Flashback Exclusive: A 'Return to Oz'

By DAVID WEINER

March 05, 2013

With director Sam Raimi's highly anticipated Oz the Great and Powerful set to land in theaters this weekend, we're flashing back to the 1985 release of Return to Oz, when ET talked to the film's stars Fairuza Balk (then just 11 years old) and Jean Marsh at the Radio City Music Hall premiere in Manhattan. Then, keep watching the video for a rare, vintage Disney featurette from the same year charting the making of the movie!

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"It's a different story; people have put lots of effort into it to make it good; I think it's a sweet film," Fairuza told ET of her movie. "All the creatures are lovable, all except the witch and the Gnome King."

Chronicling the return of Dorothy to her beloved Oz only to find it in ruins and her friends frozen in stone, Return to Oz was a stunning film from Disney with incredible production design that was also a critical disappointment, sadly overlooked at the box office at the time of its release for the most part because it was considered to be too dark for children.

Now, Return to Oz is considered a cult classic and deserves a second look from fans of the L. Frank Baum tales, inspired primarily by his early 1900s tomes The Marvelous Land of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz and Ozma of Oz.

Fairuza, who said she saw The Wizard of Oz 16 times, told ET with a laugh that she was "very very very very very sick and tired" of being compared to Judy Garland, "because I'm not competing with her. I think she was probably a wonderful lady. She did a wonderful movie, and now I'm doing a wonderful movie, and sometimes it's probably hard for people that have grown up with the Wizard of Oz to adjust to a new movie. I mean, not everybody's going to like it."

CGI had yet to be invented when Return to Oz was created, forcing the filmmakers to rely on practical effects like animatronic creatures and limber contortionists in costume as key characters. For example, the mechanical Tik-Tok used flexible actor Michael Sundin to bend over, lock himself into the character's torso sphere, and walk backwards while watching which way he was going via a mini TV. Not for the claustrophobic, to say the least. And Jack Pumpkinhead, perhaps an inspiration for Tim Burton's later creation Jack Skellington, was played by the very thin Stewart Larange, a top "body popper" dancer in the U.K. known for his incredible moves.

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Asked if it was fair to compare her movie with Star Wars, Fairuza told ET matter of factly, "Star Wars is space. This isn't space, this is Oz."

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