Features and Columns · Movies

‘Return to Oz’ is Nightmare Fuel, But That’s Kind of the Point

Disney’s sequel to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ traumatized a lot of children. But that’s exactly what makes it such a remarkable adaptation.
Return To Oz Balk
By  · Published on February 3rd, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about why Return to Oz is one of the most nightmarish “kid-friendly” films ever made.

Everyone has a part of their brains cordoned off with caution tape, dedicated to the movies that traumatized them as children. Hell, maybe it wasn’t even a movie. Maybe it was an especially ghastly cartoon or commercial.

The experience of formative, traumatic media is so universal that you can barely throw a skull at the internet without hitting a dozen lists of “nightmare fuel that traumatized us as kids.” The frequency of such lists emphasizes the power of pop culture that leaves dark impressions on us as children. We are simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the things that scare us the most. And when we’re young, we are especially open and receptive to the more nightmarish and primal vibrations of media.

Disney films are frequent bedfellows on such lists. Least of all because the House of Mouse has been responsible for more dark delights than you’d expect. But chief among them, without a doubt, is Return to Oz.

Walter Murch‘s 1985 film has been described as surreal, unnerving, and upsetting. All of this is true, but this is, as the video essay below argues, precisely what makes the film the most faithful adaptation of L. Frank Baum‘s work to date. Where most simply gesticulate wildly towards Return to Oz‘s unsettling aspects, this essay takes the time to unpack the film’s notoriously upsetting reputation in the context of Baum’s work, which drew from, among other things, the tradition of older, darker fairytales.

Watch “Return to Oz is an Absolute Nightmare“:

Who made this?

In Praise of Shadows is a video essay channel run by Zane Whitener and based in Asheville, North Carolina. The channel focuses on horror, history, and retrospectives. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).