Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lazy Weekend Movie: Oz, chickens, and inappropriateness

Recently, I've re-watched some movies from my childhood that I haven't seen in years. This is what happens when I get fancy cable - I have too many choices and too much to watch. I also have a DVR for the first time so it doesn't even matter if I'm home or not; I can just record whatever I want and watch it later. Technology clearly wants me to be a slug.

After re-watching Three Men and a Baby, Police Academy (the first one), and Return to Oz, I've come to the realization that I never should have watched these movies when I did. If my memory is correct then I saw all of these movies for the first time between the ages of 10-13. Let's leave out the fact that last week I figured out that Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, and Steve Guttenberg were the original hipsters, these movies included a tremendous amount of characters and events that were probably not really appropriate for an 11 year old. My parents have no responsibility for this; I was incredibly sneaky in my TV watching as a kid and feel like I saw most of these movies at other friends' houses or at the library.

Yesterday I re-watched Return to Oz. The "sequel" to The Wizard of Oz (it's not really a sequel to the film more of a companion film and it's more closely related to specific books in the Oz canon) came out in 1985 and starred a very young Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale. I always thought that she vaguely resembled Judy Garland although much younger than Ms. Garland was when she portrayed Dorothy. Apparently going to Oz also reverses the aging process so that 46 years later a new movie can be released and your character is about 10. Movies are magical that way.

Anyway, the movie picks up 6 months after Dorothy returns from Oz. Dorothy has problems sleeping and no one believes her when she tells them about Oz and her adventures. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry look about 20 years younger than they did in the first film and don't seem to know what to do with Dorothy. Toto is still around but we also have the addition of Billina, the chicken (this will be more important later).

Now on the surface this sounds totally fine and normal. Most adults are not going to believe a story like Dorothy's so it's not surprising that Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are struggling to deal with Dorothy. However, it's sort of crazy what happens next. Remember that the Oz books came out starting in 1900 so "mental health" and "science" were still very Victorian and frankly, pretty crazy. L. Frank Baum may have predicted many technological advances in his novels (like televisions, wireless phones, and laptops) but he also created some freaky (and scary) characters and made some bold statements about politics and social topics through his work (which I appreciate very much but still). So it's no wonder that Aunt Em and Uncle Henry turn to a crackpot doctor to cure their little Dorothy. And this brings me to the first thing about this movie that I am amazed by today:

Dorothy is taken to an asylum to receive electroshock therapy.

Yes, you read that correctly. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry decide to send Dorothy to a doctor for electroshock therapy (although it's described as electric healing in the ad we see). It's supposed to help with her forget her dreams and cure her sleeplessness. Of course it would; that's what happens when you send electrical currents through a person's brain. I have to give Uncle Henry some credit here: he doesn't like the idea one bit but possibly more because they have to borrow money from a relative to pay for it and that's charity. In my mind it's more because he knows it a crock.

Aunt Em takes Dorothy to a creepy clinic (it's an asylum, not a clinic) and leaves her there under the care of creepy Dr. Worley and Nurse Wilson. Ozma (the lost princess of Oz) appears to Dorothy and helps her escape. And, of course, Dorothy returns to Oz.

If electroshock therapy wasn't enough there are other disturbing things about this movie that probably terrified me as a child.

  • The entire river escape sequence. Dorothy and Ozma run through the dark woods during a terrible storm ending at a dangerous river. Ozma falls in and before Nurse Wilson can get her, Dorothy jumps in. Ozma disappears and Dorothy makes it to safety in a large chicken coop. Don't ever go in the woods and don't ever jump into a river.
  • When Dorothy returns to Oz, everyone has been turned to stone and several are missing their heads. Billina, the chicken, remarks that this seems "careless". Yes, carelessness is exactly what it is.
  • The Wheelers. I think the Wheelers are supposed to be this movie's version of the flying monkeys. The flying monkeys were not scary at all; I always thought they were cute and lovable (just using their flying for evil instead of good and that could be addressed). The Wheelers are super creepy and vaguely reminiscent of several of the gangs in the movie The Warriors. They're basically creepy looking dudes who have skates for hands and tell Dorothy they're going to capture her, tear her to pieces, and throw her in the Deadly Desert. Awesome.
  • Mombi (aka Nurse Wilson in Oz). Mombi is another villain in the Oz list of villains and she is responsible for the "carelessness" with which people lost their heads. She is able to remove her head and replace it with any number of the heads she keeps in display cases (much like a queen would display her tiaras). She decides Dorothy is pretty enough to lock in a tower until the time is right to add Dorothy to a display case of her own. Dorothy sasses her (Fairuza is an excellent sassy Dorothy) and gets away. This entire sequence creeps me out every time I see it and age has not made it any better.
  • The Nome King used the ruby slippers to destroy Oz. He is also afraid of chickens and has a freak out when he's told (by a weird nome thing) that Billina (the chicken) is in Oz. It turns out that eggs are poisonous to the Nome King and ultimately that's how he is defeated. There was a time in my life when I didn't really like eggs. I wonder if this movie has anything to do with it.
This is so not a children's movie. I think I saw it for the first time at the library. I always liked going to the library to get my summer reading list checked off by the librarian (she gave us gold stars) and the library showed movies during the summer. I remember seeing Return to Oz, Charlotte's Web, and Willy Wonka in the same summer. It was clearly a summer of somewhat surreal children's movies.

I do love the character Tik-Tok, the army of Oz. He helps Dorothy defeat the Wheelers and find the Scarecrow (I hope I'm not spoiling this for any of you) later in the film. He has two of my favorite quotes in the movie:

"I am only a machine. So I cannot be sorry or happy no matter what happens." and "I have always valued my lifelessness." This might be how the robots are planning their take over.

Lazy Weekend Movie is a new monthly (or maybe more frequently) post I've decided to do. I write enough about movies so I thought I'd make it more official. I'm thinking that crafting the perfect movie marathon will be next LWM post. You're welcome. 


  1. Love movie marathons, so I'm looking forward to that post!

    I actually never saw Return to Oz, although I did see 3 Men and a Baby at a young age. I was one of those rare kids that didn't like the Wizard of Oz movie in the first place, so that's probably why I never knew about the second one.
    And yay for the magic of DVR! TX is my first experience having it myself, and I LOVE it! It's not making you a slug, it's just making sure you get to see all your favorites! It loves you Erin, and cares about your movie happiness.

  2. I'm pretty excited about that one. I have several ideas that I think are going to be golden. I always liked the Oz books better than the movies but I enjoyed Return to Oz despite the fact that it terrified me. It's a little more faithful to at least two of the books too.

    So my DVR wants me to be happy? Hmmm, that could be true. I did just set up a recording for Hell on Wheels and am considering do the same for RHONJ and Project Runway.

  3. Tik-tock was pretty awesome. Return to Oz was clearly written by someone on drugs, though. You may want to do a marathon on that!