With her guardians convinced she is mad, with all this talk of Oz, Dorothy is sent for some sinister psychiatric treatment, only to escape back to that fabled land. But Oz is in disarray, the Yellow Brock Road in ruins and the Emerland City in ruins, teaming up with a talking chicken, a wind-up man and a pumpkinhead, she must confront the wicked Nome King and the witch Mombi to save the land she loves.
A long-distance sequel to the classic 1939 fantasy-musical, this evocative, well-mounted adventure ditches the songs, putting greater emphasises on the scarier elements of the Oz mythology created by L. Frank Baum, and hence cleaving closer to the books. Apart from names and character traits, there is nothing stylistically to attach the two films, Walter Murch (the famed editor of The Godfather) gives his film a harder, colder looking fantasy world — the film starts off with Dorothy (played much more as a child-figure by Fairuza Balk) escaping electro-shock therapy, not quite the fluff of her whirlwind departure back in ’39.
When we arrive in Oz, there is none of the Technicolor gleam, this is a devastated world: the Yellow Brick Road is all but destroyed, the Emerald City in ruins. Murch flips the game the original played, by having Kansas rich and colourful, and this dying Oz desaturated and wan. Things are bad.
Dorothy, clutching the talking chicken Belinna, meets up with a new set of companions on her quest to right Oz’s wrongs, after all The Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion have been inconveniently turned to stone. So we have Tik-Tok a wind-up man with onetime Blue Peter presenter Michael Sundin inside, Jack the Pumpkinhead, a lanky scarecrow-alike, to accompany her. Murch is also trusting to his special-effects to give him a more elaborate, dare-we-say realistic depiction of Oz, using a combination of puppetry, animatronics, and relatively ineffective claymation to bring to life the weird denizens, especially chief foe, the Nome King a kind of talking rock face. The other enemy is Mombi the witch, played with waspish cunning by Jean Marsh, who in one quite terrifying sequence proves to be able to possess interchangeable heads.
It’s enthralling as well as rambling, you do miss the songs, but there is clearly no place for them here. Best to see them as individual films with nothing in common apart from source material, one a classic, the other a strong enough picaresque amongst some decent fabulation.
This is not so much a sequel but an homage and not a good one.