Saturday, March 25, 2017



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"Return to OZ" is one of those underrated gems that just gets better and better every single time I see it. From the lovable characters; to its special effects; right down to its scary as hell moments that come from the film's villain the Nome King and his minions. And rather than talking about him first, I'm going to go the opposite direction and talk about the villains that serve him, and then talk about him since we don't see him until the third act of the film.

The film's secondary antagonist that's allied with the Nome King is the witch Mombi, who is now under the position of Princess once Oz has been taken over by him. Before we meet her, we hear threatening things about her from her henchmen, and an off-screen Nome King, but when we do finally see her she turns out to be lovely and pleasant as she just sits in her beautiful palace playing a mandolin. And just as you begin to wonder what's so evil about her, since she seems so harmless, we are then exposed to her collection of heads that she's taken from the former residents of OZ, and uses them to change her appearance to make herself look beautiful, and with the famous Dorothy Gale in her grasp, she locks her up in a tower until she becomes a woman so that she can take her head, and put it into her collection. The concept of the character alone and what she tends to do to Dorothy is already disturbing enough, but the film takes extra steps to scare us for when Dorothy tries to steal a magic bottle that's next to her real head, which her actions accidentally causes the witch's wicked face to wake-up and angrily scream out her name (though how does she know who Dorothy is if she never wore that head in her presence...who cares it’s a scary scene), that also awakens her headless body that comes after Dorothy, and her other separate screaming heads. I may have not grown-up with this movie, but I do consider this scene to be the scariest scene in the movie that will disturb if not traumatize you whether you are young or old. And when she's not chasing after Dorothy for her head, she sits around taunting the real princess of OZ who she enchanted into the mirror (and real world...I guess).

Assisting Mombi in carrying out her plans to capture Dorothy, are henchmen who are half human and half bicycle called Wheelers. Now I'm going to admit that I didn't really find these creatures as scary as many other fans of the movie have felt. Their designs are cool and at times unsettling, but for the most part of the film I just found them to be comical. They all run away after being hit by a robot with a lunch pale, and when one of them gets captured as he's begging to be spared while acting cuckoo is just silly and pathetic. Truth be told I found myself feeling bad for them, rather than I did fearing them since they are shown being constantly abused by Mombi, and being forced to serve her. Not to mention the fact that a few them died in the deadly desert when they were chasing after Dorothy at the demand of their master, where any living thing that touches the sand will turn into sand (which more than likely means that half of the sand in the deadly desert are the remains from the creatures and people who have set foot on it). These guys are crazy and may probably already be the bullies or thugs of OZ when they weren't under Mombi and the Nome King's control, but if one thing's for sure, they're definitely not serving Mombi out of their own free will. The moment where I pity these creatures the most is when they act as a horse-drawn carriage as Mombi violently whips them in a hell-like environment, acting insane with her messy hair and wide-eyed expressions as she tells them to go faster.

However, even though I don't find them to be as scary as everybody else makes them out to be, that doesn't mean that I didn't find them horrofying at least one point during the film, because I did, and that's the scene when we first meet them! Before we see them, we see graffiti on the walls of the ruins of OZ that reads "Beware the Wheelers", as we hear the screeching of their wheels and would occasionally catch tiny glimpses of them. And when they do show-up, we at first think that their angry stoned faces are their actual faces, only to realize that those faces are really their helmets and that their actual faces are very clown-like, as they then skate after Dorothy laughing like clowns, making strange animal-like noises to signal each other, and threaten to tare her into pieces with their wheels and throw her remains into the deadly desert as she's trapped by them. That is truly a scary introduction that gets more unsettling the more I see it, when I originally thought that it was just weird the first time I watched and reviewed the film. But aside from that, I still don't think they're as terrifying as everybody else has built them up to be.

Even though Mombi and her Wheelers assist the Nome King in ruling OZ, he does have minions of his own who are all made out of stone, just like him. These creatures can appear on any piece of rock and stone that lies on the surface of OZ, where they usually keep an eye on Dorothy and her friends, and report back to their master. The scenes when the Nome Messenger reports to the king truly look like something from my nightmares when I was a kid. That creepy voice (voiced by the actor playing the lead Wheeler) and the demonic-face on the walls of the Nome King's lair with the red hot fires reflecting on it as we hear his deep voice echo, just makes me shiver.

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With him and Mombi ruling OZ with his minions, what exactly did they do to it? Well they replaced Munchkinland with a dark forest, destroyed the yellow-brick road, stole all the emeralds from Emerald city, imprisoned the Scarecrow, and turned all of the inhabits of OZ to stone (including the Lion and the Tin-Man) as Mombi took a few of their heads. I mentioned earlier that Mombi helped the Nome King achieve it by imprisoning the princess Ozma, but it was mostly done by the Nome King when he got a hold of the ruby slipper when they fell off of Dorothy's feet as she was flying back home after she clicked her heels. So to make things more depressing of what's become of the land of OZ, it was mainly Dorothy's fault for her carelessness of possessing the slippers.

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Just like how we first met Mombi, instead of the Nome King looking scary and acting ruthless when we first see his stone face on the mountains of OZ, he instead friendly greets Dorothy and her friends, asking what he can do to make her visit happy. And when Dorothy claims that he stole the emeralds, and demands the Scarecrow to be released and the emeralds to be restored back to the city, he just laughs and lies to her by claiming that the emeralds were already his, and that he suspected that the Scarecrow stole them since he runs OZ, while he's taking her on a surreal tour through his lair and collection of emeralds. All throughout Dorothy's encounter with him until the climax, he hardly ever shouts or loses his cool in front of her, he always remains calm and graceful, by trying to cheer-up a down and out Dorothy over the loss of her friend after turning him into an ornament as "revenge" by giving her the chance to find him; offers her and her friends some tasty refreshments; and is willing to take Dorothy back home and erase her memory of OZ if she's not willing to find the Scarecrow.

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And why would she not want to find the Scarecrow you may wonder (for those who don't mind spoilers), because he has them play a guessing game to find the Scarecrow by touching an ornament in his treasure room and saying the word OZ, and if all three guesses are wrong, the person who fails will turn into an ornament themselves. When Dorothy protests against the challenge claiming that it's not fair and that he didn't tell them what the risk was going to be, he humbly tells her that she didn't ask, and if she were going to risk something than it is fair, and if they don't play his little game he'll throw them into his fiery furnace. This whole sequence is drenching with complete suspense from start to finish. Even when I know what happens in the end, I still find myself completely sucked in to the tension from the atmosphere, and how much I care about the characters and relate to what they must be feeling about being forced to take this challenge. The cool thing about this scene is every time when a character turns into an ornament, the Nome King's appearance keep's altering because when no one remembers OZ, he will become completely human (I don't know why, especially when he has the ruby slippers, but it's a fantasy so whatever). He goes from being a face on the stone walls of his lair, to later on having a rock body that are both carried by glorious use of Claymation that still holds up to this day for how much it fits the character, to looking nearly human where's he's played by the actor voicing the character (Nicol Williamson) that's supported by fantastic make-up.

But out of all the forms that the Nome King takes, the image that had many of us crapping ourselves is when he becomes a rock monster at the end! When Dorothy and the gang pass the challenge that they weren't supposed to succeed in, in a state of anger and frustration, the treasure room gets destroyed, the flames in his lair grow bigger and brighter, the music becomes intense, his minions become more monstrous and begin to surround their prisoners, and the Nome King becomes bigger and scarier than he has ever been in the movie. And instead of just sending Dorothy away like he thought about doing before, he decides to devour them all. This is clearly where the Nome King's lair literally turns into OZ's interpretation of hell, for how demonic and infested with flames it is. But when the chicken accidentally drops an egg inside his mouth, he and the rest of the rock minions slowly turn into skulls since egg's are poisonous to Nomes.  And I have to say that even though the Wicked Witch of the West's death will always be iconic and one of the classic deaths in film history, I admire that this film actually hint's that a chicken is somehow deadly to Nome's, rather than it happening out of the blue and revealed at the last minute, and when we find out why, it still comes off as a surprise, and dare I say a more intense demise.

Just like in the classic OZ film that everybody has seen or heard of, where the majority of the characters that Dorothy meets are fictional counterparts to the people that she's known in Kansas, this film does pretty much the same thing, mainly regarding the villains. The Nome King's real-life counterpart is a jolly and friendly doctor, who is obsessed with "Electrical Healing" feeling that it can help a person since he believes that brains act like machines, as he tries this method on people with a machine that resembles a face. But as pleasant as his presence is, and persuading his method would sound for people at the time, it in reality horribly damaged his patients so much that he would keep them locked in the cellar of his clinic, where you can hear their screams echo through the dark halls. A few of the qualities and characteristics that both the doctor and the Nome King have in common is their both liars who act nice and seem to want to help Dorothy (both claiming that they know what will "cheer” her up, which are actually horrible solutions), but in reality their just talking down to her, and are only trying to harm her for their own personal gain, than actually do good for her. Even as going as far as claiming that the electric shock won't hurt her, when he knows that it indeed will after trying it on many other patients. They both are also seen smoking a pipe to emphasize on their class. And if the machine that he has by the way looks familiar to any of you who've seen the film, that's because it's supposed to be the real-life counterpart for the robot Tik-Tok, since it has a face and needs to be wand-up.

Mombi's real-life counterpart is a nurse who serves the doctor just as faithfully as her fictional counterpart does, who is so strict and emotionless as she wears a dark and gothic looking dress, that I swear that she makes Nurse Ratched from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" look sweet and professional. To be perfectly honest, even though I enjoy Jean Marsh's performance as Mombi when she's wearing her real head for how wildly cruel and wicked she is, I actually found her scarier as the nurse mainly because she doesn't ham it up as much as she does as Mombi. If anything I get more chills out of her, for how straight-faced and no-nonsense she is. Some of the other things that resemble her OZ version of herself that you are more likely to miss is that she keeps Dorothy locked in a room, that interestingly enough has the same number as the number for the cabinet where Mombi keep's her original head. And when either form catches Dorothy escaping after having her locked up, they both react to her attempt by exclaiming "So"! And just like how Mombi has a gang of Wheelers assisting her to help out the Nome King, she has unfriendly looking nurses that are always shown pushing the stretchers (the one that pushes the one that Dorothy is on, is the same actor who plays the lead Wheeler). You may also notice that just like how Mombi's palace at first look pretty and decorative to looking old and dusty when Dorothy is being taken the away, the same can be said exactly about the clinic that the Doctor runs.

What's especially interesting about how both forms relate to each other is that their fates are very similar. The Nome King loses his kingdom and dies, as the doctor loses his clinic because of lightning and dies as he tries to save his machines. And Mombi gets imprisoned and is disenchanted from her magic, as the nurse goes to jail for assisting the doctor in damaging the minds of innocent people. The thing that I find head scratching about the movie but not in a negative way at all is it was never clear if OZ was a dream or not. In the original classic that the film is not a sequel too, but borrows a few elements from it however, is it was clear that Dorothy's journey was a dream since she was knocked unconscious during the storm, and in the end of her trip she wakes up in her bed. But here, it's a little more puzzling. She gets taken away by the current in the river, and wakes-up on land when she comes back from OZ, but who was the girl that saved her from being electrocuted? We never see her again after she frees Dorothy, nor find out who she was in reality. Was she just a figment of Dorothy's imagination and that she probably freed herself somehow? Ok, but what are the chances that the nurse and doctor would share a similar fate that her dreams had? It's a little too coincidental for a dream if you ask me. Could it possibly be that Dorothy really did get shock therapy, and everything starting from the lights go out to when she was awake, is her being delusional as she's wandering around not knowing what's going on and seeing stuff that isn't there, or looking at things that are currently happening through a different reality? The answer to me at least remains a mystery, and I haven't seen the film enough times to give you a complete analysis of it, but needless to say that the mystery of it is one of the reasons why fans of the film love coming back to it. I know I certainly do.

It’s surprising that Disney can make a good OZ film and be enchanting, but also legitimately horrifying for any age. And it all comes from crazy bicycle men, a Witch who takes people’s heads, and rock monsters, that are all lead by the biggest monster of them all who destroyed a fantasy world that we all wish to visit. And before we enter all this, we witness Dorothy face a doctor who believes in the horrible process of shock therapy, and cold and bitter nurses in a dark clinic full of locked people who have gone insane. If you forgot that “there’s no place like home”, don’t worry the Nome King and all who serve him will greatly remind you by scaring the living day-lights out of you!

"There's noooo place like home"
-The Nome King