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Catholic Culture Overview

Two very different Oz movies

By Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 29, 2022 | In Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast

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Continuing through the Vatican’s 1995 list of important films, in the section of Art we find the universally beloved 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz.

The film is undeniably delightful and magical, but suffers from the attempt to provide a moral of dubious coherence. The film is about a band of characters seeking various virtues, but at the end we aren’t quite sure where virtue comes from, and are left with a sense of disillusionment both within Oz (the Wizard being a phony) and with regard to the whole story (having been a dream).

Nearly half a century later, Wizard got a sequel in Walter Murch’s Return to Oz (1985)—but a sequel in plot terms only, with a very different spirit and style.

For one thing, Return is more faithful to its source material in the stories of L. Frank Baum, who was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s insistence that children stories don’t need a lesson at the end. This approach too has its liabilities, because while a shoehorned theme is bad, so is realizing halfway through a movie that the series of events one has been watching, while charming and inventive, doesn’t have much of a point.

Return is also significantly scarier than Wizard, as one of a number of whimsical but dark fantasy films made in the mid-80s (alongside Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal).

The films can also be contrasted in their visual concepts, each compelling in its own way. Where Wizard opts for overtly artificial yet delightful sets, Return offers a more fully realized world, appropriately since the film rejects the idea that Oz is a dream.

Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission. https://theduskwhales.bandcamp.com

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Thomas is a pianist living in New York City. He is Director of Podcasts for CatholicCulture.org and hosts the Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

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