Sunday, August 03, 2008

(Post 222) 2 Returns To Oz

Sam Milazzo asked me to compare two animated sequels to The Wizard of Oz: Rankin & Bass' 1964 Return to Oz and Filmation's 1974 release Journey Back To Oz (which, coincidentally, at one time seems to have been given the working title Return to the Land of Oz).

First off, let's compare the animation styles. In Return, the animation is not especially notable. It is charming, however, with the out-of-proportion character designs (large heads, small bodies) and "flat" storybook background designs. In Journey, the animation style resembles a cross of Chuck Jones and Hanna-Barbera. All around, it is quite beautiful and smooth.

Now for the story: both start with Dorothy and Toto in Kansas, Dorothy wishes she could go back to Oz (in song), and, via cyclone, they do!

In Return, Dorothy receives a magic letter that tells her everything is going all right in Oz and that they miss her. Dorothy sings "Oz Just Can't Continue Without Me" as the letter folds into a paper airplane and whips up a cyclone that blows her and Toto to Oz as the opening titles play. In Journey, Dorothy remembers Oz, while Aunt Em tells her that there is no such place. Uncle Henry vocally says that Dorothy should stop being such a dreamer. Dorothy sings "There's A Faraway Land." A twister catches her attention, and she is knocked out by a swinging gate. The opening titles play. (Sam mentioned that Dorothy seems to be fully conscious when you see her in the cyclone...)


Next, Dorothy arrives in Oz... and plot lines differ... or do they? Dorothy lands in Oz, a witch is causing trouble for her old friends, down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, some help or advice from Glinda comes into play, the witch is defeated, peace is restored. Dorothy goes home via cyclone...

In Return, Dorothy and Toto land in Munchkinville, where Glinda meets her and informs her of the restored Wicked Witch of the West, and how she has harmed her friends. Dorothy finds her old friends, returns to the Emerald City, gets misled by the Wicked Witch posing as the Wizard. The group walks into the Wicked Witch's trap, where the Lion gets hold of the Silver Shoes as the Wicked Witch dangles Dorothy out of the window. Remembering advice from Glinda, Dorothy tells Lion not to touch the shoes. The Lion gives them to the Witch, who turns into stone and inexplicably crumbles. At the Emerald City, Glinda reappears and tells Dorothy's friends they really have brains, heart, and courage, then advises Dorothy on wishing on "Kansas Magic" to whip up a cyclone that sends her home.

Return features short, somewhat forgettable songs, though there are some good ones. ("The Wonders of Oz," "Oz Just Can't Continue," and "Magic is Everywhere" are some pretty nice songs...)

Journey is loosely based on The Marvelous Land of Oz. Dorothy and Toto follow the Yellow Brick Road (after an encounter with a signpost who points in all directions that doesn't bear on the plot), and meet Pumpkinhead, who warns them of the Witch Mombi, who Dorothy shortly meets, and discovers that she's making an army of Magic Green Elephants to conquer the Emerald City with. Dorothy, Toto, and Pumpkinhead flee Mombi to warn the Scarecrow, meeting ex-carousel horse Woodenhead. At the Emerald City, they tell Scarecrow just before Mombi arrives and captures the Scarecrow and Toto as Dorothy, Woodenhead, and Pumpkinhead flee to Tin Man's Tinland. Tin Man gets scared of the thought of magic green elephants, and sends them to the Lion, who also gets scared, and sends them to Glinda, who appears and tells Dorothy that the solution to Oz's problems lies within Dorothy herself. She gives Dorothy a small box that Glinda tells them to use only in dire need in Emerald City, so the trio heads back (facing Mombi's Fearsome Forest), scares away the elephants with magic mice who crawl out of the box. These mice also scare Mombi, who runs out of the palace, turns herself into a rose with poison thorns, but she is crushed by her own elephants. Mombi dies, the elephants disappear, the Emerald City is restored, but Pumpkinhead's life vanishes. He is restored with a tear from Dorothy. Dorothy is sent home via cyclone.

Journey really suffers from too many songs. Some, especially Dorothy's (who was played by Liza Minelli) songs are quite excellent. Others feel pointless.

So, which one is better? Well, Return has a tighter plot, but it feels less inspired, since it is just a re-working of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a sequel to itself.

Journey has a better plot, but it drags because of pointless songs and plot devices. It's also animated better.

So, this is one case where neither is really better than the other...

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