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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Return to Oz (1985)

Truly this might be the scariest movie in my collection and one of the most highly cherished. It was a staple of my childhood and while it scared me in ways I couldn't totally articulate as a child, it formed almost a reverence for the film. The VHS box, a clunky plastic case that must have come from a rental store, the cover featured Dorothy's classic friends - who barely make an appearance in the film, and when they do, it's terrifying (The Scarecrow's face though) - and a sticker that to this day mystifies me, announcing that this Disney Classic (??) could come home with your family for a mere $79.95 (or something). Insane money for a VHS. Insane money for the 1980s. Insane money for a child to comprehend.

But not as insane as The Wheelers. Who absolutely chased me through some nightmares.

And not as insane as Princess Mombi who swaps heads and, after telling her she's not pretty, announces she's going to hold a child captive until she can harvest her head. For those unpretty days.

And it didn't get less insane as I got older and understood it better. Dorothy is seconds away from receiving electroshock therapy because she is telling the truth to the adults in her life about a place she's been. Unlike the MGM Wizard of Oz, we know Oz exists because Ozma visits Dorothy through the mirror on the farm at the end. It's wild and very uncomfortable hearing the line "patients who were damaged" in the hospital. Yikes on bikes.

But none of this is to say I regret Return to Oz's place in my cultural DNA. I truly do cherish it. It's one of my favorite ways to bond with other elder millennials and young Gen Xers. "Did you grow up with Return to Oz? DID IT SCAR YOU? ME TOOOOOO!" I know that Return to Oz was the gateway from Wizard of Oz to the L. Frank Baum books I adored as a young girl, the same books that instilled my love of reading. God, the number of family road trips I spent reading Oz books. And the design of Return to Oz has always stayed with me. It's incredible use of practical effects and atmosphere. The darkly absurd characters. The elegant, otherworldly villains. The big fat invitation to read Joseph Campbell to better understand why you can never go home again.

It's one of my top five favorite scores. From Tik-tok's motif to Ozma's, it's all achingly beautiful and full of character.

This time, the thing that stood out to me was Dorothy's gentle and good natured acceptance of the actual hellscape she finds herself in (in Kansas and in Oz). Multiple times in the course of the film, as her friends apologize for falling short she replies, "It can't be helped!" It's not dwelled on and she's not coddling anyone, it's just fact. It can't be helped. So keep going. Dorothy is a literary final girl, in a way. She will survive and she will do so with curiosity and generosity in her heart. Very inspiring.

And then there's Tik-Tok. I've always loved him, but knowing how much Ben relates to him makes me love him more. Noble, soft hearted army of oz. He may be lifeless but he is incredibly human.

A quick shout out to Piper Laurie who passed the day before we watched this. Her resume is mind blowing, but I always thought of her as Aunt Em because this was the first thing I saw her in. Also, hooray for Jean Marsh, perpetual evil witch of my 1980s heart (Baaaaav Morrrrrrrdaaaaaaaa!) and who seemed like a lovely human.


-Oh this was a struggle. I'm sitting on twelve (now eleven, whew) pieces of art to do and the more they stack up the harder a time I have sitting down to do them. Obviously I need to just do them but as clear as this one was in my brain, it was difficult coming into being.

-It's not helped by the number of ideas I had for this movie. This was my strongest idea initially (I wanted to do a whole series! But as I mentioned, I'm behind...) but as I worked on it, I had more ideas that I liked better. I'll try to do those eventually but ugh.

-Layered linos do not come easily to me. I've read up on the different ways to make them happen tidily, I try to do those techniques, I still really struggled. BUT I kind of like how it turned out. It feels almost street art-like and it feels good to embrace mess a little bit.

-I'm glad I did this as a 4"x4". I am inclined towards larger pieces but small is good. I like detail. And as I'm trying to learn and grow, I think the best thing I can learn is to take smaller steps. Even though I don't want to.

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