Picks and Pans Review: Return to Oz
Making this sequel was at best an exercise in futility, along the lines of adding a dormer to the Taj Mahal. Few movies have had the vitality, color, wit or charm of 1939's The Wizard of Oz; few are so deservedly beloved. So this movie started out with four or five strikes against it, and it hardly needed one. It is a plodding, lackluster fantasy that picks up Dorothy's story six months after she returns from her cyclonic trip to Oz. She's propelled back there by another storm to find the Scarecrow imprisoned by a villain called the Nome King. Her partners in adventure this time are a talking chicken embodied by real-life chickens and some mechanical models (it's as lame an idea as it sounds), a roly-poly robot, a moose head and a pumpkin character. Fairuza Balk, the California-born daughter of Turkish-Dutch parents, plays Dorothy. It's hardly fair to compare her to Judy Garland. Garland's was a rare, unique talent—when was there ever such a childhood combination of naïveté and sophistication? And in The Wizard of Oz she was surrounded by terrific music (Balk doesn't sing) and a charismatic cast that generated tremendous onscreen camaraderie, however much they might have been griping about each other off the set. Balk has poise and she's very cute, but she can't carry this film. The only real impact is made by Jean (Upstairs, Downstairs) Marsh, who plays a wicked nurse in Kansas and a wicked witch in Oz. Nicol Williamson is a genteely mad scientist and the Nome King. Director Walter Murch is a longtime collaborator of Francis Coppola and George Lucas (he won a sound-design Oscar for Apocalypse Now), but he has never directed before. That may account for some of this film's lack of momentum. So might the dreary background music by David Shire. Children who aren't comparing this movie with the original might find it diverting enough for a couple of hours. Older folks, though, will wish they were back again on the yellow brick road. (PG)
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