Journey Back to Oz

Journey Back to Oz

Director: Hal Sutherland

Writers: Fred Ladd, Norm Prescott, Bernard Evslin, L. Frank Baum

Voice Cast: Milton Berle, Herschel Bernardi, Paul Ford, Margaret Hamilton, Jack E. Leonard, Paul Lynde, Ethel Merman, Liza Minnelli, Mickey Rooney, Risë Stevens, Danny Thomas, Mel Blanc, Dal McKennon, Larry Storch, Bill Cosby

Synopsis: During a twister, Dorothy is hit on the head by a gate and once again whisked away to the land of Oz. But this time, on her way to the Emerald City, she discovers a terrible plot by the witch Mombi to conquer Oz with an army of monster green elephants that's she's brewing up. She escapes with the help of Mombi's slave Pumpkinhead, and, together, they try to warn King Scarecrow and her other friends that Mombi is coming, but she finds that her friends haven't quite changed as much as she thought. So it's up to her, Pumpkinhead, and the living carousel horse Woodenhead to find a way to stop Mombi's Green Elephants.

MPAA Rating: G

Note: In honor of the recently released "Oz: The Great and Powerful", the upcoming "Dorothy of Oz", and the currently in development "The Wizard of Oz" remake, I have taken it upon myself to review every film adaptation of the "Oz" franchise; excluding all the TV shows and mini-series because there's simply too much to cover.

Over the rainbow again

Unlike the other film adaptations that I've reviewed thus far on the "Oz" series, this one seems to be a direct first sequel to the original "Wizard of Oz", as it predates the 1985 movie, "Return to Oz." Plus, I'm not going to bother to count the lousy 1964 TV movie either. Anyways, this latest animated film is said to be based on "The Land of Oz", as it depicts Dorothy returning back to Oz via tornado again.

However, she soon learns that an evil witch named Mombi, who happens to be the cousin of the late wicked witch of the west, vows to take control of the Emerald City with an army of giant green elephants. Flustered with this news, Dorothy rushes to the Emerald City to try to warn the scarecrow of this impending danger before it's too late. Along the way, she meets a couple of new friends named Woodenhead Stallion the third, and Pumpkinhead; while also learning that her old friends may not have changed that much after all.

When I first saw this movie, I was at a loss for words for the most part, but after gathering my thoughts about it, I think I know what to say now. However, lets get into the technical aspects first. Although the animation isn't bad per say, it's fairly generic and lacks any kind of appeal that would help it stand out from any other animated feature out there.

According to the credits, it's been said that the late legendary voice actor, Mel Blanc, did one of the voices in this film (namely the crow), as the cartoon feature does resemble a cartoon that would fit most of Mel Blanc's body of work. Not saying it's a bad thing, but the animation is fairly conservative to the point that it's hardly even memorable. And unlike most of the cartoons that we're used to seeing with Mel's voice, it lacks most of the comedy aspects of it to make it entertaining.

However, for the small role that he's given in this movie, he performs it quite well. Sure, the part is nothing more than a pet crow to Mombi, but Mel almost steals the whole film, in every scene he's in throughout the picture. It's almost amazing to watch a cartoon featuring Mel Blanc's voice; regardless of how big or small that part may seem.

Although, I was a bit surprised to see Margaret Hamilton cast as "Aunt Em" in this film; after audiences saw her play the "Wicked Witch of the West" in the 1939 movie. But for the small role she was given, I have to say she plays the part rather well, as you can barely recognize that it's her playing "Aunt Em." Sadly, it probably would've been better if she was asked to play Mombi instead.

It's nothing against Ethel Merman, but her character comes off as nothing more than a one note villain that audiences have seen a million times before. Granted, it's not entirely her fault that her character, Mombi, was written that way, but her performance does little to nothing to make her character stand out as anything more than the typical cliche cartoon bad guy.

Granted, Margaret Hamilton's "Wicked Witch of the West" was sort of a one note villain as well, but her over the top performance helped make a lasting imprint on it's audience; hence making her role arguably one of the best cinematic villains of all time. She wasn't just evil, but she was evil incarnate. She embraced her wickedness; which made her something of a unique antagonist to follow in the 1939 film.

Whereas Ethel Merman's Mombi, it just comes off as nothing more than a typical cartoon bad guy that seems like it tries to rip off what we've seen in the original 1939 film. Hardly memorable or original to say the least. As for the rest of the voice cast, I have to say that I thought most of the actors played their parts rather well.

Although the one gripe that I have is that whenever Dorothy breaks into song during this musical, it almost seems like a different voice actress portrays her whenever she's not singing. Granted, it's barely noticeable to most audiences, but it's rather obvious when you listen to her voice closely.

As for the story of this film, I have to say it was fairly decent for what it was trying to be. Plus, some of the "breaking the fourth wall" jokes are fairly clever, like the cowardly lion saying how he's been hired to roar over some movie credits (ala MGM reference). The new characters they introduce are fairly likable, but I'm not entirely sure I agree with the portrayal of the Tin Man and Lion though to be quite honest.

For example, when Dorothy tells both the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion about Mombi kidnapping the scarecrow with giant green elephants, they both make up a bunch of lame excuses on why they can't help; while leaving Dorothy on her own to figure things out.

Granted, I never read any of the Oz books, but this seems a bit out of character for both the Lion and Tin Man. Back in the 1939 film, it was obvious that the scarecrow, tin man and lion were scared to enter into the castle to save Dorothy, but they still risked their lives anyway because they didn't want to see their friend get hurt.

Yet in "Journey Back to Oz", the mere concept that both the Lion and Tin Man wouldn't lift a finger to help their friends, the scarecrow and Dorothy, just seems too cowardly on both their parts. Hell, I wouldn't have been surprised if either the Tin Man or Lion would have said, "Mombi kidnapped scarecrow, so we getting the f*** out of here! See ya Dorothy, and good luck risking your life to fight that evil b****, Mombi!"

Having said all that though, the film is fairly decent for what it tries to be. Hardly a great animated classic that one would hope for considering the source material. But for what it is, it's not half bad at all. There's nothing bad in it for kids per say, as I'm sure any child would come to love this film if they were to see it. However, if your expecting a timeless classic, then you'll be severely disappointed.

In the end, I'd have to give this movie a two out of four. It's fairly decent for a rental if you want to watch a film with your kids, or if you just happen to be a huge fan of L. Frank Baum's book series based on "Oz."

MadTV- The Wizard of Oz Parody (Warning: Contains Adult Language and Violence. Parental Discretion is Advised)

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