. It’s available on Vimeo right now to rent for on demand viewing.
It’s not yet known if there will be a DVD release, but producers say they would like to do that at some point.
For those who liked “Return to Oz” right out of the gate, or more recent fans who have grown to love the darker story of Dorothy Gale, you’ll find a lot to love about this documentary. If you rent it, be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below!