13 August 2020

Looking Back on Return to Oz after 35 Years

When Return to Oz came out in 1985, I was just the wrong age for it.

I was at the end of my teens, busy with college and summer jobs. Even though I still considered myself an Oz fan, I didn’t find time to spare for an Oz movie that lots of early reviews called a dark disappointment.

If I’d been five years younger—and maybe even if I’d been five years older—I’d have gone to Return to Oz that first year. But I was at a crest of being intellectually serious, and was among the many who stayed away.

Return to Oz wasn’t a success at the box office or with most critics, but some of its first viewers loved it. And more fans developed through the VHS releases and repeated showings on the Disney Channel. Now, thirty-five years after the movie’s release, it’s considered a cult favorite. Furthermore, the intervening years have brought more Oz adaptations to make it look good.

This year the International Wizard of Oz Club was due to hold its national convention this upcoming weekend. Then came the pandemic. The in-person gathering had to be canceled, and organizers turned their energy into creating a virtual convention titled “To Oz? To Oz!” It will run from the afternoon of Friday, 14 August, through Sunday, 16 August, and registration is free.

As part of OzCon International’s contribution to that Oz Club online event, I just finished chatting with three people who were just the right age to appreciate Return to Oz in the 1980s and to view it with new eyes today.

First I hosted an online panel with Sarah Crotzer, professor of English and Film and editor-in-chief of The Baum Bugle, and Eliza Wren, a filmmaker and musician who composed her own rock score to Return to Oz. Our topic was “Return to Oz at 35.”

Then I chatted with Freddy Fogarty about how Return to Oz made him an Oz fan and about some of his favorite movie memorabilia. Freddy’s collection was one of the bases for the El Segundo Museum of Art’s terrific Oz display last year.

The recording of those conversations is scheduled to premiere in the “To Oz? To Oz!” lineup on Saturday afternoon. As at any good fan convention, there are plenty of other things happening, too. To view the videos and live events this weekend, one has to be registered in advance, but I believe that eventually all this 2020 content will be available online.

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