Return to Oz is an Academy Award-nominated 1985 film which is the semi-sequel to The Wizard of Oz. It was made by Walt Disney Pictures without the involvement of MGM, the studio that made the 1939 film. However, no approval was necessary, because by 1985 all of the Oz books on which the film was based were in the public domain. A large fee was paid, however, to use the ruby slippers, which were still the intellectual property of MGM at the time (the rights to the 1939 film and all elements now rest with Time Warner). The film was directed by Walter Murch.
The movie's plot is a combination of L. Frank Baum's novels Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz, both of which were written as sequels to the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Return to Oz is often referred to as a sequel to the 1939 Wizard of Oz, but this is only partly true. Some ties to the 1939 MGM musical were deliberately kept. The silver shoes in the Baum story remain ruby slippers in Return to Oz as they had been in the MGM film. Also, the MGM movie's concept of Dorothy imagining Oz based on people she knows in the real world — which is not present in the original story — is mostly kept intact in Return to Oz; as in the 1939 film, actors in Return to Oz played dual roles as characters in the "real world" and the "Land of Oz".
This is where the similarities end. Besides being more realistic, considerably darker and not a musical, the movie is overall truer to the original concept of Oz as described in Baum's books. Certain key elements of the books, such as the Tin Woodsman's back story, which isn't even mentioned in the 1939 film, are restored. Also, Fairuza Balk was nine during the filming of Return to Oz, which is much closer to the age of Dorothy in the books than that of Judy Garland, who was 16 when she starred in The Wizard of Oz. The movie is also full of disturbing situations and scenes of violence. Although this is one of the chief complaints from those unfamiliar with the books, this is again truer to Baum's vision as it was common for the books to contain such scenes, but they were more whimsical than scary.
Budgeted at $25 million (an expensive sum for the time), the film went overbudget and encountered many difficulties during filming. Despite arriving amid much fanfare--the premiere was held at Radio City Music Hall, and a "Return to Oz" float along with characters from the film appeared as part of Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade--the film flopped at the box office.
Viewers unfamiliar with the Oz books found the characters and scenes to be bizarre and unfamiliar, since few characters from the first film appear other than Dorothy. The Scarecrow makes only a brief appearance with limited dialogue, while the Lion and Tin Man have no speaking roles.